It was my second time in five years to interview Marvin. The first time was for his cookbook The Adobo Roads, a current bestseller in the Filipino cookbook category worldwide. Recently, a second opportunity to chat with him arose for his second book Pulutan, also the Filipino word for “appetizers.”
“Pulutan as a concept isn’t anything new. There have been a few books on this topic released in the Philippines,” Marvin said. “But outside of the Philippines, the notion that there is this whole subset of Filipino food dedicated to drinking is pretty much unknown. I wanted to share that aspect of our culinary culture to a wider audience,” he stated.
True enough, this is the first Filipino cookbook published in America that also features specific drink pairings with each recipe. In his book’s Introduction, Marvin picks up where he left off in the first cookbook. There is a chapter on pulutan towards the end of The Adobo Roads where he provided cocktails and appetizer recipes. While writing that chapter, Marvin became obsessed with Filipino pulutan. His love for craft beer and craft cocktails is one of his passions, plus he revealed he once worked for a Filipino-owned winery in the U.S.
Marvin’s recipes in the new Pulutan cookbook are his personal take on how he likes pulutan to be cooked, what he likes to eat and what he serves to guests.
“At a time where Filipino food is being elevated, deconstructed, resurrected, praised, and enjoyed by a wider audience, it was important for me to not only showcase tried-and-true pulutan standards, but to also move forward by creating dishes anew, combining techniques, but always using Filipino ingredients and highlighting Filipino flavors.”
As you turn the pages of the Pulutan cookbook, which has over 60 eclectic recipes, be ready to drool over some tantalizing starters like: Grilled Coconut and Lemongrass Shrimp, Raw Oysters with Green Mango Mignonette, Fried Calamari with Crispy Purple Yam Crust, Pork Meatballs with Spicy Coconut Sauce, Corn-Dogged Quail Eggs, Fried Green Mangoes, Spicy Sizzling Squid, Papaitan and Raw Yellowtail with Calamansi and Vinegar; the last two, recipes he generously shared with this magazine’s The Happy Home Cook.
“Pulutan is usually enjoyed with beer and I myself am a beer drinker – so there’s heavy emphasis on beer pairings because that is my specialty. Marvin, the cookbook author, is also a Certified Cicerone. A cicerone of the craft beer world is the equivalent of a wine sommelier. Marvin outlined the four levels in the cicerone program: Certified Beer Server; Certified Cicerone; Advanced Cicerone; Master Cicerone.
“In order to be certified in each level, you have to pass a very long, incredibly difficult test that covers everything from beer history, beer styles, brewing processes, beef flavors, and beer pairing.”
As a Certified Cicerone, Marvin has a professional background knowledge and essential skills related to beer. Armed with this information, his imagination, and palate, Marvin knew that there were bold possibilities as far as Filipino appetizers were concerned.
But do beer pairings come naturally to most Filipinos? “I don’t think wine or beer pairings come naturally to anyone, let alone Filipinos. I think people should drink whatever they like, and Filipinos are great at that, “ Marvin stated.
While creating this cookbook, Marvin revealed that providing pairings was the most fun part about writing, but admits it was difficult. “Pairings are subjective. What I like may not be what someone likes.”
He emphasized that the pairings are suggestions and are meant to encourage readers to explore, taste, and try new things they may not have thought of before.
Marvin Gapultos is also the person behind the popular site Burnt Lumpia, which was how he first started to introduce his take on Filipino recipes to the Filipino American audience. Afterwards, he opened Manila Machine, which was Los Angeles’ first Filipino food truck. “I closed the truck after getting a contract to write my first cookbook ‘The Adobo Road’ with Tuttle Publishing.”
“By creating my blog and opening a food truck I proved that there are people out there hungry for Filipino food.”
Marvin’s days revolve around creating. “When I’m recipe-testing or writing a cookbook, I start the day by listing recipes I will test and a timeline to determine the order of cooking.” He tries to do two to four recipes a day.
His secret sauce is to stay on top of things. “I stay as organized as possible because things always go wrong when I’m cooking,” Marvin said.
His wife, Barbara, and children, Bruce, Grant, and Audrey, are the biggest fans of his cooking. “Chicken Adobo and Pinakbet are in my family’s regular rotation. We recently cooked adobo in the Instant Pot because it’s so easy.”
Learning what’s new in the industry is a priority. On social media, Marvin is on Instagram as @BurntLumpia. “I get a lot of information on food trends that way. I’m constantly consuming all types of food media on television and online magazines,” he stated.
With Pulutan, Marvin is opening new frontiers in Filipino cuisine. The alchemy is in choosing the right beer that partners with the classic Filipino appetizers and a bounty of new recipes. And Marvin has evolved expertly at recommending what are good combinations.
Marvin is not just taking pulutan to the next level. He is creating different taste notes. He is showing cookbook readers and fans of Filipino food that appetizers are a good vehicle for flavor and creativity. His traditional recipes are a revelation and defy convention. It is obvious that Marvin finds harmony in creating an adventurous depth. As Marvin adds a spike to pulutan with his spicy sensations and refreshing take on all-time favorites, he is opening palates and minds all over the world. His Pulutan cookbook is preparing us for the next big course he will serve soon. “I want to write more cookbooks,” Marvin affirmed.
Elizabeth Ann Quirino, based in New Jersey is a journalist and author of the “How to Cook Philippine Desserts: Cakes and Snacks” Cookbook. She is a member of the International Association of Culinary Professionals and blogs about Filipino home cooking on her site AsianInAmericaMag.com.
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