Paris-based Filipino chef and restaurant owner Erica Paredes is not one to do things the conventional way. She has served classic Filipino comfort food, like sisig with shavings of aromatic, earthy black truffles; she has hosted kamayan dinners or boodle fights; and now she’s reimagining a fun way of serving palabok with tortellini.
“I don’t like cooking traditionally, mostly because I’m going to get bored cooking,” Paredes said in an online interview. It was after 4 p.m. in Paris, and the beauty editor-turned-chef was busy with the renovations of her restaurant, Reyna, which will open in the spring.
After years of doing supper club in her apartment, private dining, doing residencies at restaurants and selling her legendary takeaway fried chicken, Paredes has found a home for Reyna at rue de Montreuil in the gastronomic capital of the world.
At Reyna, Paredes will be serving Filipino flavors in shared plates—the way people do it in Asia. Her restaurant and her culinary journey are dedicated to her grandmother, Alice Mabanta, a painter and an amazing cook who used to gather the family for Sunday lunch.
Paredes cooks Filipino comfort food that reminds her of her grandmother, but her food is not strictly confined to Filipino food.
The Reyna chef plays with the variety of in-season produce available to her, and she uses French techniques in cooking.
“I like mixing seasonal produce with the Filipino flavors. I use bagoong and patis a lot in my food. I like the whole seasonal thing, but I also like the whole shared, communal way of eating that we do in Asia. We grew up eating dinner with the food on the table and people just get what they want,” she said.
The menu will depend largely on the harvest, something that is often seen in French restaurants. It’s also something that Paredes has adapted, because it’s cost-efficient and the ingredients are at their best.
Switching things up
For Reyna fans who have been waiting a long time, the best-selling fried chicken and other favorites will be on the menu permanently. But Paredes plans to do different sauces to switch things up. Reyna usually serves chicken glazed with adobo, Hainan, patis caramel and mango habanero sauce.
“I entice them with the chicken and then surprise them with all the other things that they can discover on the menu, and it’s working so far,” Paredes added.
The Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef initially cooked French food when she started hosting private dinners in her apartment. She was still trying to find her voice and confidence in cooking, and she served what she thought would impress people.
“But one day I [decided] I’m going to try to do a French dish, but make it super Filipino with flavors and stuff,” she said. “So I did that for one dinner and it did really well, and I found that the more I incorporated my tastes and my roots in terms of the way I cook, the more people appreciated what I did, and the more people talked about it, and the happier I was as well.”
Paredes’ ability to introduce Filipino flavors through French-style cooking has wowed Parisians. During her residency, the restaurant Mokoloco—where she served sisig with truffles, aubergine kare-kare and calamansi Basque burnt cheesecake with polvoron on top—was full every night for three months.
But she also credits Parisians who are adventurous with their food choices.
“I think the way I do it, when I mix the French way and the Filipino way, it becomes a nice surprise, and it’s a different way to do it. And for French people, it’s a more familiar way of looking at food that they’re more willing to try, even if it’s super new,” Paredes added.
Even with the risks of opening a new restaurant in a pandemic, Paredes is hopeful that people will come to Reyna, as locals love to eat and support their favorite restaurants. The past two years have also been the busiest for her, doing residencies and pop-ups.
“I feel like I was able to more than just manage for the past two years. And you know, I’ve had people telling me that people are really waiting for me to open, so I feel a little more confident and I have a little more faith that we’ll be able to make it work.”