We appreciate and delight in the food, but what’s cooking beyond the dish? In our latest series, Ono Yum steps out of the kitchen and gets a peek at the man behind the chef coat. Meet Chef Renato Sampaga of Stadium Brewing Company.
OY: What did you have for dinner last night?
RS: Last night, I had my signature “Chaka” Poke, a ton of Shanghai lumpia; citrus-marinated rib-eye steak, caramelized shallots-garlic mashed potatoes with thyme-tarragon Chateaubriand sauce, a killer Opera cake from Palace Bakery, and to round out the meal a summer medley salad with fresh peaches and pomegranate seeds, and a white peach balsamic vinaigrette. It was a total killer dinner and only because I had a catering event last night! Ha! And for a midnight snack, a medium #1 combo at McDeez…you know, just to balance out all the good stuff.
OY: If you could share a meal with any one person, who would it be and why?
RS: About 29 years ago while serving as a combat field medic and lab tech in the U.S. Army, 1986, somewhere in the middle of a jungle in Honduras, in a secluded village… I shared my beef stew MRE (Meals Ready-to-Eat) lunch with this little 7-year-old kid named “Roberto.” To me, the MRE was something to put in my stomach. But to Roberto, he ate it as if it was the best gourmet meal he’s ever had. I can’t even imagine the life of hardship he has had to live since then. Even after all of these years I still think about that lunch and wonder how he’s doing. If we shared that meal together, I’d serve him what I had last night… and dude, that includes that midnight combo too.
OY: What (or who) inspires you in and out of the kitchen and why?
RS: Inside the kitchen, my wife Sharon who’s been cancer free for five years is a total inspiration to me. I’ve learned from her and am still learning how to cook and eat with more healthy and organic produce and foods. She has created a veggie lasagna that’s so savory and literally to die for. It has rivaled other meat lasagnas out there and is just as filling. Her salads and vinaigrettes are already legendary amongst family and friends. She’s the epitome of a healthy and balanced diet, and knows how to cook it! She totally rocks as a home chef!
Outside the kitchen… dude, do I even have to say Mom and Dad’s home cooking? All that wonderful Filipino comfort food I grew up with is forever etched in my memory and it has definitely influenced the palate I have now. Personal favorites are Mom’s eggplant omelette, pinakbet, and chicken adobo. I love my Dad’s legendary BBQ pork ribs and kare-kare where the oxtails just melt in your mouth with all that peanut flavor and roasted bagoong. I am getting so hungry I need to visit Mom & Dad… like right now.
OY: What is your theme song? Why?
RS: I am still caught up in this time warp circa the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. Musically, what happened after that is still a blur to me. My theme song has to be from The Police’s Ghost in a Machine album, “Hungry For You (J’aurais Toujours Faim De Toi).” It’s mostly in French and if you don’t know French, you won’t be able to understand it. I don’t know French… thus, I don’t understand it. But, it’s still such a total rockin’ song that it can motivate anybody in the kitchen! It’s the first track on my “Kitchen Caliente” playlist and I quote from the song, “No matter what I do, I’m still hungry for you…”
OY: What one kitchen tip would you give that anyone can use?
RS: Don’t be afraid to experiment with wine reductions in your cooking. Use good white and red wines for reductions and you’ll taste the difference. If you have sauce recipes you’ll be able to add different dimensions to the flavor. Your cuisine will be raised to a more sophisticated level of cooking. My signature “Chaka” Poke sauce has a sake reduction base that rounds out the differing ingredients.
See Chef Renato Sampaga and 10 other chefs compete for best poke at I Love Poke OC this month. Buy tickets here.