When Voracious catches up with Joey Serquinia, chef de cuisine of Txori, he is at the restaurant on what is technically his day off. He's just here, he says, to help the staff implement the new menu, which Serquinia changes every two weeks, but he'll be out of the restaurant early enough to catch his son Django at his taekwondo belt test later this afternoon. Serquinia runs the day-to-day happenings at Txori for chef and owner Joseba Jimenez de Jimenez, whom he's known for more than 12 years, having worked for Jimenez at his other restaurant, The Harvest Vine.
As the conversation begins, Serquinia mentions that one of the great things about cooking Spanish and Basque food is that he doesn't feel obligated to pay attention to "hot new trends" or the evolution of Northwest cuisine.
Come on, you must pay a little attention to what's going on in the Seattle food scene. After all, it seems there is an increasingly Spanish influence on food being cooked in Seattle. People were all abuzz about padrón peppers being the hot new thing this summer.
Sure, I pay attention, but in some ways it doesn't really matter. Like with the padróns. We've been doing those forever. It's only recently that everyone else has started using them. We get them from our guy, Manuel, in Oregon.
In fact, we get so many more great ingredients from Manuel besides padróns. We get piquillo peppers, both red and green, and we get beautiful tolosa and pochas beans. I buy as much as we can. Some go to the Harvest Vine since we don't have much storage at Txori. A lot of the beans we dry and use later. The pochas beans are so creamy -- it's amazing that we can actually get them fresh for a while.
So if you're not too concerned with Seattle dining trends, what are you paying attention to? You must be watching Spanish cuisine.
Definitely. We're always looking at classical Spanish cuisine and being influenced by that style. And of course, there's new Spanish cuisine at restaurants like El Bulli, which is inspiring and forward-thinking. In Seattle, I pay attention to what fresh products restaurants are getting, because if they're really good, then I want them, too. When I do go out to eat in Seattle, it's more enjoyable because I'm not always just thinking about work and making food.
Where you do you like to eat out in town?
Well, I have an eight-year-old son, so we do a lot of compromising. But we like to go to Le Pichet or Cafe Presse so my wife and I can have things that we like and he can have his pommes frites and croque-monseiurs. If I'm not eating with my son, then I'd go to Joule, which I think is just fantastic.
Joule strikes me as another place that doesn't really follow local trends. They seem to have their own vision.
Totally. They seem to be driven by the idea that you cook what you know -- who you are, what you remember. The older I get, the more I go back to that idea, which is why I'm so interested in learning and cooking as much Filipino food as possible.
Did you grow up eating a lot of Filipino food?
My dad came over from the Philippines in 1929, and he worked as a farmer in Auburn. I'm in the youngest of 12 kids. My mother was English-Irish; she made pies. My dad was the main cook. What I remember most is spending Sundays at the San Nicholas Filipino Club on MLK Way. We weren't allowed in the basement, which was smoke-filled and where the men went to play games like mah jong. But upstairs there was always a huge spread of Filipino food: dinuguan (blood pudding), which they called "chocolate meat," as well as pancit, pinakbet, and adobo.
Filipino food has a lot in common with Spanish food.
Totally! And that's not something I realized until I had been cooking Spanish food for a long time. Pochero (a pork stew) is a traditionally Spanish dish that has been adapted by Filipinos. It's got the same garbanzos and potatoes, yet it's different. I'm fascinated by that.
Me too. Look at adobo, it's the national dish of the Philippines, but that's not the original name. It was named that by Spanish colonial rulers because it reminded them of a dish from home.
Exactly. During the colonial period, you had Spanish priests with Spanish cooks ruling the Philippines, but who was cooking the food? Filipinos. So I wonder whose idea it was, when making paella, to substitute achiote/annato for saffron? That's what I want to explore in my own Filipino restaurant.
So you're planning to open your own place eventually?
The only reason I'm still cooking today is to open my own Filipino restaurant. Before I went to culinary school, I was a musician. And I worked at a law firm during the day. When I made the choice to cook for a living, I knew it would be a much tougher life. If you're not going in to open your own place, what's the point? The life of a line cook is really hard work.
What's your vision for your Filipino restaurant?
I'm going to cook my food, what I know. And what I like, more than than the Chinese influenced dishes like pancit and lumpia -- which I would still have -- are more Spanish-influenced foods, like stews. I want to bridge the gap between Spanish and Filipino food and make it modern. I'm inspired by Eric Banh and what he does at Monsoon -- cooking the food he knows, but putting his own updated take on it. It's the best of both worlds.