About three years ago, the Filipina Erica Paredes boldly introduced boodle fights to Parisians. In her private dinners, she served her signature food in the popular military kamayan style. The Europeans warmly received this unique dining experience. Guests felt more relaxed and open. And suffice it to say, they liked the food, too.
It was during this period when the Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef realized it’s not difficult to seduce the French palate with Filipino flavors.
While she had to put the boodle fights on hold because of the pandemic—this communal style of consuming food doesn’t exactly adhere to Covid safety and restrictions—Erica continues to serve her own take on Filipino cuisine in Paris. Recently, Vanity Fair France featured the rising culinary star (we found out about it via her dad Jim Paredes’ Instagram). She will be showcasing her spin on her home country’s cuisine at Mokoloco at Rue de Charonne, Paris, until November. The go-to sandwich café spot is owned by Japanese pasry chef Moko Hirayama and Lebanese-born chef Omar Koreitem, both well-respected names in the Paris restaurant scene.
The Pinoy menu
Hirayama and Koreitem traditionally invite chefs to showcase their food at Mokoloco for the duration of three to six months—and it now happens to be Erica’s turn. “Basically this is my home until the end of November and my menu will be evolving, depending on produce available,” the Pinay chef tells ANCX.
It’s been over a week since she started offering her Pinoy menu at the restaurant and things have been good so far. “People like my food, which I’m very happy about.”
The VF story called her offerings “one of the rare pleasures of last winter” in Covid-era Paris, singling out her “fried chicken golden like ingots,” said the writer Constance Dovergne. “The ultimate comfort food passed twice in an oil bath then in devilish marinades with Pan-Asian influences, honey/sriracha, adobo or hainan.”
What else is in her menu? As per VF, “a dozen dishes whose Filipino influences flirt with local produce: green beans, bagoong (shrimp paste), crispy onions, mint and chili; white tuna marinated in coconut vinegar, passion fruit, pomegranate and chili; sirloin steak, spicy palapa sauce, turmeric rice.”
Not to be missed, according to the story, are Erica’s crispy chicken wings—one of her specialties—kare-kare, and calamansi cheesecake which “worked like the iconic ‘tarta de queso’ that is eaten in the streets of San Sebastian, in the Spanish Basque Country.”
Erica says she tries to use fresh, seasonal produce in her dishes as much as possible. “Everything is made from scratch. I also try to add more veggies to my menu, which I know is not typical of meat-heavy Pinoy food.”
The kare-kare Vanity Fair mentions is actually “vegan roasted aubergine kare-kare.” Erica says she will also be serving pork barbecue at Mokoloco with a passionfruit glaze and fennel atchara, rib eye beef Maranao-style rendang, burrata with hainan sauces (“think chicken rice sauces on a creamy burrata”), ginataang mais riz au lait with coconut caramel and toasted buckwheat.
She also has her own version of longanisa burger—“Filipino style garlicky and sweet pork patty, Tallegio cheese, onion jam, gochujang yogurt slaw, and house made bun.”
Her menu inspirations stem from personal childhood memories and her travels, and from living and working in France. “Honestly, sometimes, things just come to me and it sounds good in my mind so I see if there’s a way to execute it properly in a restaurant setting,” she tells ANCX.
Did she find it challenging to introduce Filipino cuisine to the European palate? “I want to say yes and no,” she says. “No because more than half the population is not familiar with Filipino food. It becomes a bit easier because it’s something new and fresh.” But it’s also difficult for the same reason. She has more than a few times heard people say “Filipino food isn’t that good.” But that only makes the Pinay chef more determined to prove naysayers wrong. “Most of the time, it’s people who probably ate in the wrong places, just like tourists who come to France.”
If some people think Erica started pretty late in her culinary career, this, she admits, is true to some extent. But her interest in food and cooking actually started way before she even turned 10 years old. “I was not very good at looking up recipes, but I loved snooping around my mom’s pantry and fridge to see what I could create out of what I could find,” she told Preview in a 2019 interview. She even recalls making pineapple jam and selling it to her own grandmother.
Erica started to take cooking a little more seriously when she moved out of her parents’ house and started living independently at age 22. When her then roommate—who cooked—moved out, she knew she needed to step up. “It really became a choice between instant ramen and learning how to sauté some ingredients together,” she shared in the same interview.
A change of scenery
It was five years ago when Erica decided to uproot herself—leave a career as beauty editor, lifestyle writer, makeup artist, and media/events consultant to pursue a culinary career in Paris. She needed a change of atmosphere and to finally jumpstart the second career she had put on hold for so long. “A lot of personal conflict was happening at the time and let’s just say it was time,” she tells ANCX without going into detail.
She enrolled herself at Le Cordon Bleu Paris for a year and had since worked in French restaurants before she started offering private and open dinners via a business she called Reyna. The past years, her life revolved around school, internship, work, private dinners, pop-ups and residencies. The more fun part was she got to travel, spend time with her loved ones and friends, and eat a lot.
La vie Parisienne
“Life is definitely not ‘Emily in Paris,’” she tells ANCX when asked what it's been like for her in the City of Lights. “It’s like any big city with its advantages and disadvantages. You need to be streetsmart and learn to fend for yourself, especially with the hours I keep.”
Her present residence is a two-bedroom apartment overlooking a chateau. She moved in an area right next to Paris about a year ago. “It’s still on the metro line, so very close and convenient but very safe and relaxed when I go home. It’s on the east of the right bank, near most of my work in the 11th arrondissement.”
Work has drastically changed her routines, and so did Parisian life. “First of all, the hours are crazy! I am at the restaurant by 8:30 AM and I get home past midnight,” she shares. “My wardrobe has very much adapted not just to my current work, but also to Paris generally. People here are not very showy or wanting attention, which suits me just fine.”
Her work outfit, by the way, is usually just a cotton tee with some punk or rock and roll print. “I hate chef's jackets!” she says. “I mean, depende sa lugar. If I have to [wear one], sure, but a lot of cooks are pretty casual nowadays, here at least!”
With her loaded schedule, Erica only gets to see friends and family on her days-off. “I constantly smell like food,” she says. “My old job was all about getting dressed and showing up to events and honestly I thought I was tired then, but now that seems like a vacation.” She sums up her life in four words: cook, sleep, eat, repeat.
But she’s not complaining. Asked if she has any plans of continuing her culinary career back home in the Philippines, she says she doesn’t see it happening soon—especially because she is opening a restaurant in Paris next year. And perhaps because life in the City of Love has been such an enriching experience for her.
We ask Erica what she can tell younger people who dream of chasing the same career and living the independent life. Her answer: “Be authentic and focus more on creating than competing. Also, messing up is part of growing and learning, so get over it quickly and do better next time,” she says. “Lastly, never stop learning, from every single person you work with. Everyone has something new to teach you.”