Clinton Street in Portland, Oregon is where you find Magna. With this restaurant, Chef Carlo Lamagna is putting the spotlight on Filipino modern cuisine in the US city.
"I've been cooking for 22 years all around the United States and in Europe too. I finally came to a point of cooking Filipino food... 'Magna' is part of my last name. It's actually a dedication to my family in the Philippines, mainly to my father. He passed away in 2009. One of his last wishes was to promote the Filipino food and the culture," Lamagna shares.
The chef, whose family hails from Pangasinan and Cagayan, also aims to educate the public about regional cuisines in the Philippines. For him, Filipino food is evolutionary.
"Honestly, I don’t believe in fusion. The word fusion is something that is outdated. Because from the indigenous ingredients of the Philippines to where people have taken it now, from the influences of Spain, US, and Japan... our food has developed. It has evolved," Lamagna explains. "The word fusion is actually a bad word in the cooking vocabulary."
Lamagna was listed by the Food & Wine magazine as among the best chefs this year. The magazine says he approaches Filipino food like 'a race car driver, driving with extreme precision and finesse, but isn't afraid to press on the gas.'
The chef asserts that Filipino food is now being recognized globally. Being part of the new contingent of modern chefs, he too continues to explore every possibility and aspect of the Filipino flavor, and bring it to the community. "Using our skills set and moving forward is something big... The main proponent is that, it's not that we have to win over, it's not the outside society we have to win over. We have to win over Filipinos. Filipinos are the most critical of anything Filipino."
"'Ay hindi Filipino food yan' (Oh, that's not Filipino food) I've had people come up to me and say that. Why do we need validation from outside source?" Lamagna asks.
During the pandemic, Magna went from upscale modern dining to more traditional Filipino food mixes. Lamagna hopes that his restaurant will become an institution and that his way of cooking Filipino food will be etched in the next generation of Filipino Americans in the US.