Chef Jordan Andino Is Here To Flip Your World
Even after graduating from the Ivy League, owning two restaurants in New York City, hosting two shows for the Cooking Channel and Food Network, and brushing up with the likes of Bobby Flay and the Kardashians, the 30-year-old Andino has no plans of slowing down.
In the span of less than a month and a half, the working-class world of food had lost two of its most outspoken advocates. Anthony Bourdain—the loquacious, no holds barred chef-turned-personality—shocked the world on June 8th, 2018 when he was found dead in his hotel room in Keyserberg, France; Jonathan Gold—the Los Angeles food critic who became the first in his profession to win the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism—passed away in L.A. on July 21st due to pancreatic cancer.
Why both Bourdain and Gold were so well-known in the public eye wasn't necessarily due to their culinary knowledge, but rather by their focus on the culture and meaning behind the foods they profiled. The two often were less impressed by the fine dining elite than the family shops run by and frequented by immigrants.
Speaking to this legacy, one of the lasting iconic images of Bourdain is of him sitting in a tiny plastic stool sipping beer and eating bún chả (grilled pork with vermicelli noodles and fresh herbs) with then-President Obama in Vietnam. For Gold, the effect is best illustrated by a 2011 tweet left by actress Mindy Kaling asking for a recommendation:
One slice of pizza in the hollywood area? don’t Jonathan Gold me and tell me to go the san gabriel valley goddammit
For all of Bourdain and Gold’s championing of marginalized communities and underappreciated foods, one sentiment started to become noticeably distinct to those who could personally relate: their love of Filipino cuisine. Bourdain observed that “Americans and American palates are just now starting to become seriously interested,” and Gold proclaimed in a Los Angeles Times article, “This is the Filipino food moment.”
“Almost every dish plays on the qualities of fermentation and umami, saltiness and sourness, freshness and age,” Gold continued. “It is unlike anything you may have tasted in other cuisines.”
With their departure, however, Bourdain and Gold have left the growth of the so-called Filipino food moment the equivalent of a lonely Help Wanted sign peering through a restaurant window.
“JORDAN! JORDAN!” The name keeps ringing through the building, and my head turns into a swivel trying to locate its owner. It’s a cool summer Thursday evening at Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade, and Nestlé’s Nesquik is having a promotional "Milk Stop" pop-up event where Chef Jordan Andino is billed as host. As my eyes shoot to the second floor of the two-story space, I finally find Andino, who currently hosts his own show, Late Nite Eats, on the Cooking Channel along with another show, Food Boats, premiering soon on the Food Network and re-airing on the Travel Channel.
Before I know it, Andino, 30, disappears. As I just begin to process where he could be, he emerges again—this time shooting out of a giant slide (painted to look like a Nesquik straw, of course) into a gigantic ball pit.
“Jordan, he’s here to interview you,” a PR representative assisting with the event says, gesturing to me.
“Let’s do it,” says Andino—born in Toronto, Canada to immigrant parents from the Philippines before moving to Manhattan Beach, California—as he claps his hands together. I later find out that I just witnessed no fewer than his fourth trip down the slide for the cameras, and yet he shows not the slightest trace of physical or mental fatigue.
Andino—sporting the essence of his usual style with a short-sleeved, trim-cut Hawaiian shirt, dark-wash jeans, and black Converse Chuck Taylors—gets down to the plush rug on the floor of a lounge area, propping himself up on the side with his left arm as he faces me. Without saying much at all yet, Andino has already established a great deal of personality: a care-free, exuberant one echoed by his two New York city restaurants, both named Flip Sigi, which have graffiti muraled onto the walls and menus chalked into longboards. Following suit, I sit on the ground with my legs crossed.
Flip Sigi, described by Andino as “a Filipino taqueria”, is the latest in a culinary career littered with success; Andino began cooking when he was 9 and, under the tutelage of his professional chef father, quickly worked his way up the ranks with New York’s Jeans-Georges, Beverly Hills’ Spago, and Napa Valley’s French Laundry before landing his first executive chef position at the age of 23. Along the way, Andino somehow found the time to graduate from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York with a Bachelor of Sciences degree in Hotel Administration.
As he explains his journey, Andino is firm and confident when he speaks, lending credibility to the underlying drive and work ethic he says his father instilled within him. “I’m stubborn,” he says, smiling. “There’s no way, at any point, that I would ever give up at anything.”
IN ADDITION TO HIS ASCENT IN THE CULINARY INDUSTRY, Andino has found success on television; he laughs humbly when I mention that he’s a bit of a celebrity chef, then telling me, “I like to call it a chef personality.”
“It’s something that I didn’t necessarily want, like growing up or whatever, but I kind of just fell into it,” Andino, who also has Beat Bobby Flay, Chopped, and “every morning show you can think of” in his television resumé, continues. “I’ve noticed that I have an affinity just for talking to people.”
What doesn’t hurt Andino, of course, is his camera-ready appearance, which resulted in his inclusion on PEOPLE Magazine’s “2017 Sexiest Male Chefs in America”—a fact that makes him burst out laughing in embarrassment as I mention it. To Andino, the experience was both an honor and a surreal moment, especially as word travelled to his friends.
“We were trying to break it down of whether or not it was a true ranking, because we were like, alright, is it alphabetical? No. Is it by age? No. Wow, I think I was number one (according to the article, Andino was indeed the first of 21 chefs mentioned). I was like, dang!” Andino recounts excitedly. “And my friends all made fun of me, like, ‘you come in second to Bobby Flay [on Food Network's Beat Bobby Flay], and you win the one thing that doesn’t have to do with cooking.’”
And yet, of all his TV and media appearances, one seems to stand out just as much as a flash of his crystal-white teeth: appearing with the Kardashians. Andino, who started as a personal chef for the infamous family, made his way in 2014 to E! Network’s Kourtney and Khloé Take the Hamptons through a spontaneous opportunity from a high school friend. In doing so, he forever established himself in the Kardashian lore.
Of the family beyond what the cameras capture, Andino couldn’t be more complimentary. “They are awesome people: amazing, cool, fun, chill,” he says. “I would totally work for them again,” he continues before adding with a verbal underline, “Some of the best clients I’ve ever cooked for.”
As usual, Andino seems completely genuine, and he’s quick to add context. “I’m not gonna lie. I get some fickle people,” he mentions, his mind racing with the memories of the years spent cooking for various clientele. “Some people,” in contrast to the Kardashians, “treat me like just the help.”
As we talk more and more, I realize that under his easygoing and energetic exterior, the absolute last thing that Andino wants is to be “just the help”—or “just” anything.
FOR MANY CELEBRITY CHEFS, their starpower becomes so vast and so great that it outshines their culinary ability; the whole concept of Beat Bobby Flay is not so much to showcase talented chefs across the world but to prove to the audience that Flay can hang in the kitchen with nearly anybody.
“I don’t want to be underestimated as a chef, ever,” Andino says. “I want to be respected and revered as a chef before a personality.”
Acknowledging that his television persona and experience is “growing simultaneously” with his chef career, Andino adds, “I don’t want to lose sight of what I came into this industry for—and that’s to cook. That’s what my true love and passion is.”
In fact, even with two show premieres on three major networks, a cookbook slated to come out within a year, and a third Flip Sigi (“hopefully,” he says) on the way, Andino mentions he has one major lofty goal to pursue: “be the first Filipino chef with one Michelin star—just one—in Filipino cuisine.”
“Right now, that doesn’t exist in the world,” he says. “So I would be the first one.”
Of the “Filipino food moment” that Gold coined and Bourdain predicted, Andino recalls feeling invigorated towards this goal. “When Anthony Bourdain said it, it was vindication,” he says. “I knew—I knew Filipino food was next.”
Certain elements of Filipino cuisine, like balut (boiled or steamed duck embryos), ube (purple yams), lumpia (spring rolls), and Jollibee (essentially the Filipino McDonald's) have broken their way into a subset of the American subconscious. With the Philippines comprising of over 7,000 islands along with its unique history imparting Spanish, Chinese, and American influences onto its culture and its food, the potential for Filipino food to grow in the U.S. seems almost limitless.
Bourdain himself pointed to sisig (sizzled pork head, liver, and belly) as a perfect gateway dish, while Gold highlighted adobo (a marinated meat dish) as a possible introduction. Joining the two personalities with this overall sentiment is Andrew Zimmern, host of the Travel Channel's Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern, who's been on record for predicting that Filipino cuisine will reach a critical mass before an eventual explosion onto the scene.
Emphasizing his point by counting on each of his fingers, Andino continues, “Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Thai, and Viet: those are the big five, and everyone is like, what’s next? I’m like, 100% Filipino food.”
It is this very movement, however, that suggests other restaurants and chefs may not be far behind. Andino himself cites the popular Filipino restaurant Bad Saint in Washington, D.C. as “the closest to getting that Michelin star,” before quickly adding, “My goal is to try to catch them.”
I ask him if he’s nervous or feeling the pressure. “After you do Chopped,” he says, “pressure is not a thing.”
ANDINO'S SIGHTS ON BEING A TRAILBLAZER should come as no surprise, especially considering that he is a bit of a rarity: a Filipino-American, Asian-American who’s not only a prominent figure on TV, but also in front-facing, leading roles.
“I’ve been realizing now that I even have an impact,” Andino admits when I bring this up. When he says this, it reminds me of a May 4 Instagram post where he says he’s “working tirelessly to become a bigger part of the Filipino fabric in the U.S.” and even claims he’s “been a bad Filipino” (a point that his followers, however, seem to disagree with—one of them writes, “Hope All Fil-Ams are like you, proud to be Filipino!!!”).
For Andino, the primary focus coming up through the tanks had always been on improvement, not breaking cultural boundaries. He takes continuous learning so seriously, in fact, that he eats out for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day: a total of 21 meals every week—“I learn through my eating,” he explains.
As Andino grows in his career and gets more time in the spotlight, however, his commitment to his culture seems to be paying off. “Just someone I met today—a Filipino woman—she went, ‘thank you for what you’re doing for our cuisine,'” Andino says in amazement. “Now that I know it means that much, I want to perpetuate it more and to represent it in the best of lights.”
With our conversation coming to a close, Andino bounds up to his feet as I, six years his junior, gingerly rise from the plush rug. Disclosure’s You & Me (Flume Remix) blasts in the building as the Nesquik event is about to begin with Andino at the forefront, but not before he tells me one last thing:
“I’m going to go down the slide!” Then, as usual, he follows through—full-speed ahead.
Tremaine Eto owns and writes for Stuff in LA. For any comments or collaborations, you can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.