On a beautiful summer day, Dale Talde begins filming his new television series. Standing in a picturesque garden, Talde surveys his surroundings. On a table in front of him is an array of cooking utensils, and beside him is a silent grill, soon to be alive with the smoke of charred meat. When filming begins, he speaks naturally, explaining each step of the recipe effortlessly. As a former Top Chef alum and a guest on countless cooking TV shows (Chopped and Iron Chef America), Talde is a seasoned TV pro. Filming a cooking show is just another day at the office for Talde.
All of this is featured on Talde’s new TV project, Everything in my grill (premiering on Tastemade June 30). The show has a singular purpose but a status challenge thesis. Although each episode centers on the art of flame grilling, this is not your typical grill show. Talde’s goal is to showcase the diversity of the common garden grill beyond the standard menu of hot dogs and barbecue chicken. The show’s mission is to make grilling transparent, creative and fun.
“With a little creativity, imagination and drive, you can turn your outdoor grill into a simple extension of your indoor kitchen,” Talde said. “Anything you use in your normal kitchen, you should be using as equipment for your grill. You know those giant BBQ tongs and giant BBQ spatulas? This stuff is all garbage. If you want to cook well, cook with what you normally cook with – your normal spatula, tongs. Obviously it needs to be heat resistant. But all of this will help you cook on a regular grill.
As a three-time Top Chef contestant and successful restaurateur, Talde has plenty of culinary knowledge to share about grilling. But there’s also something interesting about the food featured on her new show. On the first episode of Everything in my grill, he brings a unique twist to the crowd-pleasing rib rack by infusing it with the sweet and aromatic flavors of Chinese Char Siu. Even sliders made by Talde feature the unconventional addition of flavored mayonnaise rich in Korean kimchi.
This style of cultural blending is key to Talde’s quirky cooking style. Much of Talde’s food featured on the show and in her restaurants is a blend of international cultures and ingredients. Although his cooking style is strongly tied to his Filipino American upbringing in Chicago, he is also a strong advocate for change and looks at authenticity through the lens of lived experiences instead of strict tradition. Perhaps the best representation of Talde’s food philosophy is his cookbook,. Here, Talde’s cuisine is in the spotlight with recipes such as Korean-style fried chicken with raisins and a McDonald’s-inspired apple pie made with frozen, packaged Indian roti as the crust. All of this food is described by Talde as “proudly inauthentic”.
“You can’t help but be influenced by what’s around you,” Talde said. “I live in Chicago and I love tacos. There’s a reason I love tacos. First of all, everyone loves tacos, but second, there’s a huge Mexican population (in Chicago ) and amazing Mexican food all the time, so that naturally influenced my palate because I grew up eating it.
This challenge to tradition and blending global techniques and ingredients is practiced by many modern Asian American chefs. Fusion can be a dirty word in the culinary world, conjuring up images of messy, convoluted Pan-Asian dishes peddled by restaurant chains or celebrity chefs. But for Talde, combining different cultures and traditions can be fantastic – you just need to come from a framework of respect.
“The French chef who’s an Asian, who only dates Asian women and puts lemongrass on his beurre blanc and calls it Asian food, that’s bulls,” Talde said. “It’s not that. There are a lot of white chefs who do Asian food and really respect it. Andy Ricker, the guy is an authority on Thai food, he has a real respect for it. But these other chefs who have seen it on TV, who have never been there, who have no respect for it, who put spice in their beurre blanc or other classic French sauces and call it Asian fusion, this is not real. There is no respect in that.
This idea of change championed by Talde is not without criticism in the community, especially among some older Asian Americans. For people of the older generation, many of whom proudly cling to the concept of tradition and authenticity, changing age-old recipes can be seen as disrespectful. “It’s the generation of aunties. They are the ones saying “hey, this is not real Filipino food”. I never said it was. And I’m not really all-Filipino and even if I was, you have to adapt,” Talde said.
Talde represents a generational shift towards the idea of being an Asian American. Many young Asian American chefs and food media professionals, like Talde, are the sons and daughters of immigrants. While their parents’ formative years were spent in Asia, second-generation individuals like Talde grew up in America surrounded by different experiences and cultures. For young Asian Americans, the idea of creating a new identity centered around being authentically Asian American cannot happen without profound innovation. While Talde’s parents didn’t grow up with Mexican tacos or McDonalds, he did, and that taste memory has a direct bearing on his cooking. For this new generation of culinary talent, this push to new heights of creativity is simply the next step in Asian American culture.
“A lot of us are nearing our late 30s and 40s,” Talde said. “We should be doing the things we do, becoming entrepreneurs by starting our own businesses, writing cookbooks, becoming executive chefs. It’s just natural.