Cuilinary Mindmelding On Offer at Folsom Street’s Alchemy
Perched on barstools, Ronnie Taylor and Tim Luym each wear five-panel skate caps and trim t-shirts, and offer me a spiked root beer float that tastes like a grade- school summer, only with booze. They’re seated in a chic and quiet side room at Trademark, the Folsom Street bar that houses Alchemy, the already-popular Filipino- Japanese project that’s just opened this year. It’s a project that they’ve designed to reflect their individual, uniquely Filipino-American journeys as chefs.
“I was 21 when I moved to San Francisco from Florida. I started working at Campton Place, which is a kind of a Michelin Star resort, you know, it's a Four Diamond. And then from there, I just bounced around to different restaurants, and I actually landed a job at Ozumo, and that's where I fell in love with Japanese cuisine. From there I kind of just dedicated my time to kind of like perfect the cuisine -- or try at least -- and basically I have been cooking Japanese food for eight years,” Ronnie says.
“[Like Ronnie], my first experience cooking was in fine dining, which set a foundation, but I always had a special place for street foods and foods that reminded me of home. And I was traveling a lot in Southeast Asia, because I would visit my folks in the Philippines and stuff like that,” Tim says.
It was these experiences that led Tim to do Poleng (formerly located in the Panhandle) and set him on a path that lead to the first forays of what would eventually become the core Alchemy team.
“There was an opportunity that came up [for me], which was Poleng, and we were doing a lot of street foods but it had the Filipino influence. It's still a little bit -- the stigma of Filipino cuisine was a little bit at that time, you know, people were just on some Fear Factor stuff. So the idea was to kind of Jedi Mind Trick people into eating Filipino food, and through that it picked up a lot of traction, and so we kept moving forward -- that's where I was finally able to do that Bar Sinigang series with Ronnie. And it was awesome, what he had to bring to the table with his fine dining experience plus Japanese cooking experience, plus his knowledge of Filipino food and his passion for that, was a perfect opportunity to just really create something,” Tim says.
The partnership forged over the Bar Sinigang pop-up project led to a concerted -- and cooperative -- research effort into traditional Filipino cuisine, with a steady eye on modern interpretations based around their individual skills and influences.
“So after that Bar Sinigang series, we were traveling the Philippines and there were just a bunch of ideas. We were eating at all these different restaurants and just talking shop about Filipino food, and Ronnie had the brilliant idea of, ‘Wait, let's create this Alchemy, because it really is kind of just like, our past and our [personal] history with our own [culture’s] cuisine, and bridging that through what we've learned through different chefs, and just where we currently are right now [as restauranteurs],’” says Tim.
This criss-crossing of Ronnie and Tim’s individual travels, memories, and histories forms the basis for craveable offerings like sisig deviled eggs, spicy umami wings, or chicken lumpia, made with Japanese-style tsukune and served with an ume chili dipping sauce.
“For me it’s always exciting to [taste] something that I haven’t tried in like 20 years, so it’s that excitement that I get of almost getting like a flashback. And I’m always changing things -- editing things out or adding more things in -- and then I get that one spark where it’s like, ‘Oh, wow, that’s what it should taste like.’” Ronnie says.
It’s a creative process that both he and Tim see growing out of their family history with Filipino food, but evolving as their travels and professional experiences influenced their work.
“My sister is a chef too, and she kind of put me under her wing. She was the one who got all the the recipes and kept them within the family for so long, and now that I am kind of going back to my roots, I am asking my sister all of these questions, like ‘What did Ate make?’ or ‘How did Ate make this?’ And my sister has a pretty good memory of flavors as far as what it’s supposed to taste like, and she helped me with bringing the old recipes that my grandma had, for me not to recreate it, but modernize it,” Ronnie says.
“I’d visit family in the Philippines growing up, and it was comforting food, it was something I knew I liked, so why not try to share it with guests in the world -- and similar to Ronnie, it’s something that’s close to home for me but we are here to interpret it now how we enjoy it, and how we want our guests to enjoy it.” Tim says.
From that perspective, they see their approach as a hand-in-glove fit with the UNDSCVRD Night Market.
“It’s this constant progression of where Filipino food can be. Now, we are where we have a lot of talented [Filipino] chefs who have different backgrounds -- they have worked for Michelin-starred restaurants, and worked for chefs of lots of different cuisines. So there is so much that can be done through UNDSCVRD -- we’re literally uncovering the undiscovered aspects of the cuisine. It’s now about progression -- it’s already here, and it’s now moving past being ‘just Filipino food,’” Tim says.
“Alchemy will be offering an array of experiences at UNDSCVRD. Things to look forward to are the Kinilaw (fish ceviche) bar, an outdoor Filipino barbecue using Japanese binchotan (white charcoal), as well as packaged items such as chicharrones and Japanese Cracker Jacks,” Ronnie says.