Executive Chef & Partner of Talde Restaurant in Brooklyn New York
A 1998 graduate of the prestigious Culinary Institute of America, Dale began his professional career in Chicago as part of the opening staff at two of the city’s most acclaimed eateries: Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Thai-inspired, French restaurant, Vong-Chicago; and Chef Shawn McClain’s New-American restaurant, Spring. Dale followed this with a stint consulting at Le Anne, a Vietnamese bistro in Chicago’s western suburbs. It was there, he developed a true passion for Southeast Asian cuisine.
Where did you grow up and who or what influenced you to start a career in foodservice?
I’m from the Chicago area and grew up in Niles, IL, a suburb of the city. My first influence when it comes to food is definitely my family. I come from a big Filipino family—I literally have dozens of first cousins who I grew up around—and food was always a central part of our get-togethers and celebrations.
When I graduated from culinary school, I stayed close to home and worked in Chicago. Chef Carrie Nahabedian really gave me so much and I consider her my mentor. She certainly inspired me as a professional.
Where did you attend culinary school?
I went the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY. Graduated December of 1998.
How did you end up in NYC and do you have any mentors that led you here? Did you work for any acclaimed eateries?
Like a lot of American chefs, I felt like I had to experience NYC. I knew I wanted to work at Morimoto and Buddakan, so I basically just pestered Stephen Starr and both those restaurants until they gave me work. I think I sent my resume online to Stephen about two times a week and mailed him a hard copy once a week. I also called the restaurants a bunch of times, and kept calling even though I got hung up on. They eventually offered me a shot, and I moved to NYC in December 2005. I got to work at both restaurants and ended my time with Starr Restaurants as its Director of Asian Concepts.
You appeared on Top Chef on two different occasions. How did you get onto the show and why? Did Top Chef help boost your career as an upcoming chef?
I got on Top Chef by just going to an open casting. A girl I was dating at the time encouraged me to check it out and then the cooks I worked with told me, “You’ve got a big enough personality, you should try out for the show.” So, I did.
Top Chef absolutely gave me a boost as a young chef. I don’t think I would’ve been able to secure my current projects without it.
How did you meet your co-partners, David Massoni and John Bush? How was the idea for Talde created, what was the thinking behind it?
I met David first. He was working at ‘inoteca at the time in the Lower East Side. I came in for dinner with my girlfriend and we just hit it off. He introduced me to John who’s been his friend for years. When they started building their first restaurant, Thistle Hill Tavern, in Park Slope I would stop by and hang out and when it came time to open my first place I knew I wanted to do it with them. They’re just great guys.
The idea behind TALDE was to just open a great neighborhood spot. Some place casual and fun where the staff takes good care of you and there’s always something good to eat to drink.
What made Brooklyn the location choice for Talde? Does Brooklyn give you a reminder of where you grew up in Chicago?
Park Slope definitely reminds me of where I grew up. It’s a real neighborhood and the kind of place where you feel like you can get to know people. We felt it was missing a restaurant like TALDE. It was underserved, which is something you can’t say about a lot of places in NYC, and this idea trumped all else. We knew that we were going to open in Brooklyn and in Park Slope, and it’s been great so far. The neighborhood has really supported us.
Talde is known for its Asian American cuisine. Do you keep your dishes as authentic as possible or do you add a little Brooklyn-East Coast touch to your offerings?
The food at TALDE is inspired by everything in my life, the places I’ve been and the things I’ve eaten. In this way, what ends up on the plate is a reflection of who I am. The diversity of Brooklyn—with all the people and cultures—really inspires me and local products end up on our menus because they’re good and we also want to support our neighbors. Brooklyn’s a great place to live and work, and I’m blessed to be here.
Explain the balance of Asian cuisine offered at Talde? For those who don’t know, is it sweet, salty, hot…a combination of all three?
I’d say it’s a combination of all three: sweet, spicy and salty. Our focus is on flavor.
Patrons just want good food, great drinks, and a comfortable atmosphere without breaking the bank. How are these important factors incorporated and utilized at Talde?
These are all incredibly important, and are the guiding points of the restaurant. We want a place where people can come and do everything from celebrating a special occasion to enjoying a bit of alone time with a bowl of soup, a beer and their iPad.
Is Talde’s menu seasonal or does the menu stay pretty consistent throughout the year? Is a farm-to-table approach used, using any local markets?
There are of course certain dishes that remain fairly constant at TALDE—the pad Thai and the fried chicken for example—but we try to use the local farmers’ market as much as possible whether we’re creating new seasonal dishes or adding seasonal components to existing dishes.
What do you like to cook with most on the menu, Beef, Lamb, and Chicken? Any special seasonings that help create an authentic Asian American dish?
Pork for sure. I love pork. If I had to pick one seasoning it would be fish sauce. There’s just nothing like it.
We know fresh ingredients help create a truly great meal, but the kitchen equipment and tools help make the chefs’ job a little easier. What is Talde using for equipment in the BOH? Any tool or equipment you can’t live that makes your job easier?
We couldn’t live without our woks. They allow us to have certain dishes on the menu that’d be hard to replicate otherwise. We also really love our cast-iron plancha that’s fitted onto one of our grills, our broiler and our fryer.
What advice can you give the upcoming generation of chefs that truly love to cook but also want to be an owner one day?
For young chefs I would say keep your ears and eyes open. Every day in the kitchen is a chance to learn, and you have to be ready and willing to absorb as much as possible. Also, throw your ego right out the door.
When you do decide to become an owner always think about your employees and customers first. These are the people who take care of you and matter the most. Also, surround yourself and work with really good people on your way to becoming an owner. There is no substitute for trust.