By Tiffany Ran
Northwest Asian Weekly
A vegan propaganda table at a Goldfinger concert was what first drew Filipino chef Kristina Glinoga’s awareness to the issues surrounding industrial meats and animal husbandry. Apparently, she later learned, Goldfinger band members were a group of old school punk rock vegans. This was the beginning of her exploration of these issues, even adopting the vegan diet for some time. To this day, her knowledge of these issues continues to inform the way she cooks.
“Most of us are complicit in consuming industrial foods because it’s very convenient, but if people aren’t willing or able to cook for themselves in a nice way, I’ll do it for them,” says Glinoga.
Lure of the professional kitchen
Glinoga switched from a career in sales and customer service to a job at the Blue Star Café and Pub, where she worked her way up from busser to a line cook. She went on to cook at other restaurants in Seattle like Ba Bar, Matt’s in the Market, and Spinasse before taking on her current position as a line cook at Radiator Whiskey at the Pike Place Market.
Taiwanese American chef Alvin Tsao remembers that sort of epiphany when he first stepped into a professional kitchen. At the time, he took a part-time job at the restaurant in addition to a full-time job. In college, Tsao was a member of a law fraternity. He had a promising score on the LSATs, and big jobs under his belt working for a local congressman and as a legal assistant at a law firm. His road was all but paved towards law school, but when the meals he’d make for friends went from humble to a seven-course meal, he knew that he was putting more energy into cooking than he might otherwise put in other subjects.
“Once I stepped into a professional kitchen, I felt I really responded to it. I didn’t enjoy sitting at a desk. I enjoyed the daily challenges and satisfaction of working in the kitchen,” said Tsao.
“I think sometimes people have a fantasy of what working in a kitchen is like and for a lot of people after [actually] working in a kitchen, they decide that it’s not for them. For me, it was the reverse … working in the kitchen was more satisfying than I expected it to be,” he said.
Tsao eventually left behind prospects of law school to enroll in culinary school. He is now the sous chef at Manolin in Fremont.
“I took longer to make that decision than most would. I didn’t want to take a really fun hobby and turn it into work, which would ruin it,” he said.
“If you had a billion dollars, what would you do for yourself?” a friend asked Glinoga one day, and Glinoga could only come up with two things: build a very large kitchen to cook in and travel.
“Those were the only two things I wanted to do, so I thought, ‘Oh, well maybe I should just go do these things then,’” she said.
Mastering the unfamiliar
Thursdays and Fridays are Glinoga’s favorite work days — when she gets to break down whole animals and work with primal cuts. Her cooking career led to a deeper interest and exploration of whole animal butchery and husbandry. On these days, she does a stage (culinary internship) with the butcher at Bateau, a dry age farm-to-table steak restaurant in Capitol Hill.
When she was younger, Glinoga’s parents worked long hours, leaving her and her brother to prepare meals. She credits her parents’ work ethic as an influence for her career.
“I’m willing to work super long hours and I’m willing to work hard. My mother would always say, ‘Your work should be a reflection of yourself.’ So whatever I’m prepping or whenever I put up a plate, if I put out a [crappy] plate, I know I’m being lazy, and I shouldn’t,” she said.
The resistance and skepticism from Glinoga’s mother about her career change pushed her to attend culinary school, deciding that if she was going to make this big change, she would have to take it seriously.
Tsao grew to enjoy bitter melon and other unique flavors he remembered his mom pushing him to try. The early exposure, he says, made him a less picky, more open-minded eater. His mother has been largely supportive of his career, he notes, despite being a bit of a Tiger mom back then.
“I think the greatest advantage that people of our background have is that growing up in the U.S., we are familiar with foods that non-Asian people growing up in America would be [familiar with], but we also have the experience at home of eating a lot of different foods, experiencing different flavor combinations that people might not have access to when they’re growing up. It’s product knowledge and perspective,” he said.
The first whole pig Glinoga would break down on her own came unlike the rest, in two halves butterflied down the middle.
She would have to go about butchering this pig in a different way, unlike the techniques she knew, and a scheduling snafu made it so that she would have to butcher the entire pig herself. It was a long day, she recalled.
“Every time I hear about butchery, animal husbandry, and slaughter, I’m always interested in it. It’s something I really want to get into. I don’t know if I will want to become a chef necessarily, but being in this industry has allowed me to be able to do what I’m genuinely interested in. You have to pay your dues. It’s not always what you want to do, but when you get to do what you want, it’s so worth it,” she said.
At Manolin, Tsao mans a wood fire grill, a centerpiece of the restaurant which specializes in seafood. Ten years from now, he hopes to own his own restaurant. But until then, he works to influence Manolin more by creating new dishes and he hopes to gain new experiences as a sous chef or chef de cuisine at other restaurants before embarking on his new endeavor.
“If you have a sneaking suspicion that you’re passionate about something, something less traditional from your family’s viewpoint, just try it out. … People are doing this in their 20s, 30s, and 40s. Don’t feel like you’re 23, fresh out of college, and you have to get on your right path right away or else you’re being left behind,” said Tsao.
He adds, “Life is pretty long, for most people I think. So there’s plenty of time to explore.”
Tiffany can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.