Fil-Am chef Johneric Concordiaon what’s cooking behind bars

FUNFARE - Ricky Lo - The Philippine Star
Fil-Am chef Johneric Concordiaon what�s cooking behind bars
Concordia: Set to share a taste of prison food…and much more!...in his show airing tomorrow night at 7:20 on the Discovery Channel

Meet Johneric Concordia, a Fil-Am chef who grew up in Los Angeles, California, where he established a BBQ restaurant called The Park’s Finest. It started as a local catering company but later developed into a restaurant in 2012 with the support of family and friends. The food is a product of growing up and cooking in the hood, not exactly like traditional Filipino fiesta food nor like the Southern American BBQ.

The Park’s Finest’s mission is “to provide premium quality BBQ with a distinct flavor grown from 20 years of experience and family tradition, by introducing a Philippine island take to the backyard boogie.”

Johneric grew up in a family that aimed to master the art of BBQ. His father, simply known as “Big Tony,” explored recipes with cane and pineapple, establishing a recipe for the sauce that has been passed on to the succeeding generations.

For his show Prison Food (airing tomorrow night at 7:20 on Discovery Channel), Johneric visited some prisons in Asia to see what’s cooking behind bars.

Excerpts from a phone interview with Johneric:

What did you find during your visit to the Philippine prison?

“I was in Iwahig Penal Farm in the island of Palawan and in East Jakarta in Bhutan Shikumen. There’s a facility-made block so that 4,000 inmates in a total of 10,000 are housed in that facility.”

What kind of food could be made from the (presumably meager) budget for each prisoner?

“Each prisoner is allocated about a dollar a day (roughly P53) for three meals. In Jakarta, the equivalent is 33 cents per meal. So, they supplement this budget by growing food in the facility. In Iwahig, they have small farms where they are able to grow food as well as those that are in Bhutan Shikumen, there are small garden facilities. But they do have some barter systems and some concession stores where you are able to purchase more food if there’s money on your books. Now there are some issues when someone doesn’t have money, then you’re not buying anymore food.”

What got you interested in prison food?

“I was approached by somebody to do a different kind of cooking show for Discovery Channel. I think it was scheduled for four episodes — or even six episodes — but when he was sure that I was the right fit, he advocated for me and we got two episodes. So we were able to film in the Philippines and Jakarta and I hope that the show resonates in the Discovery East.”

Did you share the meals (that you cooked) with prisoners?

“Absolutely! I mean, the cooking staff was made up of incarcerated individuals, so we ate what was available after we were done cooking. The staff knew their kitchen, so they were able to make dishes with extra ingredients that they might have available.”

What’s your favorite comfort food? And what are the dishes that you have eaten with your family aside from tinola (chicken broth)?

“My mother is an SDA (Seventh Day Adventist) and we grew up eating beef. We didn’t really eat pork too much even if my father is Catholic. So a lot of our dishes aren’t necessarily Filipino. My favorite comfort food is my mother’s coconut beef stew…you know, adobong ginataan sa karne.

“Some people call it Bicol Express. Let’s be real, I’m not from Bicol. So why would we name a dish for a region that we’re not from? So, that is a dish that is comforting ­— sarciado beef or chicken, hotdogs and potatoes. Now that I’m older, I enjoy dried fish. Before, frying that up created fragrance in the house and the clothes that I would try to go out with. So, it’s not the best thing to go to the club, smelling like dried fish on your jacket.”

Dried fish (tuyo) is perfect for breakfast.

“Yes, I enjoy having it for breakfast. It’s interesting that as we get older, things that we didn’t like that your parents tried to feed you are the same things we learn to love as adults. So I eat monggo and bitter melon (ampalaya), but I still can’t do pinapaitan. It’s too strong for me.”

Any other Filipino food that you crave?

“My wife is Ilocana so in her tribe, pork is a standard spice. It’s not even a protein; it’s just seasoning. So, there are a few dishes that come to mind…definitely the vinegary, the sour and the bitter. I love sinigang and fried vegetable lumpia with vinegar or chili on it.”

(E-mail reactions at [email protected].)

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