We knew her as May, when she was this wee tall. Her aunt and uncle were very good friends and neighbors of ours until life brought us apart (we moved farther away from the city). So through them, we got to know Kristine Subido’s family.
Many years ago we got invited to their home for dinner by her aunt to enjoy Kristine’s mom’s cooking – Melinda. I could not forget that meal. She cooked a Spanish dish – callos, which then became my favorite recipe of that dish. It has become my benchmark of the callos that appeals to my tastebud so much so that I couldn’t enjoy the one that Mom and I had in a restaurant in Madrid where the influence came from.
Melinda has always been a trailblazer. I grew up in the province and we almost always eat everything with rice, and grated cheese mainly went into spaghetti. She served us challah to go with her callos and sprinkled a copious amount of parmesan. From there followed more family get togethers but that callos dinner was memorable to me. I remember their story that their parents were both butchers in Manila, they had a stall at the city market and their parents were terrific cooks. Early on life revolved around food in the Flores and later Subido family – great food!
So it was no surprise when we heard Kirstine was going into culinary school to eventually become one of the most promising chefs in Chicago and in the country. She has the credentials and training both here and under the wings of a renowned chef in France. From France she ended up in The Wave at the W Hotel in the city for a decade and was doing very well so it came as a surprise to the food community when she announced she’s opening her own restaurant.
Melinda, now a banker, has always dreamt of going into the food business. A very savvy and astute businesswoman, it naturally followed that she partnered with Kristine’s Pecking Order. As a mom, she threw in her full support. Mother and daughter are very close, in fact they live in the same building. And they share the same passion – food, their identity as Filipinos and the rich heritage that was passed unto them through several generations of their family.
After years of following Kristine’s career, we now had a chance to see her in action at her own turf. We were giddy and excited at the thought of seeing them again and stepping in at much celebrated and talked-about Pecking Order. We never doubted the food will be great after our history of sharing and breaking bread all those years.
But even though they are family friends I was curious what’s the buzz in the community. The verdict is very mixed. Filipinos are very critical when it comes to going to restaurants serving dishes they grew up in but many times they are very close minded. Even though they might be generous when it comes to other places they patronize, when it comes to restaurants set up by other Filipinos, they are very stingy in their praises not just in their wallets. They are quite hard to please because they always think their mom could always recreate those dishes, even better.
A year after they opened, the verdict out there from the food community has been exceptional and very encouraging. Even better, they have been featured and rated by Bon Appetit, Chicago Magazine, In and Out, and other publications. Next month, I heard she will be in the cover of Food and Wine and soon in the Food Channel. She has done tv guesting too, she’s so in demand, she’s got her plate full. And speaking of plates, Kristine is not one to shy away from washing dishes when she’s short of staff like yesterday. Mother has been a very positive role model when it comes to hard work and a great reinforcer.
Now I digress. It’s Viv’s birthday and where would be a better place to celebrate but at Pecking Order. Melinda was there early, waiting for us. Ever dynamic and vibrant, she didn’t look a day older. In fact she looked great despite the demands of her day job and helping her daughter in their joint venture.
I have to give credit to this mother-daughter team. Filipino dishes, though we swear are as good as any country’s dishes anywhere compared spoon-by-spoon, has not gone mainstream for the very reason that Filipinos fail to appreciate and patronize their very own. As one Italian I met said, Filipinos want to eat only the dishes they are familiar with. Which is not necessarily true but, when it comes to Filipino restaurants they expect to be served like they are at their own homes, plentiful and cheap. Sometimes they could care less about presentation which is very disheartening.
Pecking Order is chicken-centric but once in a while they would divert from this and add pork. Filipinos are big pork eaters but they believe in doing what they do to perfection. They have a very limited menu and they use only the best and freshest ingredients. Kristine came and worked in the best restaurant kitchens in France and in the country, why would she break away from those principles that made those places successful at her very own.
It has been a very long lunch and time went by so quickly. We had a happy reunion with Melinda and we got to see again that once little girl making a big name for herself now. Five people left Pecking Order with very full stomachs and happy feet, and promise to go back for more and bring and send their friends to have the same experience.
Those are some sophisticated Filipino chicken with a twist, enough to put Filipino dishes in the world’s consciousness.
4416 N. Clark
(Note: The flan was on the house but we were paying customers so don’t be thinking my favorable review came as a result of a free lunch. LOL)