We are super excited for all of you to meet Chef Gerald Pabalan, an incredibly talented chef from San Francisco, California. If you've ever stumbled onto his Instagram account, @chefgpaba, you'll see a mouthwatering collection of vibrant and delicious food that he himself has prepared. We dare you to follow him, check the food posts out and NOT get hungry.
We double-dog dare you.
Chef Gerald has placed his own stamp in the culinary world by producing thoughtful and impeccably executed dishes, all while keeping the sustainability of the ingredients he uses in mind.
There is no way we were going to keep his talent a secret from the world. We are overjoyed for all of you to learn more about such a skilled and gifted chef who has on overwhelming passion for his craft.
EC: Hi Chef, and thanks for taking the time to hang with us. How about you tell us a little bit about yourself?
GP: Thanks for having me! I am of Filipino descent, was born and raised in San Francisco, CA. I was raised by great parents who never made me shy away from being what I wanted to be instead of maybe pursuing the stereotypical Asian “acceptable” occupations. I loved growing up in SF as I was introduced to many different ethnicities and thusly the diverse cuisines as well. I graduated from California Culinary Academy for my culinary degree and worked at various restaurants in the city before becoming a chef at Bon Appétit.
EC: When did you know that cooking is what you wanted to do?
GP: I knew early on that I wanted to cook for a living. I was very interested because my aunt was a chef at a nursing home and I was able to visit her numerous times and get into an industrial kitchen. I also watched all the cooking shows religiously since I could remember and pretend that I was cooking all those wonderful looking dishes.
EC: What is the first dish you ever cooked?
GP: The very first thing I ever made was snicker doodle cookies with my aunt. They were very fond memories because I had such a great time learning, using my hands and feeling how firm the dough was in between my palms. I also remembered reading through my aunt’s hand written recipe index spread throughout the dining table.
EC: Tell us about Bon Appétit Management Company. What is your role there and how did you get involved?
GP: Bon Appétit Management Company is an on-site restaurant company offering full food-service management to corporations, universities, museums, and other specialty venues. Based in Palo Alto, CA, we operate more than 650 cafés in 33 states. I am a head chef in one of the cafes on the Genentech South San Francisco campus. I have been working here on this campus for over 10 years and at first, it was a job that initially was a secondary job while working at restaurants during the evening. It was soon after when I realized I can learn how to be a good chef in this environment.
EC: What is your signature dish?
GP: I don’t have a signature dish to be honest, although I do like breaking a traditional Filipino dish down and rebuilding/ recreating it using other techniques or ingredients to make a whole new concept. I feel as a Filipino chef, it is important to heighten the exploration of my heritage’s cuisine.
EC: Is there anything you wouldn’t eat?
GP: I’m pretty fearless when it comes to trying new things. I haven’t met a dish or ingredient, for that matter, I am not willing to try at least once. I feel it is important to be open-minded because there are so many things out there, and for me, to keep evolving, I have to continue to go past my comfort zone.
EC: Is there any ingredient that you don’t like working with?
GP: Honestly, I haven’t gotten to the point where I said to myself, “I’m not using that again.” I think it's fun creating on a daily basis, having such a variety of food here in the bay area, and yet there a lot of unique ingredients I have yet to use.
EC: How do you put your menu together?
GP: First, I check on the seasonality and sustainability of ingredients. We are very in tuned with making sure that we get the very best ingredients around our own community. In corporate dining, we also encompass an ever changing menu deriving from different cuisines to more health conscious diets. Being able to satisfy a large group of people’s needs can at times be very hard, but we find ways to make sure that our client receives that best daily.
EC: Do you have a favorite wine?
GP: My favorite wine is Chenin Blanc. It honestly reminds me of being a child in my aunt’s kitchen. She used to have canned peaches for cobblers and pies and the scent of Chenin Blanc is the same those peaches had.
EC: Do you eat fast food?
GP: As any chef that I know would say, “Of course!” My favorite spot is Nation’s Giant Hamburgers. I would get a bacon cheeseburger with an egg (if they let me), grilled onions and pickles with fries and a shake. Nation’s are also known for their pies, which I occasionally get when the pecan pie hasn’t run out.
EC: What do you like to do when you're not cooking?
GP: I’m a big sports fan here in the bay area, so watching and rooting for my favorite teams help me unwind, but I do love spending time with my wife and kids.
EC: What music do you listen to?
GP: I like listening to music that I grew up listening to. I don’t really listen to current music which makes me sound like an old person but I like the music back when I was younger. In my current playlist I have The Jets, Metallica, and Boyz II Men.
EC: Can you share one of your most embarrassing moments in the kitchen?
GP: My most embarrassing moment in the kitchen happened a long time ago. I was cleaning out a fryer, and I wasn’t paying enough attention to it. I left the hot oil in the compartment and I dumped a whole lot of soapy water into it thinking I had already dumped the oil out of it. Needless to say, it turned into a sixth grader’s science experiment with lava like liquid bubbling out of control. It took me an extra hour to mop the whole kitchen floor.
EC: What is one of your proudest culinary achievements?
GP: I am very proud of becoming a sous chef very young into my career. I was just a year and a half into my career but I guess people saw that I had a lot of potential even though I was surrounded by many experienced cooks. I will never forget that moment. By the way, being featured by Epicurean Chronicles is really awesome too!
EC: Do you have a favorite food memory?
GP: My favorite food memory…. When I was real young, I remember baking my first of many apple pies. I think I was about 8 or 9 years old, and with some help, I was able to bake a decent pie. I guess you can say I was pretty proud of myself and I still love having apple pie to this day.
EC: What advice would you give to aspiring young chefs?
GP: The best advice I can give to aspiring chefs is to never become complacent and keep striving for something you think can’t be attained. As a chef, I realize that I have an ego. I’m pretty confident at what I do, but I also understand that I can never stop learning. I can learn from anyone in that kitchen and I never assume that I know more than the person next to me. I take every single moment as a teaching moment, something that I can learn from. I continue to push, think outside the box, and stand out from the rest.
EC: What advice would you give to a home chef?
GP: As for being a chef at home, my advice is to keep an open mind. Do not exclude dishes, cuisines, ingredients, etc. because you never know what you will enjoy. In turn, you can open the minds of others, sharing a new love for good exciting new food.
EC: Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 10 years?
GP: Well I hope first of all I hope that 10 years from now I would be a good enough husband and parent for my family which is very important to me. They are the biggest reason I push as hard as I do- to make them proud of me. As for on a professional stand point, I will continue doing what I love- making great food and designing new concepts of dishes. Maybe down the line if there is a possibility, I can open up my own spot, but I am very happy where I am now.
EC: If you had 3 wishes, and no wishing for more wishes, let’s follow Alladin’s genie rules, what would they be?
GP: My first wish is to be able to have invisibility. Sometimes work just gets to be draining mentally and physically and I usually can’t get enough time to just let go of it. I am ashamed to say sometimes I bring some of that emotion home and I feel bad for my family because they don’t deserve it. I think being invisible for an hour just to get away would help. Second wish would be that I am able to please the client/customers 100 percent of the time and surpass expectations. I know it’s impossible, though I strive for it every day. My last wish is that I can eat without gaining weight because I like to eat… everything! Losing weight has always been an issue for me especially now since I cook for a living.