‘There are no chefs in the Food Network, just entertainers’

By Cristina DC Pastor; TF Photo

Sous chef Joel Javier, the son of anti-dictatorship activists, is leaving a popular Upper West Side restaurant this month and looking to find his next culinary challenge on a forthcoming trip to Europe. Do we smell Filipino-Spanish cooking?

TF: When did being a chef become so sexy?
JJ: A lot of this has to do with the Food Network, and the media and everybody saying being chef is this new rock star movement — in the back of the house, with fire, the yelling and the cursing. It’s the celebrity thing where everybody thinks the chef is this guy in white uniform, he’s making money, he’s on TV doing house parties with beautiful girls. Everybody who goes to culinary school now thinks when I get this degree I’m going to be that.

TF: So what’s a real chef in the real world like?
JJ: The chef is the captain. A good chef is teaching or inspiring somebody to be able to cook. In the kitchen you have all these young cooks and everybody has his own strengths, his own styles, and the chef has to develop that. You’re not supposed to belittle these people. You’re supposed to teach them so they can be better.

TF: You appeared on “Chopped” recently. What was that like?
JJ: It’s four chefs in a competition. There’s three rounds. Each round has a mystery basket with ingredients and you make a dish out of that. There’s a time limit. I didn’t win.
It was so controversial. I don’t really respect the Food Network so much. I give them credit for educating the public about food and going back to the kitchen and cooking at home, you don’t have to go out and eat. That part is awesome. But for me as part of the industry, there’s really no chefs in the Food Network. They’re entertainers.

TF: Is that feeling shared by many in the industry?
JJ: I think so. I know a lot of chefs wouldn’t do “Iron Chef.” Why do I need to prove to you that I can cook?

TF: What is your attitude toward food?
JJ: I get satisfaction out of cooking for people. I just like the all-around feeling of being with people in this festive mood of eating, drinking, and cooking.
Also this whole idea of sustainability… Seasonal cooking is very important. Everybody loves to eat, but I don’t get why you have to eat tomatoes in the winter. In the Philippines, you can’t have ‘santol’ all the time. There’s a season where it’s good, and you wait for that season. You don’t rush the cycle of things. Otherwise, it doesn’t taste as good.

With friend, boss and mentor Bill Telepan. Photo: Telepan

TF: In Filipino parties, food is always in abundance, and we just eat ourselves to death.
JJ: Everyone in the industry does that too. We work so many hours and when we go out to eat as an industry, we have a feast.

TF: Any favorite food you want to prepare?
JJ: I like simple stuff. If I’m ever going to open a place it’ll probably have stuff I want to eat. Maybe something toward Filipino and Spanish, which is maybe the route that I might take. Filipino food has always had the Asian influence, and I’d like to take it in another direction. Right now I’m on the verge of just learning. Opening a restaurant is a dream that’s out there. Not even sure if I’m going to open in New York, maybe Jersey. I’m taking baby steps.

TF: Why is Filipino food not as mainstream as, say, Thai or Vietnamese food?
JJ: There’s a certain focus that’s lost somewhere. Cendrillon did it, and Purple Yam did it. Kuma Inn is a great place. I like the concept.
Maybe it’s because we try to aim it to other Filipinos, and a lot of them are into home cooking. Why would I go to a Filipino restaurant when my mom cooks this? The second generation is into eating out. The world of food is so big, and your clientele can’t be all Filipinos. The Chinese did it. Chinese food here is nothing like that in China. They don’t have General Tso’s Chicken or Orange Beef. You need an Americanized Filipino restaurant if you want to make it big here. You can’t just depend on Filipinos because they’re not going to come out and eat. They might come one time, but they’re not going to come back. Filipinos are not repeat customers.

TF: Is your family a cooking family? What’s it like growing up?
JJ: My family loves to cook – and eat. I have a stepsister. My mom remarried an African American. My stepfather is an accountant. We were originally in Jersey, but after she remarried we migrated to Queens during mid of my high school so I was still going to Jersey in high school even though we lived in Queens.

TF: Care to share the circumstances of your journey to the U.S.?
JJ: I came here at age 10. I knew my dad was in this movement, the NPA, where my mom was in also.

TF: What do you remember of your parents growing up?
JJ: It was one of those gray areas. My mom’s family is a little different from my father’s family. Mommy’s family is on the side of the government. My grandfather is Jaime Laya. We had a lot of privileges on that side. My father’s side is the opposite of that. My father was some kind of royalty on his side. I remember going to his province. They’re not rich but they were like, ‘Those two cows, they’re all yours. Or these 25 goats, they’re yours.’
I was there and saw up until 10 what was going on: The traveling, going from houses to houses, wearing different disguise. Mommy raised me in that atmosphere instead of leaving me with my grandfather. I guess she didn’t want him to find out about them. It was a humbling childhood.

TF: How old were you when you heard about what happened to your father?
JJ: I was in second grade when he passed away. He was killed by the military. It was in some kind of village, and they gunned down the house. They could have left early, but they decided to stay because the families needed protection so they decide to stay for the night.

TF: You have such an interesting life.
JJ: The more I think about it now, I guess (laughs).

Joel Javier joined Bill Telepan’s restaurant shortly after it opened in 2005. He was hired as the “entremetier,” or the vegetable cook, and promoted to sous chef after six months. He graduated from Johnson & Wales in Rhode Island with an associate degree in culinary arts and a bachelor’s in food and service management.

Cristina DC Pastor is the founding editor of The FilAm, and a contributing reporter for Feet in Two Worlds.


  1. Hannah wrote:

    I thank you humbly for sharing your wisdom, JJ.

  2. Vic U. wrote:

    Great weblog. Provocative too.

  3. Lenni Palanca wrote:

    Simply remarkable!!! 🙂

  4. JJ has the skill, the heart and unique life experiences like no other chef in NYC! Way to go JJ.

  5. Sara Pauline wrote:

    I know that this is an old article. I just find it a bit arrogant to say that there are no chefs in Food Network. Of course there are. And they are also entertainers. Many of the chefs in the network are celebrities because they are talented chefs.

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