Chop Talk: Chef Paolo Garcia Mendoza of Karenderya
Whenever cravings for a pork adobo bowl hit, we have Chef Paolo Garcia Mendoza, co-owner of Karenderya, to thank for keeping Filipino flavors on the culinary map in Nyack. After decades of experience at notable restaurants, he has accrued a number of accolades, including the recent recognition as semifinalist for the James Beard Foundation 2023 Best Chef Award. Karenderya was also listed in Esquire Magazine’s top 20 best new restaurants roundup in 2018.
Mendoza, 51, immigrated to the United States at the age of 15 from Pasay City, Philippines. Cooking has always been his forte, even when it was one of his daily chores as a teenager. He eventually realized he could make a living in the kitchen and enrolled in the Institute of Culinary Education. His first break came from Floyd Cardoz’s restaurant Tabla as an intern.
He climbed the ladder in a host of restaurants, moving up from dishwasher, garde manger, sous chef, chef, and executive chef. In 2017, he reached his ultimate goal when he opened Karenderya along with his wife, Cheryl Baun.
What’s your favorite thing to cook?
“[Laughing] Well, at home I don’t really cook Filipino food. Because I cook it so much at work, I don’t cook it much at home. It depends on what I am in the mood for. Sometimes I’ll feel like Moroccan food or whatever, and I’ll prepare some. My kid’s food allergies also dictate what I cook at home.”
What is your biggest influence or inspiration when it comes to cooking.
“Definitely my mother. She was the best cook in the family and taught me the basics growing up. The food from my Filipino culture plays a part, too. It is my roots and I have a have a connection to it.
I also get inspired by the creativity of other NY restaurants like the Cambodian sandwich shop Num Pang. It inspired me to put some sandwiches on the menu at Karenderya. Also, I love the French-Caribbean restaurant Ivo, and Lulu in SoHo — the food was delicious. I don’t think it’s around anymore, but it was high-end but casual, and inspired me when I created Karenderya.”
What advice would you give aspiring chefs or someone new to the kitchen.
“Tone down that ego and just listen. There are a lot of hot-shot chefs out there that think they’re just too good to learn new things. Just listen, watch, and ask a lot of questions. I learned more stuff from watching sous chefs then the actual chef.”
Where do you think Filipino cuisine is today in the food scene compared to 5 years ago?
“I think the cuisine is still new, and has a little trendiness to it at the moment. Maybe because there’s been an increase of Filipinos in the public eye — actors, musicians, and stand-up comics like Jo Koy. They help shine some light on Filipino culture.
Exposure to the food also happens through association. You know, like you have a Filipino friend who brings you to a Filipino restaurant, or even takes you home where you can experience authentic Filipino food through a family get-together.
Filipino food has come a long way thanks to pioneers like Chef Romeo Dorotan. He owned Cendrillion, one of the first Filipino restaurants in New York City. It’s not there anymore but they also have another place called Purple Yam in Brooklyn. They were one of the first places to elevate Filipino cuisine by moving away from 10-page menus and buffet-style eating.”
How would you describe the food at Karenderya?
“Delicious! Casual, Filipino-inspired food with a home cooked feel. I’m not a fan of the word “elevated” when it comes to describing food. So, I’ll just say that it’s good food with the freshest ingredients served in a casual atmosphere.”
Swing by and enjoy the tasty fare at Karenderya. You’ll be glad you did.
248 Main Street, Nyack
James Carsey is a freelance writer from Tarrytown. He enjoys art, photography, cooking, and the great outdoors.