July 14, 2024


Than a Food Fitter

Why Are Chefs Riffing on Fast Food in D.C. Right Now?

9 min read

Ask any chef for their earliest fast food memory and prepare to smile. Chef Jon Taub reminisces about trips to Roy Rogers with his dad when he was growing up in Philadelphia. “You know the Fixin’s Bar?” the chef and co-owner of Bub & Pop’s asks. “You got your burger and then you could put all that shit on it. It’s kind of like your first chance to be a chef.”

Chef Katsuya Fukushima of the Daikaya Group recalls the intoxicating aroma of McDonald’s fries in California. He could smell it from miles away, until he couldn’t. “They used to fry them in beef fat,” he explains. “Now you don’t smell them until you’re inside. There was some kind of health kick and they switched to vegetable oil. Over the last 10 years chefs have started frying things in duck and beef fat, but McDonald’s was doing it way before!” 

For some, fast food was a treat. For others, it was at the heart of family life. “We were new immigrants in this county and my mom worked three jobs,” says former Bad Saint chef Tom Cunanan, the sixth of seven children. “Our older siblings had to be the ones to feed us.” They worked at Popeyes and Flamers Burgers and Chicken. “Whatever was leftover at their jobs they took home and that was dinner.” 

Chef Paolo Dungca, who hails from the same Phillippine province as Cunanan, looked forward to weekend breakfast spreads from Jollibee. “Growing up in the Philippines, my cousins would come over on Saturdays,” he says. “That’s how we started our weekends. For me, that’s why Tom and I wanted to do something like this. We can connect families.” 

Dungca and Cunanan opened a restaurant on Wednesday inside The Block D.C. at 1110 Vermont Ave. NW. It’s a reunion of sorts for the pair who cooked together at Bad Saint. Their fast food passion project— Pogiboy—is more than a nod to Jollibee. It’s a tribute, acknowledging the joy Jollibee sparked early in their lives. 

“You can be poor and rich and go eat at Jollibee and enjoy everything on the menu,” Cunanan says. “It reminds you of your childhood, especially the quirkiness of the employees who work there.” He does his best impression: “‘Welcome to Jollibee, have a jolly good day!’ They’re so happy to serve you. It makes you feel like you’re back home again.”

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