Dining & Wine

Celebrating Asian Heritage Month: Fable Kitchen Head Chef Matthew Villamoran

May 7, 2024

We’re celebrating Asian Heritage Month by profiling some of our favourite professionals in Vancouver’s restaurant and food industry, like Fable Kitchen head chef Matthew Villamoran. Oh, and their favourite recipes, too!  —Vita Daily

Can you share a bit about your personal journey as a chef and how your Asian heritage has influenced your culinary style and approach to cooking?

As a first generation Filipino Canadian, my earliest memories of food were very simple. The familiar smell of steamed rice and pandesal, a Filipino bread roll, was always present in our household. Little did I know at the time, just what an amazing cook my mom is. Growing up we had an abundance of homemade meals. Meticulous folded edges on empanadas, lumpia shanghai, steamed siopao asado all were hand made in our household to be shared with friends, neighbours and families just arriving to Canada from the Philippines. As an immigrant, finding local ingredients to recreate home cooked Filipino food was a challenge for my mom. She shared a story of her landing date with me many years ago. At the time, there was no “Filipinotown” and Asian supermarkets were not as prevalent as they are today. She shared that she and her compatriots didn’t even know where to buy rice and would sometimes go hungry not being able to recognize Canadian food. The ability to leave your home country, with the hopes of a better future and more opportunity for you and your family is mind blowing to me. Farm to table, buying and supporting locally are more than just buzzwords and ethos. It is what every immigrant does when they first arrive. Little did I know that this is what would really shape and influence my approach to cooking. One of my favorite comfort foods that always floods me with memories whenever I eat it is a tamarind based soup called Sinigang. Since I was born and raised in Canada, I didn’t know what this dish tasted like in the Philippines. My mom was able to recreate it with ingredients she found here and it is a taste and memory that will never leave me. Before farm to table and buying locally became a trend, subconsciously, it was always the approach I took. Even before my professional culinary journey began.

What inspired you to pursue a career in the culinary arts, and how have your cultural roots shaped your culinary identity and the dishes you create?

Although I’ve had a career that now exceeds two decades, the culinary arts was not my first career. As the son of first generation immigrants, the goal was to attain higher education and pursue a career in that field in order to be successful. After high school, initially I pursued an education in Economics with the goal of becoming an accountant. While I was able to achieve that goal, I was unable to find fulfillment in that field. In an attempt to find something more fulfilling, I enrolled in post secondary education again in the field of computer science. While finding joy in the actual work, just as in accounting, I was still feeling unfulfilled and disconnected. Eventually, I found my way to Vancouver and fell in love with the combination of city, nature & climate. A family member introduced me to the hospitality industry. In a short period of time I found connection and the fulfillment I had been searching for in my previous careers. After a few years in the industry, I decided to once again attend post secondary education and enrolled in culinary school to begin my career in the culinary arts. I am still a student of the culinary arts. I am dedicated to sharing and learning new methods and techniques with anyone that has the same desire. As I get older, my mom’s love of food, our culture and her faith, continues to be an inspiration for all things creative. I am so blessed to have had this significant influence. Recently I’ve had multiple opportunities to unite traditional Filipino recipes with modern technique and local ingredients. The importance of teaching and then sharing cultural foods and recipes are not quantifiable. If I do not share my knowledge and experiences with my wife, son and colleagues of the Filipino culture I am proud to be a part of, the culture potentially dies.

In what ways do you incorporate elements of your cultural background into your culinary creations? Are there specific ingredients, techniques, or flavors that hold particular significance for you?

I am classically French trained and spent much of the early part of my career in Italian or Italian inspired restaurants. Initially, my cultural background did not play much of a role when opportunities to create first presented themselves. Away from work I continued to cook traditional Filipino food using traditional methods as I found comfort in the aromas and tastes. There isn’t any one specific ingredient, flavour or technique that holds particular significance, it is more about the combination of those elements from both a Filipino and international perspective.

Vancouver is known for its diverse culinary scene. How do you navigate blending traditional Asian flavors with contemporary techniques to create innovative and unique dishes that resonate with diners?

In my honest opinion, food is never new. It is recreated and reinvented, yet never new. As I’ve spent my entire life eating and preparing Filipino food with friends, family and colleagues, I am proud to say I have a good understanding. At the same time, I know that there is always so much more that I can learn. I believe it is of the utmost importance to have a full understanding of the cultures that you are blending to recreate or reinvent dishes. While I have gained experience with French and Italian flavours and technique, I don’t necessarily blend them with Filipino. My aim is to modernize Filipino food I grew up eating with traditional French, Italian and modern techniques.

As we celebrate Asian Heritage Month, what message or story do you hope to convey through your cuisine, and how do you see food as a powerful medium for cultural expression and understanding?

My message is simple. Our cultural significance ends unless we share our heritage. Food is more than sustenance. It is a universal language that brings people together and creates lasting memories. When I started my culinary journey over twenty years ago, I was often the only “Asian”, let alone Filipino, in the kitchens I was a part of. This past summer I had the opportunity to participate at Brewery & The Beast. I was amazed to see how much Filipino representation there was. And not just Filipinos working in or for other businesses. So many individuals and teams of Filipino entrepreneurs, putting themselves out there to share a piece of themselves with everyone. I see the brightest of futures in our industry for Filipinos and relish the opportunity to collaborate with them and any culture willing to share their story through food. In general, people are scared of what they don’t know. What better way to find understanding than through sharing a meal!

Kare Kare Recipe

Serves 6

5 – 5.5 # oxtail (cut into 3” lengths)
1 tbs salt
3 tbs vegetable oil
2 tbs annatto oil
1 large onion (thinly sliced)
2 tsp garlic (finely chopped)
4 L water
½ cup long grain rice
¼ cup salted peanuts (no skin)
1 # green beans (top & tailed)
1-1.5 # eggplant (cut into 8 wedges)


1 tbs green onion (thinly sliced)
1 tbs celery leaves (finely chopped)
to taste bagoong (fermented shrimp paste)


  1. Remove any excess moisture from the oxtail pieces & season with salt.
  2. Heat an 8 – 10 quart casserole over medium heat, add oil.
  3. In small batches (5 – 6 pieces at a time), brown the oxtail pieces. Turn frequently with tongs and adjust heat as necessary to develop a rich golden brown with out burning. Transfer to a plate once colour has developed.
  4. Remove remaining fat from casserole & replace with annatto oil. Add onions, garlic & sauté. Scrape any fond from bottom & sides of casserole & continue to cook for 8 to 10 minutes until the onions are soft & golden brown.
  5. Return seared oxtail & liquid from plate to casserole & add 2.5 L of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low. Simmer partially covered for approximately 2.5 hours or until the meat can easily be pulled from the bone with a small fork.
  6. While the oxtail is braising, place rice in a frying pan & toast until golden brown. Purée in a blender or spice grinder until powder-like. Transfer to a bowl & set aside.
  7. Purée peanuts in a food processor. Achieve as smooth as a purée as possible. Transfer to a bowl & set aside.
  8. After oxtail has been cooked fork tender, add remaining water, rice powder & puréed peanuts. Mix well until thoroughly combined.
  9. Bring to a boil over medium high heat & cook for 10 – 15 minutes, stirring frequently.
  10. Add vegetables, mix thoroughly & turn heat down to low.
  11. Place cover on casserole & continue to simmer until vegetables are cooked through.
  12. Taste, adjust seasoning if necessary.
  13. Garnish with green onions & celery leaves. Serve with bagoong on side.


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