Asia և Pacific Island Heritage Month. my own self-discovery. Tales of the Cocktail Foundation:

If you look at me, there are some assumptions you can make. Judging by the color of my skin, you may think I’m Asian, probably South Asian, Filipino or maybe Thai. If you look closely at my good menu, you will notice a bunch of Asian ingredients; Panda Calamans. “Oh, he’s definitely Filipino,” you might say.

But for those closest to me, know that I’m not always Filipino. Of course, I always knew I was Filipino. But growing up as an adopted child in North Virginia, I identified as white versus Asian. Both of my parents are Caucasian, and so are most of my friends at the time. My appearance was what set me apart from everyone else և As a child, the last thing you want is to be different from everyone else.

When people ask me: “Where are you from?” Is my usual response: East Coast – North Virginia. Only after they push do I realize they are asking what my nationality is. The answer is Filipino, but I do not really know myself that way.

Discovering my Philippine side and becoming comfortable was a journey I have been on most of my life և I will probably continue to be forever. There have been times in my life when I have tried to suppress it. As a kid, I used to try to adapt to the white kids I grew up with. But do not deny your skin color և your heritage. Other times I was trying to get into it. I even studied joining a college student group in the Philippines. After all, I did not fit. I looked like a Filipino, but inside I felt like I belonged.

I tried to contact my Asian part, but realized that it was not so simple. I could learn about my culture, I could learn about the ingredients, I could eat the food, but some of me would never fit in completely. My Asian friends would have cultural references that I could never understand or relate to. Things about Asian parents, growing up in Asian families, I have never felt. To supplement, I did not speak that language. These links have never responded to me, so there will always be disconnection, no matter how warmly և the community welcomes me.

As I grew up, I made many Korean և Japanese friends, I began to discover another side of my Asian identity. After meeting my Japanese-Hawaiian wife, I learned about her heritage, began to love, and embrace other cultures. With each new discovery, I realized that I had adopted pieces from different cultures, that I had become my own little melody, that I would never fit well under one label.

The evolution of Pacific Cocktail Haven (PCH) coincided with my own discovery. It evolved the way I evolved, it continues to evolve today. If through my own discovery I can even make ONE person proud of their heritage, or introduce ONE person to a new Filipino ingredient, then I feel like I did something good. I’m happy to be that catalyst, even if it was never who I decided to be.

What I have learned can be attributed to Chef Francis Angin, a Filipino chef who actually set out to educate people about Filipino culture. He introduced me to many different ingredients and helped me learn a lot about my heritage. When Filipinos enter PCH, I often hear “thank you very much”. They are proud to be Filipinos. I’m proud to see a Filipino bartender showcase Filipino ingredients in cocktails. They are proud that their culture deserves attention. They tell me that PCH is their “safe haven”. Or it was never my intention, I’m humbled, և it makes me happy, և it inspires me to keep moving forward.

Over the last few years I have become a more mature bartender; I have really discovered my own cocktail style. Pacific Cocktail Haven (PCH), as the famous Pacific Coast Highway, embodies the hospitable atmosphere of calm California, which has also evolved. The hospitality is still there. it will forever be who I am, what I want to embody. But now, Pacific Rim components are on display. All the cultures I have adopted in my lifetime finally have a place to display.

I never consider myself a “Filipino bartender”. I consider myself an incredibly motivating, hard-working, passionate bartender. I have always relied on this character trait. the traits my parents instilled in me. Every time I have ever experienced a failure or an opportunity that did not come up, it just ignited the fire inside. It made me work harder. It was the motivation I needed to push myself to be better than I used to be. I believe that if you do not have the “driving force” and the concentration, you are still just spinning your wheels.

If you take a closer look at my cocktails և look at the Filipino ingredients, you will see something else. Lychee. Li-hing mui. Japanese sewing. Salted sesame. Mango. Coconut. Macadamia nuts. Thai tea. The reality is that my menu is a flavor melter that has affected me. I am much more than my Filipino heritage or white upbringing. I am a reflection of my adopted Korean brother, my Japanese-Hawaiian wife, all the friends, educators, people I have met in my life who have influenced me. They are always a part of my identity, they will always be a part of the effects and inspirations of my cocktails.

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