By Marivir R. Montebon
New York – Quite early in her lifetime, Bangkok-based Fil-Am Chef Aisha Ibrahim, has conquered the kitchen on an international stage. In her most recent homecoming in Manila, and perhaps, the most endearing, she whipped up a recipe in honor of her grandmother through a dish that finds its roots in beleaguered Marawi.
Aisha’s ‘Chicken wings piaparan’, a collaboration with chef Sam Beaird, is a sentimental homecoming journey as a legacy learned from her grandma Mercedes. At the Toyo Eatery dining adventure, guests were raving for more. Chicken Wings Piaparan is stuffed with palapa, composed of grated coconut, turmeric, scallion, chile, and ginger.
Aisha, 33, has worked with the most prestigious restaurants in California (chef de partie for Aqua and Commis and sous chef for Manresa) and now, Thailand (sous chef for Eneko Atxa’s Aziamendi Restaurant). She trained in Azurmendi in Bilbao, Spain in preparation for her Asia stint, and was prepped to make it to the TOP 50 Chefs. Along the way, she served in the best kitchens of prestigious restaurants like Ishikawa and Seiji Yamamoto’s Ryugin.
Born in the Philippines to Oscar and Zurita Ibrahim, Aisha grew up in West Virginia in the US. She went to university on a Basketball scholarship in North Carolina but eventually decided to get a degree in Culinary Arts. In 2008, Aisha graduated at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco.
Excerpts of our interview:
O: What made you decide to include a Maranao dish in your specialty?
Aisha: The decision to serve our approach to piaparan during our collaboration dinner at Toyo was really a decision we made to both honor my lola (father’s mother), and give voice to the Maranao cuisine as we had just spend time in Pualas to visit my Lolo’s grave, see a bit of Marawi for the first time after the siege, and also spend a bit of time with my Tito Salic and Tita Sinab who are working with a non-profit called MARADECA (http://www.maradeca.org), and specifically working with displaced folks of this region as a result of the siege.
This portion of our trip made such an impact on us, and this was just a small way for us to express the beauty of that particular region of the Philippines while getting to honor my lola.
O: Lola’s cooking is always special. What dishes did you learn or truly loved that she prepared for you?
Aisha: A few months ago as I facetimed with my lola, I was saddened to hear that she was no longer cooking due to her old age. This really propelled us to begin planning a trip to see both of my grandparents while we have a bit of time. While both sides of my grandparents are wonderful cooks, my lola’s Maranao cooking has always left a unique memory for me growing up in the U.S. I can’t thank her enough for bringing piaparan and biko all the way to West Virginia for us to enjoy as kids. It’s honestly one of the most memorable dishes I’ve ever had, and I’m glad we were able to share this with the guests who were kind enough to join us for an evening with our friends from Toyo Eatery.
O: I heard from your dad that you will open your own resto soon! How amazing! What’s the name of the restaurant and its distinction?
Aisha: This is true. We are currently working on a seasonality and sustainability focused restaurant called Axis in Bangkok. The emphasis around sustainability will emphasize working with sourcing only local and responsibly-grown product.
O: That is amazing and exciting! Best wishes. You’re considered a top chef. What’s the secret to success at a young age? Or is it even a secret?
Aisha: I don’t know about top chef, but I hope the work that we are doing creates a positive impact and influence on the future of our industry and help others to see the impact our industry can make to responsible farmers and producers.
I also don’t know about any one secret to succeeding in anything that you do. I think hard work, and setting goals have always allowed me to continue to grow in my profession and things I’m passionate about. (Featured photo by Jessi Cotterill; Ibrahim kitchen photos by Oscar Ibrahim).