Paris-based Filipino Chef Erica Paredes promises to spice up the City of Lights with Reyna Restaurant—a love letter to the women who made a mark in her life.
We, Filipinos, certainly do love our beauty queens. From local barangay pageants to the whole of the universe, Filipina women have won and earned the crown as the fairest of them all. This spring, the French capital will welcome another addition to our ever-growing number of Filipina queens, although this time in another embodiment—food.
Reyna (Queen) is the new Filipino restaurant that is set to open on the 11th arrondissement in Paris by the end of April. The brainchild of former gymnast (a member of the Philippine national team who competed in the ASEAN games in the 90’s) and beauty editor turned-chef, Erica Paredes, Reyna will showcase the best of Filipino cuisine with a twist: using only the best seasonal produce to create a distinctive taste without losing its Filipino vibe and spirit.
“Reyna is my love letter to all the women in my life—my grandmother, my mom, my aunts, my yaya. They have made a big impact on who I am today,” she says. Although she comes from a big family, Erica is still unsure where she got her talent for cooking. “There wasn’t any professional chef in the family but my Lola and my mom were good cooks and it was always a special moment when they cook for the family,” she adds.
Erica’s culinary journey is one for the books. An inquisitive food enthusiast as a child, she would always whip up something to eat for friends or family members. Never in her wildest imagination, however, did she think cooking would be her future profession. It was not until in her late thirties that a trip to France would change her life and would make her decide to take the culinary path.
“I fell in love with Paris and its food that by the time I was on the plane coming back to Manila, I already decided in my head that I’m gonna move to Paris and enroll in a culinary school,” she admits.
And she did. Erica enrolled and graduated from the famous Le Cordon Bleu and soon found herself doing internships and working for French restaurants in the city. She also quietly began to disrupt the Parisian food scene by introducing “boodle fight”—a Filipino dining experience similar to a supper club that was unheard of for the non-Filipino diners.
Soon after, Erica introduced Reyna, a business concept offering private dinners and pop-up kitchens to great success. She couldn’t believe her luck. People queue outside for a table and some had to wait weeks to get one.
And who wouldn’t be in love with her food? Imagine sisig with truffles, Aubergine kare-kare, scallops in sinigang broth, or lechon with adobo reduction—a feast for the palate, indeed. For a Filipino like me who has been away from the motherland for so long, these dishes are not only joyous and delicious. They are also a reminder of a culture, an identity, and a version of home. Erica, of course, will also be serving them in a particular Pinoy style.
“I like doing shared plates so I have a lot of tapas-style serving but I also have a few bigger plates like a 300-gram entrecote with rendang sauce which can be shared by three people. It’s very different from the typical entrée plat style that French people do. But for me being an Asian, it all makes sense to cook and eat that way. You know naman us, Pinoys, we like to share food with our friends and family,” explains Erica.
What about her famous fried chicken?
“We are going to be open from Apero (happy hour) where we will be serving snacks like wanton chips in sinigang flavor. The fried chicken will be included in our dinner menu and we also have a license to serve alcohol so it’s going to be a long night of good food and drinks,” Erica adds. Three of her staple and well-loved dishes will be regulars on Reyna’s menu: beef steak with rendang sauce; vegan kare-kare using seasonal vegetables, peanut sauce and coconut milk; her fried chicken with Hainan sauce; and calamansi cheesecake. Erica also plans to make super comfort food like arrozcaldo, which may not be on the menu but will be available late at night if anyone asks for it.
Asked how she feels about her foray into the food business in Paris, the world’s food capital and home to some of the world’s most starred Michelin chefs, Erica replies, “It can really be daunting and terrifying at times. But I am just thankful for the good feedback of the diners, restaurant owners, and the people in the food industry that I’ve worked with who always uplift and remind me: “Erica, you know French cuisine but you are also a Filipino who knows very well what Asian food is. You know how to mix the two together, how to fuse them, and use them to create wonderful dishes. This is your edge. This is what makes your food beautiful and special,” says the new queen of Filipino food in Paris.
*Contributor Jeno Pineda is a Filipino-Spanish writer based in Marbella, Spain. He recently finished writing his first novel and is currently searching for representation. For more info, see: jenopineda.com. Join his advocacy in supporting the Global Filipino community and share his stories.