Kabalen: ‘We put our heart and soul in the food’

Community News & Features Dec 21, 2018 at 5:30 pm
Kamayan style

Kamayan style

By Irish Mae Silvestre
The Philippine Reporter

When Jonald Quinto, 37, answered the phone, he was just wrapping up his daily trip to the supermarket. Quinto is the owner of Kabalen, a six-year-old Kapampangan restaurant that’s been a prominent fixture in the Little Manila dining scene.
Yet, despite Kabalen’s success, he’s still very much a hands-on presence at the restaurant from prepping and cooking to interacting with customers. It’s the kind of dedication that has allowed Quinto to maintain his vision: to provide diners with the authentic Kapampangan dining experience.

While he lauds Filipino chefs for making their mark with fusion and experimental dishes, he says that Kabalen is about upholding traditions and celebrating the region’s cuisine.

“[In Kapampangan cooking] we won’t cook something if there’s a missing ingredient; want it to be complete and we want it proper,” said Quinto. “It’s about using the freshest native ingredients. We put our heart and soul in the food.”

JONALD QUINTO

JONALD QUINTO

His parents met in Jordan where his father Joe worked at a shipping company and his mother Lita worked for a car rental company. Quinto was born and raised in Jordan. He said that as a child, he was often sick and his family thought it was best for him to live in the Philippines in the care of his lola.

At the age of 10, he moved to Canada with his parents where they opened Pampagueña, a restaurant and grocery that sells Filipino products. At the age of 13, he started helping his parents at the restaurant, while learning the ins and outs of the business.

While Pampagueña has been around for almost 25 years, Quinto said his parents weren’t exactly on-board when he told them of his plans to open his own restaurant.

“They were scared, especially because in Bathurst and Wilson there’s a lot of competition,” he recalled. “Especially my mother but my father said, ‘Why not?’ Besides, they trust me.”

Although Quinto says he didn’t have any formal training, his experience helping his parents run Pampagueña gave him the know-how and confidence to set out on his own.

He even went to the Philippines where he hired Kapampangan chefs in an effort to create the most authentic menu.

“I want customers to know we’re really from Pampanga because we’re well-known for our cooking,” he said, adding that popular dishes like sisig originated from Pampanga.

Restaurant interior

Restaurant interior

And Kabalen’s packed reservations, busy catering service and popular kamayan menu are the ultimate feedback.

He admitted that running a business isn’t easy.

“[I’m always] running around,” he said. “I start early in the morning at 8 a.m. and usually finish by 9 to 10 pm..”

And there’s no such thing as day off; Quinto works seven days a week. On the rare occasion that he does take time off, he spends it with his 16-year-old daughter.

So what does he have planned for the holidays?

“Work,” he said, laughing. “On the 24th of December every year, we work non-stop until 4 or 5 in the morning.”

When the family does get together, it’s just to recover from the frenzy of running a restaurant.

“We just rest,” he said. “Just as long as we’re together.”

But he says that the hard work is worth it.

“When a customer comes in and leaves with a smile on their face and you see their empty plates, they don’t have to say anything,” he said. “You can feel it in your heart; it makes you happy.”