Interview with Alvin Cailan | Amboy

Suzy Chase
14 min readSep 27, 2020


Intro: Welcome to the number one cookbook podcast, Cookery by the Book with Suzy Chase. She’s just a home cook in New York City, sitting at her dining room table, talking to cookbook authors.

Alvin Cailan: Hello everyone. It’s Alvin Cailan, and I have a new cookbook out called Amboy: Recipes from the Filipino-American Dream. You can also find me as the host of The Burger Show too.

Suzy Chase: In the preface you wrote “Eggslut Chef writes first cookbook! If you’re looking for 100 food porny egg sandwich recipes, then you’re going to be extremely disappointed in this book.” So you kicked this cookbook off, talking about working your butt off for two years, sacrificing friendships and leveraging all your credit cards for the brand it has become today. Can you talk a little bit about how your brand has evolved and what Amboy means to you?

Alvin Cailan: Oh, wow. Starting Eggslut was, was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done in my life. I really do believe it was like a Masters and a PhD in, restaurant and hospitality management. But I think the most clearest way I can explain that introduction and the transition into Amboy is that I created Eggslut, but I am Amboy like Amboy is who I am. It’s what my Grandma called me when I was younger. She would describe me to her friends at church as Amboy, meaning, American born and it stuck with me. And then as I went through this journey through my culinary career, I realized that Amboy is actually the definition of my style of cooking, because it takes all the influences of my culture being Filipino and, mixing it with all of the recipes that I’ve, I’ve learned either professionally or through where I live.

Suzy Chase: You say, this is a story about a brown kid from a brown family whose roots are in Southeast Asia. Talk a little bit about not feeling American enough or Filipino enough.

Alvin Cailan: And didn’t speak English until I was five years old. I think my parents tried to speak Tagalog to me from the moment I started to talk till I was five, because they knew that I was going to go to school in America and learn English. So they were going to leave, the English teaching to the teachers. So when I first started school in kindergarten, you know, I would say, and pronounce things weird. And it was always kind of like, I was the odd ball out because I also grew up in a predominantly Mexican neighborhood. And so I was already the most different one out of everybody. Then after school, when school was over and it was summer vacation, my parents would ship me off to the Philippines to hang with my Grandma. And when I was in the Philippines, I wasn’t Filipino enough for the Filipinos. I was still just the American boy. So my entire life been trying to figure out my way either in American culture or in Filipino culture. And honestly, I’ve just really embraced the fact that I’m a first generation Filipino American, and I’m owning it. I’m not ashamed of who I am. I’m actually really proud of being Filipino, but I’m also like very, very, very American.

Suzy Chase: You know, what cracked me up in the book was your dad was brother Tony, the leader of the Lips To Lips Gang.

Alvin Cailan: So, yeah, my Dad.I had no idea until I started going to the Philippines and, and it was kind of like a weird, like Michael Corleone moment in the Philippines when we would arrive at the airport and seven dudes would come pick us up and we would roll in a caravan back to our native province. And while we were there, people would line up to talk to my Dad and I would never understand it. And one time I was being disciplined by my father in front of his Dad. And his Dad ended up saying like, Hey, why are you so tough on this kid? You’re a knucklehead too. And my Grandfather ended up telling me like, yeah, your Dad was the leader. Like, he was like the leader of the band. He had a group of friends and he was the boss. And I was like, I had no idea. So now I use that against my Dad. Every time he gets mad at me, when I do dumb things,

Suzy Chase: I heard you say once that your parents are pretty big haters, do they love what you’re doing now?

Alvin Cailan: They’re tossed up. Like they couldn’t understand me being a cook. And then now they don’t understand me being a TV personality slash businessman because, you know, I’m always busy and just having lunch or dinners, I have to schedule you a month out and they don’t understand that. My Dad’s kind of worked his way around it, where he just comes and visits to me at work. My Mom’s more of a home body. She lives in her little bubble and she doesn’t venture out. So she’s a little bit more of a hater than my Dad, but you know, we’re working on it.

Suzy Chase: You say, sauce is a magnifying glass for food. Tell us about that.

Alvin Cailan: Ooh. I mean, so this is another quintessential Amboy, theory, right? Because Filipino food is relatively saucing. Lots of things are one pot wonders. And so growing up, I, you know, I had an affinity for sauce, everything I had to have. I mean, I like ketchup and it’s almost on an embarrassing level, but I realized that like a lot of like American food that I eat is very dry. And I was like, man, like fried chicken when you eat fried chicken. And it’s just like the juiciness of the fried chicken and that’s it. And so it’s different from Filipino culture because if we have fried chicken in the Philippines, we eat that with an all purpose sauce, which is like a brown sugar bread crumb and like chicken liver sauce. And it’s, it’s super, super good. And then growing up, my Grandmother used to serve us fried chicken and I would add, Ketchup to it. And like when I went to culinary school and it was fried chicken week, I’d asked the chef. I said, Hey, chef, new century, we have all this fried chicken that we made. Is there any catch-up in it that I could use with it? And people were like, what, what are you doing? I’m a big fan of sauce. And then even through my culinary career, you know, I’ve always excelled in the saucier station. Uh, it was one of the things that like, I love building flavors, you know, with stock and all that stuff. So actually believe that sauce doesn’t take away, but it can definitely enhance dishes.

Suzy Chase: And do you think you got that love of sauces from your grandma, Emma, who was really your great Aunt?

Alvin Cailan: Oh yeah. A hundred percent. She, so she, she brought in the fanciness into my life. She, she was married to a French chef and she, herself actually is still cooking. She has her own cafe in Montreal or Quebec and she, she taught me so much. I mean, like one of the first sauces I ever learned was just the simple mayonnaise with Dijon mustard. And I ate it with crudité and being seven years old, growing up in a blue collar town in Pico Rivera, eating crudité with dijon mustard and mayo was definitely a pinkies up type of situation. And I, I loved it. I was like, Oh my God, I know this is fancy. And my friends would probably make fun of me, like during the lunch hour, but I am, I’m going to show this off and I’m going to show people. And you know what, honestly, that actually like, kind of helped me socialize when I was younger. And when I was a kid, because I would always bring weird, ketchup in mayo sauce, we would mix sauces during our lunch hour at school. And we would mix sauces that we would get in the cafeteria. So, yeah, I think I definitely have my, my Grandma, I’m not to blame for that. And, uh, also my best friend, Mark Tagnipez growing up, he was like, he was literally the first person I talked to, um, on my first day of kindergarten. And, um, he’s also a chef now in Melbourne in Australia. So, you know, food and sauces and all of that really like run deep in our veins.

Suzy Chase: In the cookbook. You have some tips on how to make the perfect pot of rice. What is the number one thing I’m doing as a home cook to mess it up?

Alvin Cailan: Well, number one is you have to clean your rice. You have to rinse your rice because it has a lot of that excess starch. And it has like a gritty mealy texture to it when you cook. So when you rinse off that, extra starch and, when they dry the rice granules, it also has like residue and honestly, in the mentality of a Filipino you’re in the old world, they would have these gigantic nets and they would dry rice, and it wasn’t necessarily considered sanitary. I remember vividly my grandma tossing rice in her patio and picking out all of the pebbles in the little rocks that came from the rice pods. And so we were taught to thoroughly, thoroughly rinse your rice, even if it was packaged, bought rice at the store. And honestly it really does make a difference because I actually had to fire a line cook for not washing the rice and really getting bombarded by Asian Americans on Yelp, because that day they totally could tell that the rice wasn’t cleaned. Oh my gosh. I think Asian-Americans probably can tell, because I think all of Asia at such a young age, we were taught to thoroughly, thoroughly rinse the rice.

Suzy Chase: So I have a couple of egg related questions for you and they’re super random. So why do we need to crack eggs on a hard flat surface?

Alvin Cailan: I personally believe that it prevents the shell from a breaking like the thick white membrane. When you have fresh eggs, there’s usually, like the idea of the anatomy of the egg would be the thing whites, the thick whites and the yolk, and what you don’t want is the thick whites to break. Cause when you crack them into a pan, you don’t want the whites to run out you kind of want it to stay in a kidney shaped form. That’s one. And also when you crack eggs on the side of a bowl it’s harder for me to control when I crack it all, all open because I have to stick my thumbs in between the crack that I made and then open it. So I think really it’s just to prevent the shell from mixing with your egg.

Suzy Chase: And here’s my other question. Why do you crack cold eggs into a cold pan?

Alvin Cailan: I personally think that when you cook eggs and when you start off scrambled eggs specifically, fried eggs are a different story, but scrambled eggs have to be cold eggs in a cold pan because I don’t know if you’ve ever had, uh, like when you’ve made scrambled eggs and then it kind of has like this, like a watery consistency after it’s cooked. It prevents, it, prevents that from happening. It really just gives you the creamiest and, fluffiest scrambled egg, when you start off that way.

Suzy Chase: Okay. Here’s my last one. What’s the deal with chives and eggs?

Alvin Cailan: Oh my gosh. It’s like peanut butter and jelly. It’s something that doesn’t take away from each other. Like the egg flavor does not take away from the chive flavor. The chive flavor doesn’t take away from the eggs together. It’s just married beautifully. It’s it’s like harmony in a bite.

Suzy Chase: I have to hand it to you for being so brutally honest in this cookbook, especially the chapter entitled The Reality of Success. It really shows the struggle and pull between your creative concept and control and losing that by leveling up your brand. What advice would you have for chefs figuring out exactly what they want to be.

Alvin Cailan: For people seeking advice I always give you the option or I say, where do you want to end up? What is the end goal? Do you want to be a rich millionaire with multiple locations vacationing in, Greece? Or do you want to become a James Beard award winner or, you know, cause those are two completely different worlds. And so when you become successful and your brand is now visible, it almost becomes a household name. You have to examine yourself as a chef. Do you want to stay creative and make amazing dishes and teach different generations so that they become great chefs? Or do you want to capitalize and become a business mogul? And that’s the crossroad, that’s the fork in the road that you have to choose and whichever path you choose, you stick to it and you make your decisions based off of that one particular goal, like in the kitchen it’s everything to me. And when I see customers come in and out of my restaurant and they’re happy, it honestly makes everything the hard work, the sweat, the blood, the tears worth it. And no monetary figure for me can ever replace that.

Suzy Chase: That’s deep.

Alvin Cailan: Yeah. It’s really deep because a lot of people think like when, when you have dreams and goals and you’re just setting foot on, trying to accomplish those goals. You never, ever planned for what would happen once you achieve those goals. I was one of those guys where like, I was like, all right, well, I’m going to make a brand. I know it, it feels good. It feels right. I think we’re going to kill it. But by the time I got to the point where we were had four hour lines at the restaurant, we were winning awards left and right. You know, I really did have a hard time choosing whether or not to become the next, Ronald McDonald versus do I want to follow the footsteps of my mentors and chefs that taught me along the way. And I went the old school route and now I feel like my job is more than just a chef. It’s like more of like a teacher and, and almost like a counselor.

Suzy Chase: Speaking of killing it. When you were at Chef’s Club Counter here in New York City, I couldn’t get a table to save my life. It was always packed. So I was excited to cook up The Slut on page 286, because I couldn’t get one made by you. Now, this dish changed your life. Ruth Reichl basically got the word out. Celebrities fell in love with it. And you even did a popup with Drew Barrymore in Aspen. How is this dish similar Jöel Robuchon’s?

Alvin Cailan: Oh, it’s definitely 100% influenced by Jöel Robuchon. Jöel Robuchon was my chef idol growing up. And when I was in culinary school, he was going through like, he had like 18 Michelin stars at that time when I was in culinary school. And he was just like the Michael Jordan of it all. And so when I made potato puree or mashed potatoes, I always use his recipe. And I remember doing this particular dish, the coddled egg dish in a martini glass for like a final in culinary school. And I was like, well, that is such a pretentious dish, but it could totally be a cool dish. And kind of like for the masses, if we did it in a mason jar, when I created Eggslut and we were menu testing, I used to buy those eight ounce mason jars or six ounce mason jars at the grocery store. And, I would pipe the potato puree in the mason jar, crack an egg on it and then slow poach it in a pot of simmering water. And honestly it didn’t skip a beat. It was amazing. And I have to thank, Jöel Robuchon for that inspiration.

Suzy Chase: It’s, mind-blowingly simple.

Alvin Cailan: It is. Again, it’s like the harmony of simple ingredients and everything having an affinity for each other and then all of that in your mouth, just giving you the best experience possible.

Suzy Chase: So tell me a little bit about your latest concept, Amboy.

Alvin Cailan: Well, so Amboy is, it’s like it’s a loose term, right? It’s it’s who I am. And so in February, when we were thinking about opening a restaurant before COVID, we wanted to create a burger shop during the day and a steak shop at night with Filipino flair in the evening, and then COVID happened in the citywide shutdown happened. And, it was super hard for us to get provisions, eggs, bacon, meat. You know, I was ordering off of grocery apps and what was arriving at my home was just awful. I mean, I was ordering New York strip steaks and I was getting chuck steaks delivered. I was growing frustrated with it. So we pivoted the restaurant, we really put a focus on selling raw meat, eggs, and bread and bacon and hot dogs. And it was for the community. And really the community was like, yes, we need this because at the time there was like a looming meat shortage happening. And, we definitely were able to offset that for the household consumer and the neighborhood is, has taken ownership of who we are. And now we are, one of the better burger restaurants in the city and also a boutique butcher shop.

Suzy Chase: So now on to my new segment, this season called Last Night’s Dinner, where I ask you what you ate last night for dinner.

Alvin Cailan: Oh, wow. Okay. That’s easy. We, usually don’t sell any old cuts of meat, in the case. So on Wednesday nights we take home a lot of the like three or four day old steaks that were in our case. So last night I cooked a couple of Denver steaks and a Picanha steak. And we ate that, believe it or not, which just ate it with bread. And it was delicious.

Suzy Chase: You’re a huge hip hop head. What is your favorite rap song of all time?

Alvin Cailan: My favorite rap song of all time, even though it’s almost like bad to talk about him right now because of who he has been in….

Suzy Chase: Are you going to say Kanye?

Alvin Cailan: Yes. Yeah. So the song Runaway it’s pumped full of ego, cause there’s like a five minute instrumental riff before the lyrics even start. But that, that song Runaway really describes who I had to be in order to become who I am today. And it was because I had to sacrifice a ton of things and you know, I was called half of everything in that song. But if you can relate to that song you can, you understand that through all the hardship and through all the loss of friends and family at the same time, you kind of have to celebrate the fact that you made your dream come true and you can have the best of both worlds. Honestly, that song has resonated to me a lot. And it’s kinda hard to listen to now, because all I could hear is Kanye’s, current rants in the news and stuff like that. But that is definitely one of them. And then I think before Eggslut and before success, two-part so that was my current favorite song. And secondly, when, before all of that, it was always, I Got Five On It by The Loonies.

Suzy Chase: From back in the neighborhood.

Alvin Cailan: Yeah. That was my old school jam. That was like the anthem of our neighborhood. And yeah, those two songs I think are some powerful hip hop songs and in my personal life.

Suzy Chase: Where can we find you on the web social media and in LA?

Alvin Cailan: I made it super easy for everyone. It’s just @AlvinCailan on Twitter, on Instagram. And then on Facebook, it says my full name, super easy.

Suzy Chase: I cannot thank you enough for pulling this story out of your heart and putting it down on paper. And thanks for coming on Cookery by the Book podcast to celebrate my 200th episode with me.

Alvin Cailan: Hey, thanks for having me.

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Suzy Chase

Cookery by the Book is the #1 Cookbook Podcast hosted by Suzy Chase.