New York, NY: Brian Webb of Hey Joe! Filipino Street Food on a Filipino Food Trend and Maharlika Filipino Moderno in NYC

Brian Webb Local Breakfast: Pork "The Meat Shop" Meatballs, Chili Acre farms egg, Local bun, banana catsup

By Lauren Saria  |  Phoenix New Times

Lauren Saria Chef Brian Webb in the driver's seat of the Hey Joe! truck
Lauren Saria
Chef Brian Webb in the driver’s seat of the Hey Joe! truck

This is part two of our interview with the man behind the deep-fried barbecued eats of Hey Joe! Filipino Street Food. Today, chef and owner Brian Webb dishes on what’s really inside his new Filipino steamed buns and talks about the potential for Filipino food as a culinary trend. If you missed part one, in which he shared his story from techno-paper pusher to fine dining to food truck, you can read it here.

A lot of Webb’s job as chef is re-packaging traditional dishes in a more approachable way. Take the Filipino dish diniguan, for example. The well-loved savory stew of pork and usually a whole lot of offal (lungs, kidneys, intestines, snout, and other good stuff) is simmered slowly in a mixture of pig’s blood, garlic, chili, and vinegar.

Call it “Pork Blood Stew” and people might not be so inclined to give it a try. Especially not off a food truck.

But if you serve it with pork belly and chicharones and call the whole thing a “Triple Pork Plate”? Well, now that sounds pretty good.

“I’m not surprised people like the food,” Webb says. “It’s just getting it in their mouths. People will eat a lot if you present it right.”

He’s got other tricks up his sleeve, too, including his newest addition to the Hey Joe! menu: steamed buns. Traditionally, kua pao are sweet off-white buns stuffed with chicken or (my personal favorite) sweet barbecued pork. Webb introduced the new dish to his menu a few weeks ago but is doing them up with a little twist.

He’s stuffing the Chinese-inspired dumplings with traditional dishes like diniguansigsig(roughly chopped boiled, braised and fried pork head) and the more approachable, pork belly in black bean sauce.

Brian Webb Local Breakfast: Pork "The Meat Shop" Meatballs, Chili Acre farms egg, Local bun, banana catsup
Brian Webb
Local Breakfast: Pork “The Meat Shop” Meatballs, Chili Acre farms egg, Local bun, banana catsup

If you’re wondering by now where Webb learned to cook all these time-consuming dishes (the kind my Filipino grandmother would spend all day preparing after spending the entire day before prepping) the answer actually pretty logical: from a Filipino grandmother, his wife’s mother. He’s also co-opted recipes from restaurants back in his wife’s native country, most notably a barbecue recipe from Dortin’s BBQ stand in Lapu Lapu. Though the owner pretended not to speak English, to avoid having to share his secrets, Margita’s mother obtained it from the owner’s mom. Talk about connections.

Webb is careful to make it clear that what he’s doing doesn’t necessarily reflect the food of the entire country since most of his recipes and techniques have been gathered from Margita’s family and the areas around Lapu Lapu City.

“We do highly regional cuisine, from maybe a quarter-mile of the Philippines,” he says. “My cookbook is her family.”

Which isn’t to say he turns a blind eye to what’s going on in the grander scheme of Filipino cuisine. Quite the contrary, in fact. Webb uses social media to keep in touch and share ideas with chefs in the Philippines on a regular basis. And he keeps a close watch on what’s going on it the kitchen at Maharlika Filipino Moderno restaurant in New York City, one of the few places in the country doing (and successfully, at that) upscale Filipino cuisine to appeal to the food-conscious masses.

Webb calls it “Filipino food with attention to the details.”

It’s what he wants to bring to the Phoenix dining scene table someday. Webb believes Filipino food, like other Asian-ethnic cuisines, has the potential to catch on and maybe even become the next big thing. But that will require more open-minded, passionate chefs and diner. As well as, Webb says, for Filipino-Americans to develop their pride in their native cuisine.

“I’m trying to put down the pre-connotations that Filipino food has, both within the community and outside.”

Favorite place to eat out: I’m a big fan of Pomo Pizza and Pane Bianco

Favorite dessert: Creme brulée

Drink of preference and where you get it: Bud Light from my fridge

The Phoenix food truck scene is . . . really tasty. A lot of trucks are serving top notch dishes. Last month I went to several top name trucks in northern and southern California. I felt the trucks in Phoenix have a higher quality of food.

Lauren Saria
Lauren Saria

 Advice for future food truck owners: Have enough money in the bank to support you and the business for the first year. Food trucking is like starting any other business, and you shouldn’t expect a paycheck for at least the first year

Best thing you’ve eaten in Phoenix: Smoked confit, wild boar belly from Posh. I have cooked and eaten a lot of pork belly and Posh’s is the best that I have had.

Best thing you’ve eaten abroad: Spider conch on the small island of Cabolan. It a small non-tourist fishing village on a island in the middle of Cebu Strait. The conch we pulled fresh out of the ocean.

How do you keep up with culinary happenings around the world?
Social media like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter is great for this. I have been able to make different connections with trendsetters in the Philippines and all around the world. I even keep up on what specials some restaurants in the Philippines are serving

One food trend you’re totally over: People hating on food trucks. Food trucks have been in the Valley for over 30 years. But it seems like it is almost trending now to hate on them.

What’s your dream job?
I’m doing it!