By Trish Fontanilla
Before we started BOSFilipinos and I was still in the consideration phase of my Filipino food project, the universe kept asking me, “Have you talked to Ashley Lujares yet?” And by universe I mean, Ashley’s previous colleagues at Myers+Chang, Chefs Joanne Chang (owner / chef), and Karen Akunowicz (partner / executive chef), and Veo Robert (chef de cuisine). Seriously, three separate conversations, three suggestions that I should chat with Ashley. After meeting her at an industry night, and then having a coffee chat that lasted for hours talking about our upbringings as Filipino Americans, I thought she’d be perfect for the blog!
Ashley is one of the amazing chefs in Boston that is bringing Filipino food to the masses by highlighting special dishes wherever she goes. We’re stoked that she was able to do this interview with us. And don’t worry, we’ll be highlighting more of the amazing Filipino chefs here in Boston throughout the year.
Where are you and your family from?
Ashley: I was born and raised in Massachusetts, but my parents are both from the Bicol region in the Philippines. Half of my mother's siblings reside here as well as the west coast. And my maternal grandfather was in the U.S. Coast Guard. He was stationed here in Boston and in San Diego, CA.
What do you do?
Ashley: I am the savory chef at Flour Bakery + Cafe in Fort Point.
What inspired you to become a chef?
Ashley: Many situations in my life have inspired me to become a chef. The first inspiration came from a day I was watching cartoons and my dad said, “Why don’t you watch something that you can learn from. You are rotting your brain.” He put on PBS, and Julia Child’s show was on. I was instantly hooked!
Soon after that I moved to the Philippines for 3 years, and one of my earliest memories is going to the market with my grandmother. My cousin Joy and I would take turns going there with her, and I would throw tantrums when it wasn't my turn. I loved how full of life the market was; I loved the smell of the street food and seeing fresh produce.
My grandmother owned a pancitan (noodle factory). She also had a green thumb and planted all of the fruits and vegetables in our backyard. Any exotic fruit you can find at your local market in the US, my grandmother had in her backyard. My grandfather owned a balutan (balut factory), and my aunt raised pigs and sold meat at the town market. She also helped my mother prep for parties. Through those parties my mom taught me the importance of eating with your eyes first.
Well we know that Flour is one the best places to work in Boston (like really, not just because of the sticky buns), but how did you end up working there?
Ashley: I was the sous chef at Myers+Chang for a few years and I needed a change. I love Joanne Chang’s management style, and I felt like I would learn a lot about how to be a better manager from her as well as the business aspect of the food industry.
How long have you been in Boston?
Ashley: I have been in Boston for the majority of my life. I briefly lived in different places like New York City, the Philippines, and San Diego, CA.
What are your favorite Boston spots (could be restaurants / parks / anything!):
Ashley: My favorite restaurants are Sarma, Coppa, Toro, and my best friend’s family restaurant in Chinatown called Wai Wai’s. I frequent the back of the ICA overlooking East Boston, and I love going to museums like the MFA, ICA + Isabella Stewart Gardner. Mostly I'm in the South Shore where the Lujares family compound is located.
On Filipino Food...
What's your all time favorite Filipino dish?
Ashley: I really love my mom’s palabok (variation of Filipino noodle dish, pancit). It’s so rich yet so bright! I also love my mom’s lumpia shanghai (spring roll). Through the years she developed these recipes and made them her own, and both are her signature dishes.
What's your favorite Filipino recipe / dish to make?
Ashley: I love making Filipino barbeque and my grandmother’s atchara (pickle made from grated, unripe papaya). These components complement each other well, and they remind me of summer. I often make these at Flour!
On staying in touch...
How can people stay in touch?
Ashley: My Instagram account is serajul. It’s my last name backwards if you are wondering where I got it from.
We’re always looking for BOSFilipinos blog writers / subjects! If you’d like to contribute or have a suggestions, feel free to send us a note: firstname.lastname@example.org.