Little Green Pickle
We recently had the opportunity to sit down with Carlo Lamagna, head chef of Clyde Common, a Filipino native and all around great guy. If any stereotypes about rude chefs still exist, Carlo certainly doesn’t comply with them; he’s a genuinely warm, friendly, and laid-back guy, and brilliantly skilled in the kitchen. We chatted about his heritage, how he brings Filipino cuisine to a European menu, his Christmas dinner plans, and, of course, his favorite places to eat in Portland.
The Daily Meal: Tell us a little about your background. You were born in the Philippines, right?
Carlo Lamagna: Yeah, born in the Philippines, and moved here when I was less than a year old, then went back to the Philippines in 1992 when I was eleven, and came back to the states at 20, in early 2001. My parents are both Filipino, and met in the US. They went back to the Philippines so my dad could go to med school. I was actually a canadian citizen, but now I’m just a straight American citizen. So, really, it went Philippines, then Windsor in Canada, then Detroit, back to the Philippines, and then back to Detroit. I went to New York and then Chicago, before Portland. I was in New York for CIA, and Chicago for five years before Portland.
So, tell us about your time in Portland before you joined Clyde Common.
There wasn’t any, I came to Portland for this job, which I got through a mutual friend. I came out to interview for an executive chef position, but it went to the other guy interviewing, and I took the sous chef position. That didn’t last that long, though, just a few months, and then I took over as head chef. I took over in April 2014.
Almost two years, then! So, can I ask how your Filipino heritage influences the CC menu?
You know, I try to put as much influence as I can without completely turning it over. The easiest part is that Nate [the owner] called Clyde’s food “foreign and domestic.” It’s right there on the sign. It’s fashioned after the European gastropub model, with communal seating and homie food, which helped to define the restaurant. It’s focused on Mediterranean/European cuisine, but there’s room for more. The menu is an accumulation of all my experiences, the primary of which is Filipino. But I want to introduce people to it in small ways.
Any specific dishes?
Pork and Shiitake lumpia is one, it’s my mom’s own recipe. Technically Lumpia Shanghai, it’s a Chinese style egg roll but all meat. I tend to rotate two to three Filipino or Filipino influenced dishes. Right now we have crispy pata, deep fried pork feet. They’re gnarly and delicious. It’s served with garlic fried rice, vinegar dipping sauce, and soy pickled cabbage. It’s one of our “feasts”. We have snacks, plates, and feasts, which serve two to four people.
We also have kare kare, an oxtail stew made with traditional Filipino ingredients, peanut butter, fermented shrimp… So I also like to add singular ingredients to a European dish. Like we have steelhead risotto, but instead of butter, we use crab fat.
Yeah that sounds awesome. So from my understanding, asking you about “Filipino” cuisine is inaccurate, as there are many types of Filipino.
Yeah, the Philippines has many different cultures and cuisine, so I try to stay broad with it. The country has many influences: China and Taiwan to the North. The middle contains Malaysian, in the south there’s a large Muslim population.Plus, Filipino culture is heavily influenced by Spanish (100 years of colonisation will do that) but there’s so much more to that. Take the natives, the Malaysian island style, like Micronesia, Indonesia, Guam, then come the conquistadors that influenced the culture so much. The Philippines has the most catholics and the oldest universities in Asia.
So how do the other elements, like German and French, affect your food?
I traveled to Europe for a while. I had a good buddy in the Black Forest in Germany. He was at the CIA with me. We travelled, cooked, and ate, mostly in Germany. We stayed in a 300 year old family owned hotel that made their own cheese and charcuterie. That’s the European, self-sustaining model. We were in France for a little while, in Lyon. Also Spain, in San Sebastian and Barcelona. It was amazing just to see those three countries and the influence they have. Clyde already has European influence, from Eastern Europe to Spanish.
All right, so, favorite places to eat in town?
You know, mainstays like Pizza Jerk. I get food a lot at a local Mexican place, Casa De Santo Domingo. If we’re getting fancy and going out we go to Ataula. Kachka is so f*cking good. Haven’t been to Coquine yet, but I need to. And I love Reel M Inn.
I was just at Reel M Inn the other day! 30 years in South East and I finally made my way there. It’s awesome. I mean I waited for a while for my fried chicken, but…
Yeah it takes a while, but it’s the best fried chicken in town. We also like Noraneko, ‘cause it’s open late. They also have great fried chicken. Ox, Castagna are great for fancy meals too… and there’s so many pop ups I want to get to. And I go to Pip’s at least once a week.
And Nong’s, I assume.
Well yeah, Nong’s is just a given. When I first started working at Clyde, I ate at Nong’s basically every single day, as it’s right around the corner.
Finally, tell us a little about your Christmas menu.
Christmas is really big in the Philippines, what with the Catholic population. We have midnight mass, and then eat and open presents. I make arroz caldo, which is kind of like a congee with chicken bits, you know, heart, liver and all that. I love offal. We have pancit, which is noodles with shrimp and soy. We have lumpia, and something called queso de bola, which is a ball of cheese wrapped in wax.
This is all after the midnight mass?
Yep! Then the next day you wake up and start cooking right away. It’s a big day in the Philippines. We have a whole roast pig, palabok pancit, which is a noodle dish. Pancit is noodles. My parents grew up in two different parts of the Philippines, my mom from a coastal region, so a lot of grilled seafood. My dad was more inner, and made dinuguan, which is a blood stew, so we have stuff like that.
And a whole roast pig.
Yeah, the crispy skin on the pig is always the first thing to go. Everyone loves it.
Can I come over for Christmas dinner sometime?
Absolutely! Come on over any time.