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How Filipino-American chef Lord Maynard Llera won James Beard ‘Best Chef’ award

Rappler.com

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How Filipino-American chef Lord Maynard Llera won James Beard ‘Best Chef’ award

Lord Maynard's Instagram

Lord Llera accepts 2024's 'Best Chef in California' award for his Lucena-inspired restaurant Kuya Lord

MANILA, Philippines – Philippines represent! California-based Filipino-American Chef Lord Maynard Llera bagged the Best Chef in the California region award for this year’s James Beard Foundation Award for Excellence held in Chicago, USA, in June.

Known as the “Oscars of the food industry,” the James Beard Award recognizes excellence in food service while championing diverse cultural backgrounds since its inception in 1990. Lord’s win puts Filipino culture and cuisine in the international spotlight like every Filipino before him. 

His claim to fame is his Los Angeles restaurant Kuya Lord, an homage to the chef’s hometown in Lucena City, Quezon province. His traditional childhood favorites are “enhanced and reinvented” using classic culinary techniques.

Kuya Lord has been featured in the Los Angeles Times‘ 101 Best Restaurants list for two consecutive years and was among Bonappetitmag’s 2023 24 Best RestaurantsThe name comes from the Tagalog word “kuya”, which means “older brother”, combined with Lord’s name.

“Filipino food done my way,” is Kuya Lord’s tagline.

Kuya Lord celebrated its second anniversary two days before the James Beard Awards.

Kuya Lord’s journey began in 2019 at its first street food pop-up at Tabula Rasa Bar in Hollywood Boulevard, where Lord served his first dish: the Longannisa Sandwich.

“Back during those days, people were just curious about what my version of Filipino longganisa is. Back then, people just lined up in our booth out of curiosity because no one even knew us, or anything about the food we were serving. But we didn’t stop there,” he said.

Lord brought his spin on Southern Tagalog cuisine to his succeeding pop-ups – at wine bars, breweries, food events, and private dining rooms. He was able to showcase three restaurant concepts: fine dining, fast casual, and street food.

Lord’s goal is not only to “simply serve food but to slowly introduce Filipino cuisine to non-Filipinos.” After almost a year of pop-ups, he was finally noticed.

“We were grateful that people liked and appreciated our food. We could now proudly say that our flavors speak louder than words,” Lord said.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Lord spent more time on research and development for his upcoming projects. He then converted his La Cañada Flintridge house garage and backyard into a full kitchen and grill.

For the first months, Kuya Lord and his wife Gigi cooked Filipino food for friends, relatives, and his long-time followers. Through word of mouth, more people inquired, and customers came pouring in every week, ordering Kuya Lord’s gigantic portions of regional dishes served family-style.

Finally, in 2022, Kuya Lord set up its flagship branch – a 28-seater space in East Hollywood – serving Filipino favorites with a twist, such as the LucenaChon Sando and Sweet Longganisa Sando. There are even housemade condiments such as atchara and garlic chili oil, among others. 

In his James Beard Award acceptance speech, Lord said: “This is a reminder of the importance of hard work, perseverance, and the power of a supportive community, both Filipinos and non-Filipinos.”

“Being in front of you all receiving this final award is just a big wow! Like how did it happen? I am just cooking Chami and Lucenachon!” he added.

“This recognition is not just a testament to my individual efforts and hard work. But a reflection of the support, encouragement, and collaboration from many wonderful people in my life. I am fortunate enough to have mentors, friends, and family all throughout this journey,” Lord added.

Filipino social media content creator Abi Marquez, local documentary channel Featr, and Filipino-American baker Abi Balingit were also nominated for the 2024 James Beard Media Awards. – Steph Arnaldo/Rappler.com

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