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How chef Kevin Rosales draws on Filipino flavors at Disco Dragon in downtown Phoenix

And now it’s time for the next edition in our series Chef Talk. Here, we sit down with a chef each month — from fine dining rooms to nightclub kitchens — and find out what makes them tick.

Today, meet Kevin Rosales, executive chef at the funky downtown Phoenix night spot Disco Dragon. He grew up in a house surrounded by Filipino flavors but thought he would go into nursing. He went as far as becoming a certified nurses’ assistant — before restaurants called his name.

The Show host Lauren Gilger sat down with him in their bedazzled dining room on Roosevelt Row to find out more.

Full conversation

KEVIN ROSALES: So my family moved from the Philippines to Chicago and being raised, our home was always hosting our family's holidays and special events. So we were definitely one of the few homes that hosted for fiestas, what we like to call them, New Year's, Christmas, birthdays, all that stuff. And we've prepared a lot of stuff that's very common to us, which is like rolling lumpia, making noodles and lots of rice. So that's pretty much what I was surrounded by growing up.

LAUREN GILGER: What are some of your like strongest food memories from those fiestas when you were a kid? Like, like what are the dishes you love the most?

ROSALES: I think the star was always the barbecue. It's different than most people do in barbecue. Whether it be like Korean barbecue or American Western barbecue. It's barbecue that you, chicken or pork, you just put them on long skewers and you grill them and you have like a glaze that we would incorporate with it, which consisted of lemon banana sauce, which is, it looks like ketchup, but it's like a ripened banana sauce with some food coloring. I think it's red dye number 45 or something.

GILGER: The kind you're not supposed to have, of course.

ROSALES: But those are just nostalgic features that will always resonate with me for the rest of my life. I think second would be our lechon baboy, which is the whole roasted pig. A super crispy skin, juicy textures and the meat. Usually infuse them with green onions, salt pepper, garlic, lots of garlic, chilies, lemongrass stuffed inside. And after roasting for 6 to 8 hours, the skin would be super crispy like a potato chip and everyone just cuts into it. My favorite pieces of that would be the, the ears, the cheeks and the foot, surprisingly.

GILGER: OK. So some really strong food memories. It sounds like growing up with this kind of food is like influenced you as you went through. So you don't become a nurse. You end up in, in restaurants, right? And we have to talk about what this place looks like, first of all, because there's like, you know, sequined legs hanging from the ceiling over here. Tell us about the inspiration. Like there's sort of a nightclub vibe almost.

ROSALES: Yeah, the partners, they definitely wanted to always carry a party atmosphere. You'll see these sequined mannequins and purple revolving around in a circle like a disco ball.

GILGER: Those are disco ball planters though also, we should say.

ROSALES: Yeah, we have disco ball planters.

GILGER: It's fun, right? And the menu it sounds like, reflects that as well. There's a level of like humor to this.

ROSALES: Yeah, the menu is definitely complimenting what the evening is going to dictate for our guests. We're not specifically heavily a nightclub per se but we do, since we have food, it's a good stop for a lot of people who are drinking around, around town on Roosevelt and just have fun really.

GILGER: I mean, I want to ask about, about Roosevelt Row in a moment, but first tell me about the menu a little bit about how you sort of approached it. There's like a, a fusion kind of aspect to it. Lots of stuff that you talked about from your past. Like there's lumpia on there, but it's a pizza, right? Like, tell us about some of the dishes.

ROSALES: Yeah, when we first opened we wanted to create the menu that was more of like a Pan Asian style. So it's a little bit of everything across the board of Asian influences. My partner, chef Bob Tam, he's Chinese from Hong Kong and raised in San Francisco. He has a lot of diversity. So when we thought about stuff like pizza lumpia, it was great to, to share that because it's more than just like you would think like a mozzarella stick. But it's flavor profiles of Anaheim chilies, mushrooms, onions and we have polenta and mozzarella cheese.

GILGER: So tell me why Roosevelt road, right? Like there's a really booming and like a big Asian district in Mesa right now and like a booming Asian population in the Valley, right? Like that is going up by leaps and bounds. Do you see yourself as part of that ecosystem? Did you want to bring some of that down here?

ROSALES: I love dining and eating my way around the Asian district. But a lot of that when I might taste through it, I do see myself wanting to share that to the downtown Phoenix neighborhoods. And I think for the most part, a lot of our diners are coming in curious because they're not familiar with the menu concept. The flavor profiles, the smells that, you know, when the food passes through the guests' table to another table, it's kind of unfamiliar for them. But I think it's good for them to see that you know, we're delivering these dishes with great intention, great flavors. So, you know, I think there's still a lot more work to, to share with the, with the guests.

GILGER: OK. So last couple of questions for you and I ask this, these questions of every chef in this segment. First is, tell me your favorite dish to cook on the menu and, and really describe it for us.

ROSALES: To be honest, mine is, I love grilling but we use carbon steel woks and I've been studying a lot how to make perfect fried rice. I love fried rice. But the great thing about, about our wok is the high butane, the high BTU that produces the fire on the wok, when you hit it just right, you get this wok it's like the technique where you kind of carry on that smoke, that smoke carries with the rice. And you can tell the difference between stovetop fried rice as opposed to like a wok fried rice. So that's something that I love. I love making.

GILGER: That sounds really good. OK. Final question for you and always a funny one I think for chefs. But like, what do you cook when you're at home? Is it that fried rice?

ROSALES: To be honest, there is day-old fried rice at the house, there is always fresh rice at the house. I would say 95% of what I eat at home is chicken and rice.

GILGER: A good combo.

ROSALES: And so it might be just fresh cooked white rice with either fried chicken or roasted chicken. It's super easy for me to kind of set and forget. And I mean, for most chefs, we just kind of, most chefs will have just condiments and eggs.

GILGER: They don't eat anything at home. That's pretty good that you do chicken and rice.

ROSALES: That and ramen. Korean ramen, the instant Korean ramen. Those are really good. The Shin Black is probably my go to weekly with a little bit of bone broth on there, beef bone broth. So those are my go tos.

KJZZ's The Show transcripts are created on deadline. This text may not be in its final form. The authoritative record of KJZZ's programming is the audio record.

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Lauren Gilger, host of KJZZ's The Show, is an award-winning journalist whose work has impacted communities large and small, exposing injustices and giving a voice to the voiceless and marginalized.