JR Martin - Tatang
Chef JR Martin of Tatang restaurant in North Hollywood, CA took a chance and created a family centered restaurant based on sharing Filipino flavors and traditions. With recipes passed down from his Tatang, JR showcases comfort food with favorite dishes that include beef bistek, tinola, sisig and tocino, and ingredients like bagoong, ampalaya, and garlic. Tatang is about community, about family. And JR is preserving the culture and sharing it with Filipino Americans and non Filipino Americans a like.
What is the inspiration behind Tatang? When did you decide to pursue a restaurant?
The restaurant was named in memory of Tatang (the patriarch of the Martin clan: Modesto Martin fathered 16 children with his wife Trinidad Martin. The entire clan (children, grandchildren, family friends, etc.) called him “Tatang” which means father in the local dialect in the town of Camiling, Tarlac. Tatang passed on family recipes to not only is children but also to Chef J.R. Martin (grandson).
The restaurant came to be when the opportunity to build and start a business all just “lined-up”… the timing was right. There was always a plan to open a shop and the opportunity presented itself earlier than expected. We wanted to create a space where everyone including non-Pinoys can come and share Filipino flavors and traditions through experience in the dining room.
Were you always interested in Filipino food? And what were some of your favorite dishes growing up?
No. I took Filipino food for granted as that’s what I grew up eating. It wasn’t until after I became a professional chef did I come to realize how under appreciated Pinoy food really is in the eyes of the mainstream American “food scene”.
Favorite Dishes: Beef Bistek, Pancit, Tinola, Tocino, Steamed rice with Patis.
How did you decide what dishes to add to the menu?
I wanted to showcase and represent comfort food, dishes that felt good and nostalgic.
What are some of your favorite Filipino ingredients and flavors?
Ampalaya, fish bagoong, shrimp bagoong, rice, garlic, seafood (fish/shellfish), beef.
What do you love about the work you do?
Having the restaurant allows us to share Filipino flavors and traditions to the Los Angeles community. It feels good to know we are doing something that is helping preserve Filipino flavor profiles and traditions. There aren’t many establishments remaining which is sad considering Los Angeles is one of the most densely populated locations for Filipinos and Filipino-Americans.
How do you feel about the Fil Am chef/food community? It is such a good and uplifting one.
Being able to experience the generation of the Fil-Am chef/food community prior to 2001 and the newer generation (after 2001) has led me to believe that the newer generation has the important responsibility to ensure that Fil-Am and Pinoy culture are preserved as much as possible. A lot of the Fil-Am and Pinoy culture before 2001 appears to have mostly vanished. Much of the newer generation (especially the ones who grew up in Los Angeles) do not know how to cook the Filipino food they grew up eating. It seems like we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us to ensure not only the food/recipes/flavors are preserved but also traditions.
The community (new generation business owners, operators, professionals -- Ninong’s, Wanderlust, Ma'am sir, Jeepney/Maharlika, Irenia, etc.) who represent Filipino culture and food have been very supportive. I haven’t been presented the opportunity to meet with the more established entities (Max’s, Barrio Fiesta, etc.)
Is there anything exciting, new coming up for Tatang this year?
Having the opportunity to open and operate Tatang has taught me to keep my eyes open for as many opportunities as I can find. When the stars align and all is lined-up (regardless whether it is coincidence or not), it is important to be ready to walk through the “open door” as prepared as possible. That’s the state Tatang is in currently. Ensuring that when the iron is hot, we strike as accurately as possible with purpose and intent.
Photos courtesy of Tatang. Profile photo by Jennifer Oh.