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Executive Chef Jason Montelibano Shares How His Heritage and Passion Fuel His Food

Written By: Danielle Evans EATS Kitchen and Bar, Where “Gastropub” Gets Remixed
Photographed By: Sarah Nail

Growing up in the Philippines, Chef Jason Montelibano loved food from an early age. Learning many of the tricks and trades of the kitchen from his mother, Jason has paved the way in the OC culinary arts scene with his creative dishes and interesting takes on old-time favorites. Montelibano moved to the states in 1997, and landed in Utah. His culinary education began at Le Cordon Bleu and Orange Coast College, but his legacy began at Chapter One in Downtown Santa Ana. He is now marking his territory at the EATS Kitchen and Bar in the newly renovated Hotel Irvine.

Experts: Jason Montelibano
Credentials: Executive Chef, EATS Kitchen and Bar
Wine & Dine: Besides EATS, Jason Montelibano’s favorite spots are Lola Gaspar and Chapter One in Downtown Santa Ana.

How did you know you wanted to pursue the culinary arts as a career?

Jason Montelibano: I was born and raised in Manila in the Philippines and surrounded by food. My mom worked for Max’s Fried Chicken, my dad sold live shrimp to local restaurants and my grandmother always took me to the local markets with her. When I was seven, I started visiting the local bakery to help make pan de sal. After that, I was hooked.

Q: What inspires you to make amazing, beautiful dishes?

JM: I’m inspired by my upbringing in Manila, things I love to eat and by learning and seeing new techniques from others.

Q: What makes your cooking style different?

JM: People often tell me I am one of the nicest chefs they know. This is an attitude I try to bring to the kitchen every day and build an environment of fun and creativity.

Q: What is your all-time favorite dish to make?

JM: Pasta pomodoro with shrimp. Something so simple, but the flavors are spot on.

Q: Who would be your ideal client to cook a meal for?

JM: I would love to cook in person for my family back home in Manila. As of now, they have to depend on social media to see my dishes.

Q: What makes EATS unique?

JM: EATS Kitchen & Bar is a modern indoor and outdoor all-day gastropub with a relaxed neighborhood vibe and a warm and inviting atmosphere. It’s the ideal place for locals and hotel guests to relax, unwind and just hang out.

Q: Does your Filipino heritage influence your cooking style and likes or dislikes?

JM: I was born and raised in the Philippines, so of course I try to incorporate some influences from my favorite native Filipino foods. The Philippine Islands are a melting pot in terms of food, culture and people. I love Filipino food, but there is nothing better than our lechon.

Q: They say you are what you eat. In this case, maybe we can say you are what you cook! What are three words to describe yourself as a person?

JM: “Fat kid at heart.” Okay, that’s four words, but truthfully, there’s nothing I would say no to. I love to eat just about anything.

Q: What about as a chef?

JM: Passion, compassion, determination. In my journey as a young chef I’ve been determined to strive for the best, and working hard in the kitchen day by day is my passion, and leading by love is my compassion.

Q: The EATS philosophy is “a pub remade and remixed.” What does that mean to you?

JM: We’ve changed things up from your typical pub by adding creative twists to comfort food and embracing a relaxed vibe. Our expansive craft beer selection, unique wines and signature hand-crafted cocktails elevate that gastropub experience even more. Overall, it’s a great place to meet up with friends, family or co-workers for good food, cool drinks and fun times.

Q: If you had to invent a new dish right now, what ingredients would you throw into the mix?

JM: Shrimp paste, durian, glass noodles.

Q: If you had to eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?

JM: Fried chicken—Jollibee’s fried chicken, to be exact—with a side of rice, gravy and hot dog spaghetti.

On His Plate: Jason Montelibano’s favorite dish and cocktail pairing at EATS is the miso seabass with forbidden rice, garlic ong choy, yuzu butter sauce paired with thyme, black pepper and lemon martini. It’s a hearty seafood dish packed with flavor.

Know Your Rice: Risotto is not a type of rice, rather it is the way Arborio rice is cooked that makes it risotto. Contrary to popular belief, it is cooked in vegetable stock, not oil.

EATS Kitchen and Bar
17900 Jamboree Rd
Irvine, CA 92614

D R O P /// the b-EATS. Hotel Irvine’s EATS Kitchen and Bar Should Be On Your Radar