Chef Chele Gonzalez has a thing for pastrami.
And he believes Filipinos do as well.
“I think Filipinos like pastrami because it has saltiness and smokiness and a very powerful taste—and that is also very much a part of the flavor profile of Filipinos: salty and smoky,” says Gonzalez.
Maybe that’s why his version of the smoked, cured beef so popular in New York delis has been a bestseller at Deli by Chele and plays such a big role in his new all-day-dining breakfast menu, now available at three locations at The Podium, Power Plant, and Robinson’s Magnolia.
The new menu features pastrami in a half dozen dishes, while also highlighting Filipino-friendly touches in rice bowls developed by partner chef Carlos Villaflor.
At the launch, we started with Pastrami Egg and Cheese Bagel (authentic cured pastrami topped with fluffy eggs on a sesame bagel), Pastrami Eggs Benedict (pastrami laid over artisanal sourdough toasted bread, topped with a poached egg), and the Salmon and Avocado Toast (his bestselling Feisty Fin Smoked Salmon spread with guacamole, cherry tomatoes and topped with scrambled eggs over homemade sourdough is a zesty winner).
Or how about Mixed Berries French Toast made with homemade sourdough bread topped with mixed-berry jam and whipped cream? Or his Sourdough Bread Pudding soaked with crème anglaise? Sweet breakfast in heaven.
Adding to the Filipino connection, chef Villaflor came up with Deli Breakfast Rice Bowls, including Deli Corned Beef on Garlic Rice, leveled up with hand-pulled pastrami served with a sunny-side-up egg and garlic rice.
I think there’s a big connection between New York and Manila in terms of food. A lot of things they love in New York are available here now.
My favorite was the Pastrami Tapa on Garlic Rice. For that, Villaflor tapped into his college memories of “All Day Pastrami Tapa”—where study days and nights would end with a bowl of rice topped with Filipino classic tapa, egg, and fresh chives over garlic rice.
The Crispy Bacon on Pastrami Fried Rice is also served with a sunny-side-up egg over pastrami fried rice, while the Longganisa Pattie on Garlic Rice adds a pineapple glaze and signature spices to the disk-shaped patties topped by sunny-side-up egg.
Comfort is key to Chef Chele’s new all-day breakfast. “We wanted to make it more comfortable for customers,” he says. “Our sandwiches have loyal followers already, but I think to really complete the menu and satisfy the Manila market, we have to have something that can be eaten any time of the day.”
So, expect breakfast items for brunch, merienda, even dinner, until the mall closes at 10 p.m., featuring their bestselling NY Style Brisket Pastrami in a variety of settings.
It was something Gonzalez had been formulating for a long time. A long trip up and down America’s East Coast with his Filipino wife Teri drew him to the New York deli scene and its long history of technique fused with adaptation.
“Since the beginning, I wanted to have pastrami. So, when we went to New York delis or cafes, breakfast was also a part of that.”
For Filipinos, New York deli food is not so exotic. “I think there’s a big connection between New York and Manila, in terms of food. A lot of things they love in New York are available here now.”
Then there was the challenge of doing it right—inspired at first by New York’s oldest pastrami mecca, Katz’s Delicatessen. “As a chef, the way they do pastrami is probably a challenge for myself, to get more skills. It’s a basic thing, but nobody else has done it here yet. There’s a lot of technique behind it, from the curing and smoking process to the roasting. It took time to have our team execute it properly, but it was always in the back of my mind.”
But, as Chef Chele says, “Even though the soul of my deli is New York delis, we are in the Philippines.” So, it makes sense to appeal to local tastes, even as you expand them. “We do things culturally and adapt it to the Filipino palate. We don’t say, ‘This is only how they do it, the New York way’—no, this is the Philippines. Everything they do in New York is authentic, but even there, they’ve adapted it over the times.”
Another nice touch: Deli by Chele at The Podium opens at 7 a.m. to serve the new all-day breakfast menu—long before the mall is actually open, but just when the office crowd is stirring and hunting for breakfast on the Ground Level.