Chef Vallerie Castillo Archer. That’s a name Hollywood’s exclusive restaurant, Yamashiro, knows all too well—and rightfully so, after she made history as their first-ever female executive chef. Not to mention, she’s proudly Filipina, too!
Born in her grandfather’s bakery in San Nicolas, Ilocos Norte, Chef Vallerie has always had a keen eye for all things food. That said, she didn’t always envision herself in the culinary field. As a loving stay-at-home mom with three kids, Chef Vallerie only had the opportunity pursue her dream in her 40s, and with the success she’s raking in now, her inspiring journey is proof that it’s never too late for us to follow our passions, no matter the age we find them.
Of course, with a male-dominated Hollywood culinary scene, this 51-year-old’s journey to the top wasn’t all smooth sailing. Being an executive chef wasn’t part of her original plan when she joined Yamashiro, having witnessed only men take up the position in restaurants around the area. “Although I went to culinary school and I was classically trained, it was not something that I thought I could do,” she told Preview. “Coming into this iconic Hollywood restaurant, all the chefs before me were male and they had a lot of restaurants under their belt. So it was kind of scary.”
Despite her worries, Chef Vallerie’s skills and her natural knack for cooking up good food did all the talking she needed to earn the coveted title. She credits this almost instinctive talent of hers to the parties and fiestas she experienced as a young woman in the Philippines. “To me, I look at it as a part of my life. I don't look at it as a job. It's something that I love to do. I love to host, I love to meet people, and genuinely, I just love to cook.”
Now, Chef Vallerie serves a spectrum of customers—from celebrities, to Filipinos, to Americans asking for adobo—in the hallowed floors of Yamashiro Hollywood, a contemporary Japanese resto, with roots dating all the way back to 1914. Although the iconic spot is famous for their sushis, with Chef Vallerie at the helm, it’s also slowly becoming a haven for Filipinos craving authentic Pinoy dishes.
“I do have an off-the-menu Filipino food for a lot of our Filipino guests that come in,” shared Chef Vallerie. “My goal is to introduce Filipino food to the world. And not to be scared that no one will like it. To me, I love our food and it reminds me, when I was growing up, of my grandparents. So I want to celebrate our food, I want to introduce that. It's so amazing! So why not show it to everybody? Why not introduce it? Let them taste what we have.”
Read more about Chef Vallerie’s journey in an exclusive interview with Preview below:
Who were the different chefs you looked up to, or the restaurants that influenced the food you make now?
"Who I really look up to is not really a chef, but it's my grandparents. My grandparents took care of us when my parents went to the United States. So, my life with them at the early age of three, I remember just being with them in their bakery, watching my grandfather bake, and watching them in the kitchen. But when I came to the US in Hawaii, I remember my mom would always have Julia Child on TV. And I would just watch her cook, and it wasn't just a chef just cooking or being technical. She had stories, she was drinking wine, so she made it look exciting!"
"The chefs now, they're very technical. And to me, it fascinated me, because every food comes with a story. And so, as I got older, for some reason I was always drawn into listening to cooking shows, and watching people cook. Or when we go to restaurants, I was always astounded and I was always happy to see food coming out and the way it was plated. I always picked apart, you know, the ingredients. To me, it was just very exciting!"
Yamashiro is a contemporary Japanese restaurant. As a Filipino, are you able to put your own twist to different recipes?
"Yes. Actually, I do! I have an off-the-menu Filipino food for a lot of our Filipino guests that come in. The thing is, I've been asked before so many times, 'How do we elevate Filipino food?' It's not about elevating it. To me, it's about introducing it to everyone. And everyone was saying, 'There's a lot of Japanese restaurants, there's a lot of Chinese restaurants.' Everyone knows those cuisines. Why don't we [Filipinos] have a restaurant? We don't have a restaurant because none of us want to introduce it."
"To me, I have this platform to be the first executive chef here at Yamashiro, a Filipina. So my goal is to introduce Filipino food to the world. And not to be scared that no one will like it. To me, I love our food and it reminds me, when I was growing up, of my grandparents. So I want to celebrate our food, I want to introduce that. It's so amazing! So why not show it to everybody? Why not introduce it? Let them taste what we have."
What are the most loved meals that you’ve served, especially to the celebrities who have dined in Yamashiro?
"Well, we are a sushi restaurant, so everybody orders sushi. But Yamashiro gives me the freedom to create whatever dishes that I like, and a lot of Americans also want to try adobo. So, they're like, 'Oh, I want chicken adobo.' It's funny because when they know you're Filipino, they'll say, 'Do you make lumpia? Do you make pansit?" Do you make adobo?" So that's something that we introduce to a lot of our customers. My grandfather's ginger soy ribs, I put that on the menu. And that's something that sells out all the time. It's like the most amazing dish that we have! And then we have your basic Filipino fried rice or the garlic fried rice. Or I even put pansit on the menu and kinda made it a twist, and I also use a lot of calamansi because I love calamansi! I also have ube ice cream on the menu as well."
What’s it like being a woman in this field and what are some of the experiences you’ve had?
"It's hard because sometimes as a woman, our place is in the kitchen at home. We cook for our family, you have your dinner at home. But going into a commercial kitchen or an actual restaurant, it's difficult because if you notice, most of the restaurants, their executive chef is male. And when I came in here, I was the only executive female chef that walked in. So it's very intimidating. And what I did was basically stand on both of my feet, pushed my way through, and showed everyone that I have what it takes to become a chef."
"I went to school, my food is great, and I have what it takes to be where I'm at. It was a tough road. As hard as it was, I'm just happy that at the age of 51, having raised three kids, putting them through school, that I'm able to lead the most iconic restaurant, be able to embrace our culture, and be able to show everyone what Filipino food is about. Not just our food but our generosity, our kindness, and that we can actually make a name for ourselves. That’s what I'm proud of. I'm so happy that as long as this career takes me, I'm going to do this until I'm in a wheelchair or something. I'm having the best time of my life!"
If you could give a message to people starting out their culinary journey, what would you say?
"My advice is not to give up. There will be some bumps on the road, and that's okay! It's a learning experience. But never doubt yourself. I've had so many setbacks. But, you know what? This is your career, you're doing it for you, you're not doing it for anyone else. If this is what you want to do and if this is where you want to be, it will happen. Just don't give up. Don't listen to what anyone says. Just keep going and you'll get there. I promise that you will get there. I mean, it took me 51 years to get here and trust me, I'm having the best time of my life."
Preview is now on Quento! Click here to download the app for iOS and Android and enjoy more articles and videos from Preview and your favorite websites!