When chef Eric Pascual has leftover rice from his Eats By E pop-up dinners, he eats some for breakfast with eggs.
After his last pop-up, a kamayan, or traditional Filipino family-style dinner that Pascual hosted in Berkeley in late August — he had several eggs he didn’t use for his ube dessert and about 10 cups of leftover cooked rice. It was more than enough to get him through a week of breakfasts.
The Berkeley-based chef was born in the Bay Area, raised by his parents in Castro Valley and San Leandro, but during the summer, for three months out of the year, Pascual lived in Hawaii with his grandparents. His egg and rice breakfasts are reminiscent of morning meals he ate as a child in Hawaii.
“Growing up, it was either scrambled eggs, eggs and tomatoes, but there was always rice,” Pascual recalled, while sitting in the commercial kitchen, where just days before he hosted the kamayan.
During his summers on Oahu, his family would have parties where there were more than 100 people. His grandfather — who migrated to Hawaii from the Philippines when he was 19 — would cook for these gatherings. His aunts, uncles and cousins would also bring food.
Pascual said they’d sometimes have 30 to 40 different dishes influenced by Japanese, Hawaiian and Chinese cuisine. These days, those inspirations slip into chef Pascual’s pop-up menus.
At the kamayan, Pascual serves all the food on banana leaves. Kamayan roughly translates to “by hand” in Tagalog, referring to the traditional Filipino dining style of eating with hands. Each guest has their own serving of rice and vegetables, but appetizers and proteins are placed in sharable piles on the leaf-covered table.
The August feast included shrimp and chicken lumpia, atchara (pickled green papaya), roasted salmon belly, glazed chicken skewers, Java rice, braised pork belly, slow-cooked bistek with onions, and ginataang gulay (a vegetable stew made with coconut milk, aromatics and salted shrimp paste). At the meal, Pascual explained to guests how to eat the food by hand — one hand is for grabbing and eating the food, while the other is kept clean throughout the meal.
Pascual’s recent kamayan dinner was just one of four food events he hosted that week, a little more than his usual two to three pop-ups and private events.
In addition to kamayan pop-ups, he offers Filipino brunch pop-ups and recurring events, like Dagat (Tagalog for ‘sea’), a five-course Filipino-inspired seafood dinner that he’ll host again at the end of September. His next pop-up on Friday, will be an ode to his summers in Hawaii. Taking place at the former Rocket Restaurant Resource space on Seventh Street in Berkeley, the coursed dinner will feature a mixture of Filipino and Hawaiian dishes, like chicken Shanghai lumpia, Mochiko chicken katsu, wild-caught ahi tuna poke, braised short rib loco moco and ube haupia pie.
Pascual is a self-taught chef, who began cooking for family and friends while he was attending San Jose State University. (When he’s not doing Eats by E, he’s a real estate broker.) But he fondly remembers the first meal he made on his own, a customized bowl of instant Top Ramen, when he was six or seven years old.
For the ramen, he experimented by adding an egg. “And then I figured out, like watching my dad put tomatoes and vegetables and other stuff [in it],” he said. “And then the Spam.”
He often watched his parents and grandparents cook. An only child, Pascual cooked for himself when his parents were working, implementing skills he picked up from them and his grandparents in Hawaii.
Pascual got official experience running a food business when he helped open the now-defunct E-22 Café in Emeryville. While there, he picked up other skills from his partners, a few who also had other food businesses.
“Sometimes I would go to their restaurants and just sit there and watch them cook and just watch the way they plated things,” he said.
About five years ago, when E-22 Café was winding down, an acquaintance challenged him to do pop-up dinners through Feastly (last year, the company was acquired by ChefsFeed), an online platform where diners can book reservations for pop-up dinners and other events hosted by culinary professionals. Since then, Pascual’s pop-ups have received nearly 4,000 reviews, many of them with five-stars.
Pascual said his first dinner, with a mix of friends, family and strangers attending, wasn’t a total success.
“I was nervous about cooking for people I didn’t know,” he said. “I had a passion for cooking. But it’s different when it’s the people that you cook for all the time versus someone that you just met.”
But as he continued the pop-ups, Pascual said he’s been able to temper his nerves by being open to constructive feedback and adjusting his process as necessary.
“I eventually had to figure out how to plan a proper menu out, how to balance things. That eventually came with trial and error,” Pascual said. “And then also working with other chefs and offering to help chefs on my own time.”
Once the positive reviews started rolling in, there was no turning back.
“I just started getting a lot more positive feedback, and it just became almost addicting. Like no matter how tired I’d get in the kitchen, I’d want to do it again. Just the gratifying experience of someone saying, ‘Oh, wow, I love that food,’ or ‘The food was something I haven’t had before.’”
One of Pascual’s missions as a chef is to not only share — and in many cases, introduce people to — the flavors of Filipino cuisine, but showcase how his upbringing in Hawaii and the Bay Area have greatly influenced his cooking.
Besides the nearly perfect reviews on his ChefsFeed page, compliments from his mother probably hit closest to home.
When Pascual’s mom likes one of his dishes, she asks him to show her how to make it.
“For her to go through a good amount of her life cooking for me [and] for me to be able to reciprocate that…” he said. “It’s kind of a cool thing.”
Chef Eric Pascual’s next pop-up, “Summer in Hawaii: A Hawaiian-Filipino Inspired Dinner,” takes place 7:30 p.m., Sept. 13, at 2940 Seventh St. (at Potter), Berkeley. Tickets are $54. Future dining events with chef Pascual are Sept. 27 and Oct. 26.