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Apronomics: Jane Chatham of Vicia

Cooking and food played a major role in Jane Chatham’s life growing up in Manila, Philippines. For most of her childhood her mother provided income for the family through cooking. “Originally, she just cooked for the family, but then she started selling what she made in front of our house,” she says. “My family also loved to entertain. That’s where my interest in food came from.” Thanks to that focus on hospitality, Chatham has worked her way up the culinary ladder. When Vicia opened in 2017, she was hired as a line cook, and now, she’s at the helm in the kitchen as chef de cuisine.

Chatham came to the U.S. in 2009. She met her future husband, a St. Louisan, in Manila, and after a year of making it work long distance, she made the more than 8,000-mile move to the StL. “I’m a risk taker,” she says. After arriving, one difference she immediately noticed was the food. “It was a bit of a shock to me,” she recalls. “I grew up eating rice with every single meal, but here, it’s all about potatoes and mid-rare meat. Back home, we were always scared to eat any meat that may have been undercooked. I was craving the smells of what I grew up with, so I started cooking for myself and enjoyed it.”

Chatham was learning English through courses at St. Louis Community College (STLCC) and opted to also enroll in the school’s culinary program to explore her interest in cooking. Post-secondary education was a resource she likely would not have been able to access in the Philippines, she notes. “I grew up in open poverty, and moving to St. Louis provided me with a lot of new opportunities,” she says. “Technically, I am the first person in my family to earn a diploma. I pushed myself to achieve that. STLCC’s culinary program is one of the best in the city. There’s a little community of grads here, and I bump into other alumni all of the time.”

While earning her degree, Chatham worked at Robust Wine Bar. She admired that Arelene Maminta Browne, the owner, also was a woman of Filipino heritage making her mark on the St. Louis culinary community. “I was a kid and also new to this country, so I had to learn pretty much everything,” she says. “A lot of the time I was running off of pure excitement and adrenaline because I didn’t know what I was doing. The best part was just getting into the kitchen.”

After Robust, Chatham moved to Reeds American Table as a line cook before becoming an early employee at Vicia. “I have been lucky to work with some amazing chefs and owners,” she says. “They’ve all worked side-by-side with their cooks, and I respect that they truly give everything they have to their restaurants. They’ve always been willing to guide me and teach me how to do things the right way. Sometimes, I struggle with confidence in myself, but they’ve only ever lifted me up and pushed me to learn more.”

While she may have struggled with confidence initially, Chatham quickly found her bearing in the kitchen. Now as chef de cuisine at Vicia, she’s taken on responsibility for back-of-house operations. One of her main focuses is to continue building close working relationships with local farmers and purveyors—something she learned about as a child while visiting markets with her mother in the Philippines. “It’s exciting to get to work closely with local growers and producers,” she says. “Because the produce they have to offer is constantly changing, I have to be able to adapt to the ingredients available. I love how creative I get to be. It’s great to be able to serve customers innovative dishes because St. Louis is so supportive of its culinary community.”


kinilaw
I learned this popular Filipino dish from my mom and uncles. Traditionally, the fish is marinated longer than a classic ceviche, ensuring it is thoroughly cooked but a bit drier. I suggest marinating the fish for at least one hour. If you prefer a bit of pink on the inside, 30 minutes should be enough time.

ingredients
½ lb. tuna or hamachi, cut into cubes
¼  c. sugar cane vinegar
1 tsp. salt
¹/8 tsp. ground black pepper
1 thumb ginger, minced
1 small red onion, chopped
5 pieces Thai chili, chopped
6 sprigs cilantro
Juice from 4 limes or 8 calamansi
1½ c. coconut cream
2 Serrano peppers, sliced for garnish

directions

  1. Place the cubed tuna in a mixing bowl. Add ½ tsp. salt, ground black pepper, ginger, onion, cilantro stems, Thai chili peppers and sugar cane vinegar. Mix well. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
  2. Mix coconut milk, lime zest, lime juice and remaining salt.
  3. Strain the marinate out. Plate the fish in the middle of a bowl, and pour the coconut cream  mixture around it. Garnish with Serrano and cilantro. Serve chilled, and enjoy with a cold beer.

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