Today we’d like to introduce you to Isa Fabro.
Isa, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
A lot of things happened in 2004. I got laid off from Capitol Records (best job of going to shows, trading unreleased new music with other labels, meeting lots of people from all over).
A week later, I got a new job working with the manager of the Rolling Stones. A few days later, I became deathly ill and was hospitalized in ICU for a month. It took a year to recover, but it was in the hospital that I knew I’d be happiest cutting carrots all day.
I went to culinary school, and halfway through got my first kitchen job (save your money, don’t go to culinary school unless it’s LATTC!). My first paycheck was just under $400 for two weeks (that was my per diem in Music), and I thought, “Shit… I’m in it.”
I stuck with it, working with the best fine dining chefs in LA. At the seven-year mark, my back went out twice in six months, and doctors told me I should stop working. I decided to change from savory to pastry, getting my first pastry sous chef position at Hatfields, and then onto my first executive pastry position at Orsa & Winston.
At the six-year mark of pastry (now working 12 years in the kitchen) I was burned out. I left the kitchen and traveled to the Philippines for a month. When I returned I started a series of pop-ups out of Unit 120; Detroit style pizza Mondays and Filipino Inspired dessert and pastry menu on the weekends.
This led to numerous write-ups and critical acclaim, podcasts, a dessert booth at Coachella, collaborative dinners, being a featured chef in the film documentaries Migrant Kitchen and Ulam the Movie, traveling to major food festivals all over the US, and consulting with global hospitality and restaurant groups.
I am currently working on passion projects with other highly creative individuals in other fields, and I’m looking forward to a much-needed inspiration trip to Japan this year.
Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
It’s never a smooth road if you want more. You have to constantly get out of your comfort zone, test your limits and really earn this. There is a huge financial burden of working as a cook. A lot of people give up for this reason, and the intense physical and emotional perseverance needed makes it very difficult.
This toll has been highly publicized through the unfortunate deaths of many culinary leaders, and the importance of mental health is now seriously addressed. At one time I took pride in being “Old School,” but I was needlessly sacrificing my sanity. I have paid my dues and proven myself, but am more responsible, healthier and happier. Currently, I’m in a bit of a slump. I’m burned out from doing pop-ups going on four years.
My years as a line cook was that of an artisan learning a craft, while my years in pastry, especially the last three years, were more prolific creatively. Since doing the pop-ups, I’ve learned how to channel that inventive spirit into a business sense; developing a concept and proving its profitability, but even this has become unchallenging.
Currently, I am without a kitchen space and have put my pop-ups on hold. I’ve had other projects emerge that are outside of the kitchen, but still food related. After having worked for so long, you gain a level of expertise that will open doors to other kinds of opportunities. I’ve been able to travel the world, teach students, tell my story, and connect with people at events.
That is the power of taste; to have the ability to explain without words and leave an indelible mark through a visceral, nostalgic, and cultural experience. It’s always about rolling with the punches, making the best of what you have, and wisdom of foresight. The best is yet to come.
IsaMADE – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
I am known for my pop-ups ranging from savory to sweet, but most specifically my Modern Filipino take on desserts and pastries. This has lead to numerous opportunities. Consulting with Unit 120, TAO Group, Bento Box Entertainment, J. Fall Group.
Community service and charity work with LA Kitchen, SIPA and No Kid Hungry. Private events with Reed Smith and LATTC. Panels with Migrant Kitchen, Taste Talks, LA Times for LA Food Bowl. Presentations for KCET, Life & Thyme, KCRW Good Food, StarChefs NY, FEAST Portland, LA Food & Wine, Pebble Beach Food & Wine, Feastly.
I am also published in Sunset Magazine, StarChefs, LA Times and NY Times. I started my company IsaMADE last year to help keep all the varied projects more organized.
What moment in your career do you look back most fondly on?
It’s given me great pride in representing an often overlooked and misunderstood cuisine.
Also, being a woman in a predominantly male-dominated profession helps with breaking those separations between genders and socio-economic backgrounds. I’ve been given a rare opportunity to share with others my very personal journey of rediscovering my culture through food, and this unfolding has also helped with establishing the cuisine as more than the latest trend.
The representation of minorities and women across all industries has come to the forefront, and I have done my best to keep that conversation going. Dedicating myself to this endeavor creates consistency, relevance, and permanence that helps to advance the overall culinary landscape not only in Filipino Cuisine but in Culinary Culture as a whole.
- Website: www.isafabro.com
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Luz Gallardo, Wyatt Conlon, Jessica Marx