Born in the Philippines, Aris Tuazon moved to New York to pursue his passion for food at the French Culinary Institute in SoHo. After completing his studies, he spent several years working at a variety of restaurants, practicing different cuisines. Finally, Aris returned to his Filipino roots and opened Ugly Kitchen where he serves traditional Filipino food.
I was invited into the kitchen to learn about a few of the dishes we would be eating and how they were prepared. Upon entering, I found delicious green zucchini marinating and then I walked over to the stove where Aris was preparing laing: dried taro leaves cooked in coconut milk. He was eager to show me his favorite Filipino dish, lechon: whole roasted pig, which was cooking in the oven. To the right of the laing, was a pan full of adobo ribs cooking in vinegar, garlic and soy sauce. To the left was a pan full of coconut sauce. Aris poured a bowl of tiger shrimp into the sauce and mixed them together. Once the lechon was ready, Aris pulled it out and began to slice it up. He drizzled some homemade liver sauce on top, creating a mouth-watering combination of flavors before giving me a piece to try.
Once all the food was ready, Aris began carefully laying each dish on the green banana leaves that covered the table. First came the rice, then the laing, after that, the adobo ribs, coconut shrimp, grilled pompano, fried tilapia, pancit, lechon, bone marrow, and beautiful grilled zucchini. Each dish was cooked to perfection. We ate kamayan style: with hands, a traditional way of eating in the Philippines. It was an incredible experience.
I was curious as to why they chose to name the restaurant “Ugly Kitchen”. Aris explained that, “In the Philippines, in every house there will be two kitchens. One is outside the house and is called dirty kitchen.” They wanted to name the restaurant “Dirty Kitchen,” as it represents a spot where delicious authentic Filipino food is prepared, however, the health department at the time would not allow them to name the restaurant Dirty Kitchen and recommended trying Ugly Kitchen instead. It was approved and became the name.