Saturday, May 20, 2023 at the Grand Tasting
As a native of Pampangga, Philippines—the region deemed Philippines’ culinary captial—Chef Paolo Dungca spent his early years watching his grandmother lovingly cook native Pampanggan classics. As a teen, Dungca immigrated to Southern California with his family and he witnessed his mom find therapy, calmness, and a connection to her homeland through cooking Filipino dishes. Though Dungca didn’t pick up cooking until his early 20s, these experiences instilled in him a deep understanding of food and feeding others as a love language.
He ironically began his culinary career washing dishes at a restaurant in Disney California Adventures. He was inspired by the grind of the kitchen and made his way from dishwasher, to food prep, to line cook, to eventually sous chef. He was introduced to fine dining and culinary arts while working alongside Michelin-star chef Kevin Meehan at his supper club, Kali Dining. Dungca moved to Washington DC in 2014 and worked at Chef Jeff Buben’s now-shuttered Vidalia restaurant. In 2015, Dungca joined his mentor and future business partner, James Beard Award-winner Tom Cunanan, at Filipino restaurant Bad Saint, before becoming Chef de Cuisine at Restaurant Eve under world-renowned chef and restauranteur, Cathal Armstrong. Three years later, Dungca followed Armstrong to open and assist in developing the menu for Kaliwa, a District Wharf restaurant that blends Korean, Thai, and Filipino flavors.
A trip to the Philippines in 2019 reinvigorated Dungca’s desire to cook his native cuisine and bring Filipino food to the forefront of American dining. As such, in 2021 Dungca partnered with Chef Tom Cunanan to open Pogiboy—a fast casual concept inspired by Filipino comfort dishes that garnered rave reviews including a front cover feature in Food & Wine Magazine. In 2022 Dungca created Filipino fine- dining pop-up Hiraya to showcase his experiences growing up in the Philippines—the food he ate, the recipes he learned from family, and the people that influenced his journey. Hiraya is set to open its permanent location in late 2023.
Throughout his 10-year career, Dungca has received numerous awards and recognitions for his superb culinary skills and passionate display of Filipino food; including semi-finalist for the Eater Young Guns Award (2017), winner of DC Central Kitchen Capital Food Fight (2020), StarChefs DC-Chesapeake Rising Stars Award Winner (2022), and 2022 Chefs to Watch by Plate Magazine. Additionally, he is a contributor for the award winning cookbook The New Filipino Kitchen: Stories and Recipes from Around the Globe, and has been featured in numerous publications such as Washingtonian, The Washington Post, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine Magazine, Plate Magazine, and Tatler Asia.