StarChefs events are always a good time. Held in cities across the nation, the StarChefs panel discussions bring together chefs, mixologists, and pastry chefs from urban areas in the midst of exciting food trends. 

At the latest StarChefs Philadelphia, Emmanuel Laroche — host of the longtime Flavors Unknown podcast — sat down for a chat with Philly’s rising chefs about food passions and the trends they’re seeing and incorporating into their menus. 

On the panel were Chef Michael Vincent Ferreri of Irwin’s; Bartender-Owner Fred Beebe of Post Haste; Pastry Chef Amanda Rafalski of Friday, Saturday, Sunday; Chef Yun Josué Fuentes Morales of Bolo; and Chef George Madosky of Fork Restaurant.

Together with Emmanuel, the chefs brought lively discussion about their cultural heritage and flavors of childhood, when they knew their calling, and how they found inspiration for their culinary creations.


Cultural Heritage and Childhood Flavors

The StarChefs Philly conversation started with a dip back to childhood, whose sensory experiences and memories remain vivid. Chef Michael’s Sicilian heritage led to many meals with tomato sauce bases, where the acidic yet sweet flavor would mingle with basil and garlic. He noted, “The smell of every time you cook garlic and onions together and everybody's like, ‘That smells really good’ — that mixed with the basil and tomato, that fresh flavor, there's really nothing like it for me. It never gets old.”

Chef Yun pulled from his Puerto Rican heritage, thinking fondly of the recaíto sauce — made with cilantro, garlic, onion, and plenty of ají dulce peppers — served with most of his meals. He added, “For us, that's just the base and foundation that hits the pan first and just captures the room immediately, and then anything else goes on top of it. But that first hit, you know there's going to be something good cooking tonight.”

Beyond cultural connections, the panel members reflected on how those childhood memories were never far away — whether cropping up while sweating onions or while cooking a big pot of chicken noodle soup. 


Related: Insights From the StarChefs Panel Discussion in Austin, Texas


Finding the Aha Moment

For many chefs and mixologists, there’s an aha moment when the passion for something becomes a career possibility. Sometimes, that moment sparks in childhood. Other times, it’s a bit later in life. That’s Chef Yun's story. He spoke of moving through youth and early adulthood in fast-food restaurants like McDonald's, focused mostly on paying bills and moving from task to task. As the end of college rolled around, the new reality dawned. That’s when his spark arrived. Yun explained, “It dawned on me that I had a passion, and I had a career that I had set as a base and foundation. I didn't need to start from scratch. It was realizing all that I had done. I didn't know that I had it already with me, and there it was.”

Chef Amanda took a different stance that stemmed from her rural Indiana upbringing. She noted how most people felt that after graduation, girls would move on to nursing or teaching. Amanda wanted no part of that. After a friend suggested culinary school for bakers, she jumped in headfirst. She explained, “I went to San Francisco and just fell in love with the food scene and cooking in general. That was when I realized this is what I want to do. This is amazing. I don't have to be stuck in the role that people tell me I have to do.”

For Bartender-Owner Fred, his New Age, hippie-style upbringing led to a liberal arts education in which the students had a true voice. He saw the state of the on-campus eatery, and he knew he could do better. Fred said, “We pitched the school on starting a student-run eatery that was 90% organic and 90% local-ish, give or take. The school gave us some seed money. But they basically encouraged our idea and got us started.” He added, “Because of the supportive environment I was in, I was able to see how that could work in reality and also how food could connect people to their surrounding environment and to the farmers.”


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Culinary Inspirations and Innovations

From food to drinks, the chefs and mixologists on the panel had much to say about how Philly’s food scene helped fuel their inspiration. 

Chef Michael started things off when he said, “We have a lot of amazing food here in Philadelphia and a lot of really awesome diverse cultural food in Philadelphia. I enjoy it personally on a level, but then also to understand that there are a lot of similarities between my kind of food and so many other cultures.” Using his surroundings, he took inspiration from the Vietnamese and Japanese foods he saw, finding an appeal in their light fare, bright flavors, and seafood-driven cuisines. Michael knew how personally satisfying it was to use them as inspiration, making his menu distinctive yet familiar. 

Similarly, Chef Yun acknowledged the incredible diversity in Philly and the importance of serving up a culture and its traditions but doing so from a local vantage point. Yun noted, “I raised my kids here in Philadelphia, and I want them to feel 100% Boricua, but I also want them to feel 100% Philadelphian. I want to accomplish it with my food as well.” 

Yun referenced his childhood experience of fighting with his cousins for the sorullitos his grandma made in the family kitchen. Bringing those foods to Philadelphia meant using local ingredients as inspiration. Yun wanted local flavors too. He sourced out cheese producers and wound up with a Seven Sisters cheese that melted to perfection, creating the perfect sorullitos with a Philly touch. 

In the world of cocktails and spirits, Bartender-Owner Fred spoke highly of getting local ingredients for his drinks. He explained that staying local started by necessity but transitioned to proving that it's possible to source from Philadelphia and other parts of the East Coast. Staying local can lead to innovative cocktails that mimic the original or create a new experience. He talked about getting kumquats, yuzu, and limequats from a New Jersey greenhouse and using them as substitutes in his drinks. For his Singapore sling, Fred explained, “Because we use kumquats, I basically just did a one-to-one sub, kumquats for pineapple, but tried to bring out the most flavor of the cherry to reinforce the fruitiness of the pineapple.”


The World of Flavors

The panel of culinary professionals was passionate about their flavors, whether staying local or reaching for unique, artisanal ingredients. For her desserts and pastry menu, Chef Amanda was eager to use blood oranges and passion fruit. She also spoke highly of a trip to West Africa and her discovery of uda — a punchy pepper spice with floral and vanilla notes. Amanda noted, “As soon as I got back, I immediately got a bag of that. Like, ‘What do I do with this? I want this. I love this.’ I'm excited to try to work with that.”

Chef George talked about his part-Lebanese heritage and how that cuisine plays into the bold, bright flavors of his restaurant. He said, “We bring in a lot of baharat and ras el hanout and spices like that, that maybe wouldn't necessarily find a way there. It keeps things very exciting. I also am a big believer in when you're conceptualizing menus and conceptualizing restaurants, you have to build yourself a sandbox before you can play in it.”

Likewise, Chef Michael spoke about searching for flavors that represent the agrodolce profile. He explained, “Agrodolce is the most Sicilian thing ever. All of their food represents that ideology of sweet and bitter. Sicilians are true believers that food is life. To them, if food emulates life, you have to have the good to have the bad and the bad to have the good.” 

Chef Yun summed things up when he added, “Traditions and culture move forward when we go out and we enjoy someone else's, and then that drives us to do something new for ourselves.”



Through their lively conversation with Emmanuel Laroche, the five Philadelphia-based culinary professionals showed that diversity is where inspiration thrives. Seeing the world, savoring the flavors, and appreciating what they offer can lead to innovative global creations with a local perspective. 

StarChefs Philadelphia showcases the tremendous creativity of rising chefs and the way they work to use cultural heritage as the backbone of exceptional pairings. 


To hear more insights into the Philly food scene and learn about other StarChefs events, contact Symrise today.

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