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Chef Tara Monsod on Filipino Food, Her Pot-Bellied Pig, Plus a Recipe!

chef tara monsod

Having worked alongside some of the country’s most notable chefs, including Brian Malarkey at Animae, James Beard award winner Nate Appleman and Nancy Silverton, Chef Tara Monsod brings her passion to the table as the new executive chef at Animae, an opulent Asian-American-inspired Wagyu steakhouse in San Diego.

When she’s not busy cooking up kare kare short ribs with bagoong peanut oil or coal-roasted cabbage with brown butter and lime, Chef Monsod takes time to enjoy life with her wife, preparing simple meals and hanging out with their pup, Mya, and pot-bellied pig, Biggie Smalls. Asked about her methodology and what fires her up, she told Beyonidsh:

“I take a lot of inspiration from my personal travels, memories, conversations and interactions that I’ve had over food. Food is a universal language that brings people together. Some of the best memories come from those times. There are times I can still taste certain dishes from my childhood, and I end up in the kitchen trying to recreate them. Home-cooked meals are always the best kind of inspiration.”

Drawing from her upbringing with Filipino cuisine and the imprint of the flavors of her childhood, Chef Monsod is proudly shining a light on Filipino and Asian dishes such as delicate scallop crudo with calamansi, daikon, shiso and avocado; corn scallion karaage with a charred onion aioli and the ever-popular kare kare short ribs. We recently caught up with her for a Q&A.

scallop crudo

Photo by James Tran

What’s in your fridge right now?

Local beer, Ace Mango cider, Thai/Lao food leftovers, lots of condiments (ketchup, banana ketchup, bagoong, kewpie mayo, Dijon mustard, sriracha, Valentina hot sauce, Bob’s Blu Cheese dressing), French butter, pate, ramen noodles, scallops, rib eye steaks. Plus lots of fruits and vegetables for Biggie, which take up half the fridge.

You named a lot of condiments. What’s one you can’t go without?

Any spicy chili crisp or oil. I put it on everything.

grilled chicken

Any advice for home cooks looking for inspiration?

I immerse myself in cooking. It’s an obsession with food frankly. If I’m not cooking, I’m either reading about food or watching it on TV. YouTube and the internet are your best friend. You can watch a video on how to make anything and learn, yourself. I’m jealous I didn’t have a tool like that when I was younger.

Is there a recipe you’d like to share with our readers?

We’re approaching the cold season in a few months, and there’s nothing more I love than a hearty bowl of soup that just hugs your insides. Learn how to make my Sinigang Na Tahong (sour soup with mussels) recipe. It’s a staple soup in every Filipino household. Serve with a side of rice and enjoy!

kare kare short ribs

Photo by James Tran

Sinigang Na Tahong

Sour Soup with Mussels

Sinigang is a staple in every Filipino household, and each family has their own version of this sour yet savory soup. This one from Chef Tara Monsod was created during her early days at Animae. The recipe uses mussels, but you can substitute it for any protein. According to Chef Monsod, “It’s perfect on a cold day. Each bite hugs your insides and makes you feel all warm and tingly.”

2 Tbs Canola Oil
½ Tbs Garlic, Minced
½ Tbs Ginger, Thin Julienne
½ Cup Cherry Tomatoes,
1 Shallot, Sliced
1 lb Mussels in shell
3 Long Chili Pepper
2 Cups Fish Stock, Vegetable Stock or Water
2 Tbs Tamarind Paste
2 Cup Water Spinach (regular spinach can be substituted if water spinach is unavailable)
1 Tbs Fish Sauce

1 Radish, Sliced Thin
1 Scallion, Sliced

Cooking Instructions
1. Preheat a large pan over medium high heat. Heat oil followed by garlic and ginger.
2. Add cherry tomatoes and sliced shallots. Sauté shallots and cherry tomatoes until cherry tomatoes begin to pop and release some of their juice.
3. Add Mussels, Long Chili Peppers.
4. Add stock, tamarind paste and water spinach and cover with a lid. Let steam until mussels open.
5. Turn off heat. Add fish sauce. Add more if needed for salt, the amount can vary depending on mussels.
6. Plate and garnish with radish and scallion. Eat with jasmine rice.


Anna Maria Giambanco DiPietro

Anna Maria is a writer based in Santa Barbara County, California. She writes for Wine Enthusiast catalog, Edible Santa Barbara, Coco Eco and the American Wine Society Journal, among others, focusing on the wine and food scene. With her WSET 2 certificate in tow, you'll likely find her tucked away among the vines planning her next pairing.


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