Portland home cook brings Filipino fusion flavors to new PBS show ‘The Great American Recipe’

The world of food TV is hotter than ever, with seemingly endless servings of shows filling our screens. The newest addition to the menu is a PBS series, The Great American Recipe, an eight-part series that brings together home cooks from across the country to compete and showcase their favorite dishes. Among the hopefuls is Portlander Christina McAlvey, who specializes in foods that bring a touch of her Filipino heritage to all types of cuisines.

“This is really my first exposure to cook-offs,” says McAlvey, who lives in southwest Portland. Before she was cast in The Great American Recipe, McAlvey says she mostly watched cooking shows on TV for ideas on how to work in the kitchen.

“I watched the original Iron Chef filmed in Japan and I watched Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa and some of it,” recalls the 43-year-old. However, she could not keep up with competing shows such as “Top Chef”.

As it turns out, McAlvey got her first taste of television cooking competitions when she was cast in “The Great American Recipe,” which premieres Sunday on OPB. It was a process that took a while as the pandemic forced delays in the original production schedule.

Growing up in Saginaw, Michigan, McAlvey recalls her Filipino immigrant parents passing on their culture by teaching McAlvey how to cook. “My parents taught me to cook everything, and that’s how I started,” says McAlvey. “People said, ‘I’ve never eaten Filipino food,’ and my answer was, ‘Well, let me cook you something.’ It’s a way to connect.”

Since moving to Portland with her husband about 10 years ago, McAlvey has continued to meld Filipino flavors with other influences, taking advantage of the ingredients offered by Oregon farmers and vendors.

The Great American Recipe features, from left, Judge Tiffany Derry, presenter Alejandra Ramos, and judges Graham Elliot and Leah Cohen. (Photo: Courtesy of PBS/VPM)

McAlvey credits her husband with coining the term “fili-fusion” to describe their cooking style. This eclectic approach, she says, led her to prepare dishes like traditional lumpia and then stuff them with corned beef and cabbage to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. Or arepas, where McAlvey took the Venezuelan-style preparation and added shredded pork adobo.

In addition to working as a small business lender for a community bank and teaching yoga, McAlvey also posted photos of the dishes she created on Instagram. These posts piqued the interest of a casting agent working on The Great American Recipe.

“As the kids like to say, someone snuck into my DMs on Instagram,” McAlvey says, “and sent me a message asking if I’d be interested in being cast on a cooking show.” The Trial began in early 2020, and when McAlvey determined the message wasn’t what she says was “a scam,” she applied and had two phone interviews.

“After the second phone interview, I received a message in August 2020 saying it seems COVID is really expanding and they need to postpone the show and taping,” says McAlvey. “Fast-forward to July 2021, almost a year later, and I got a call from one of the producers who said, ‘I don’t know if you remember who we are, but we’d love to re-establish the process.’ “

After a few more Zoom calls and a mock cooking attempt via Zoom, McAlvey received a call just before Labor Day weekend 2021 and said, “You’re getting kicked out, so here’s your info.”

The show was filmed outside of Richmond, Virginia in a bright, barn-like set reminiscent of the British cooking series known in the US as The Great British Baking Show. Watching the first episode of The Great American Recipe, it’s hard to miss echoes of the convivial feel-good vibe of The Great British Baking Show.

According to McAlvey, that was purely on purpose. The producers like the positive atmosphere of the British show and wanted to convey a similar feeling.

Like cooking shows like Taste the Nation, The Great American Recipe is designed to celebrate the multicultural influences in American cuisine. Alejandra Ramos, who has appeared as a food and lifestyle contributor on the Today show and Telemundo, is hosting. The judges are Top Chef veterans Tiffany Derry and Leah Cohen, and Graham Elliot, a well-known food TV presence thanks to his appearances on shows like Top Chef, MasterChef and MasterChef Junior.

Every week the participants cook in two rounds. At the end of each episode, one chef will be sent home, and at the end of the contest, one of their recipes will appear on the cover of The Great American Recipe Cookbook.

Though McAlvey can’t reveal how she’s doing in the competition, she says one of the biggest surprises was the challenge. “I’m a very fit person,” says McAlvey. “I used to be a fitness trainer and I like to think I’m in pretty good shape. The big shock for me was how physically draining it was. You stand on a concrete floor and cook for 12 to 14 hours, there is a lot of repetition and repetition. I’m glad I wore sneakers.”

According to McAlvey, the best part about attending the show was meeting her fellow chefs. “The 10 of us are very close,” she says. “We have a text message that we use to keep in touch and share recipe tips.”

To celebrate, McAlvey is hosting a watch party and fundraiser related to The Great American Recipe. The show premieres on PBS on Friday, June 24, but OPB won’t air it until Sunday, June 26 at 7 p.m. on Strong Street. In support of the Portland Food Project, one of McAlvey’s recipes will be available and raffle prizes will be offered. The event is free, but attendees should register by clicking the link on McAlvey’s Instagram profile: https://www.instagram.com/filipina_fox/?hl=en

The Great American Recipe airs Sunday, June 26 at 7 p.m. on OPB.

– Kristi Turnquist

kturnquist@oregonian.com 503-221-8227 @Kristiturnquist

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