Chef Erica Paredes on her unlikely, but inevitable, journey to becoming a Parisian chef and restaurateur.
It’s almost dinner time and Reyna’s tiny bubblegum pink sign hides in plain sight in Paris’ 11th arrondissement.
On the narrow sidewalks, a stream of well-dressed people, young families, gallery types, and plenty of well-coiffed men take a moment to look through the menu posted at the door and to peek into the tiny, 32-seat restaurant.
Perhaps they are intrigued by the pink-and-red sign, with its ’90s hip hop-inspired font, or the seasonal menu that includes Bicol Express, Hainan Burrata with kecap manis, patis-flavored fried chicken wings, and pavlova with pandan crème Chantilly. The pink signs, musical references, and mix of Filipino and pan-Asian flavors might not make sense, but that’s perfectly all right with the chef.
“On Le Fooding it says Filipino but also cuisine d’auteur,” explains chef Erica Paredes via email. “It is very Filipino, but I also have personal experiences that contribute to the way I express myself through food.”
“I was already thinking of going to culinary school when I was around 20 years old, but decided I wanted to pursue a career as a writer and just cook for fun,” Erica says. “Funny how life works because 15 years later I ended up in Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, the same school and city I was going to go to before.”
The Saturday we visit Reyna, it’s fully booked with a table of Filipinos—both tourists and émigrés, and mostly well-dressed Parisians thoroughly enjoying their sisig. Paredes sits down with us for a series of quick chats in between services.
After a career in publishing, Paredes pursued various passions, which included professional makeup artistry, a clothing label, a podcast, a weekly sponsored party, a monthly column in a newspaper, and a corporate job for a tech company.
She was always an enthusiastic foodie, able to break down flavors and ingredients; but even then, cooking professionally was not something that was on the horizon.
Her first foray into the food business was when she started selling chocolate-dipped bacon. Then it became cupcakes that could satiate any and all kinds of stress-related eating. Both were instant hits, pulling in features from top publications and blogs.
She has a knack for putting together unorthodox flavors and textures, or giving tried-and-tested ones a new, surprising spin.
“My life has always been very food-centric and everything was always happening around the kitchen table,” Paredes explains. “From stealing homemade pies from my lola’s house to my mom bringing home nice steaks from the States and cooking them for us at home. It was always a special treat.”
“I moved here six and a half years ago originally to go to culinary school and then see where life took me later on. I was open to anything!” Paredes shares. “I ended up dating someone here and also falling in love with Paris.”
Before she moved, she says the city was never a favorite. “But now I can’t imagine being anywhere else. I decided to stay for food but I also had other reasons at the time. The relationship ended but my love for seasonal eating, French produce, and their obsession with food never faded,” Paredes says. “I have such deep appreciation for how every aspect of food, from producer to plate, is given respect.”
After graduation, she took on jobs at Michelin-starred restaurants to learn the ropes of the restaurant business: she participated in restaurant pop-ups and eventually set up a private dining area in her apartment.
It took the pandemic for her to re-orient herself to her and find her vision for Reyna. “She just kind of went for it,” says Cyrille Marc, Reyna’s business partner.
“Reyna is first and foremost my food and second, inspired by Filipino [flavors] and my memories. It’s not traditional and it’s very personal,” she says. “At first I was afraid that people wouldn’t understand, but honestly this way of cooking makes me the happiest.”
“So let’s say it’s food that’s evolving, rooted in memories of growing up in the Philippines and everything that entails—Spanish, American, and Chinese food, our love for Japanese,” Paredes says. “Spaghetti and fried chicken were staples at any party I went to. I refuse to put myself in a box or a category.”
Reyna is barely a year old, but it’s off to a healthy start. The summer saw the restaurant expanding to include a terrasse, and Paredes is enjoying a healthy amount of word-of-mouth buzz.
But in a post-pandemic world, the most unlikely things can happen. Case in point, during our meeting, she was nursing a deep cut on one hand, the result of her opening a can of corn for her teenage daughter instead of a kitchen melee.
She shows me the stitches, wrinkles her nose, and slips her hand back into a glove. Yes, she’s still cooking.
“I think I was really meant to do this,” she says. “But all good things come at the right time and with a lot of work! I really think it is my truest calling.”
This story originally appeared in Vogue Philippines September 2022 Issue