As this town's burger addicts are well-aware, GO Burger recently opened in Hollywood, dangerously near The Hungry Cat and the home of the Pug Burger. The man flipping burgers (actually sometimes, conceptually a lot more often) at GO Burger is none other than Rodelio Aglibot, a man who had spent no small amount of time in other Los Angeles restaurants before becoming, last year, the corporate executive chef of BLT Restaurant Group. And thus of GO Burger, which would perhaps have been called BLT Burger were it not for the fact that Laurent Tourondel has left that building.
Aglibot, who is Filipino-American, was the opening chef at Koi, but is probably far better known as the chef-owner of Yi Cuisine, perhaps the only upscale Filipino restaurant Los Angeles has ever had. Had, past tense, as the restaurant closed in 2006. (If you want a fun party game, and can't wait to read the actual interview, just Google Aglibot, Jonathan Gold and Spam.)
We sat down with Aglibot recently at GO Burger. Amid the controlled chaos of opening a restaurant, there was no mistaking Aglibot's pleasure at being back in Los Angeles. Of course maybe that was because Chicago, where he has been based and where he opened Sunda restaurant, was in the process of being buried under a near-historic amount of snow. If you could open a restaurant in L.A. this time of year, wouldn't you? Exactly. Turn the page…
Squid Ink: So welcome back to L.A.
Rodelio Aglibot: It's good to be home. It is a home for me: I spent 16 years of my life here.
SI: When was the last time you were here, professionally?
RA: I left when I sold my share of Yi Cuisine, on 3rd and Fairfax, in 2006. And then I was the consulting chef at The Huntley until the end of '06, and then I had a project in Seattle, so I moved up there in the beginning of '07. So pretty much I relocated myself outside of Los Angeles in '06.
SI: And your previous incarnation here? We're going backwards…
RA: I was the opening chef at Koi, yep. The first two years. And then my own restaurant, Yi Cuisine. Then I consulted on Sushi on Sunset when it first reopened; consulted on Blowfish; consulted on Simon L.A. with Kerry [Simon]. Consulted at
The Huntley in Santa Monica. Consulted on quite a few other restaurants. But you know, a lot of my chef friends are here. I have a ravioli business based out of Burbank. It's called Baba's Pasta, it's artisan pasta. Right now we're sold at Santa Monica Seafood. I also import vanilla beans; Chef's Warehouse is our distributor locally. A small company we have is based out of Huntington Beach. So my Los Angeles roots are strong. And being corporate executive chef at BLT now brings me back to Los Angeles — not as much as I want it to — but on a more regular basis.
SI: How long have you been corporate executive chef at BLT?
RA: About 9 months now. But I had a consulting contract with them for a year.
SI: Okay, tell us about GO Burger.
RA: BLT Burger has 2 locations: one in New York and one in Vegas. Here we're creating a broader restaurant experience. We do have burgers — our Angus burgers, dry-aged beef burgers — but here we have entrees as well. We also offer some non-meat dishes for those who don't eat hamburgers. We have a great falafel burger on the menu. A salmon salad. A great kid's menu: the gratuitous fish sticks, and we have baby sliders. And so it's a full service. We also have a great milkshake and beverage program; we have spiked milkshakes with alcohol in them. It's sort of like an updated throwback burger joint. But these menus are chef-driven. We don't have kitchen managers; we have a chef de cuisine [Kayson Chong].
SI: Wasn't there a contest to come up with the name?
RA: Yeah, there was. We're moving forward as a company, going into the next era. So there was a contest last year to rename the concept, and GO Burger was the winner.
SI: You've been cooking in different places for awhile…
RA: I've been around. I've been in almost every major city now: San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York. And now with the BLT group it comes back full circle, I'm going back to those cities — with the exception of San Francisco, as there's no property there.
SI: I was going to ask you about food trends. Burgers and spiked milkshakes seem to be trending upwards, so to speak.
RA: I think that they are trending upwards. I think there's two approaches. From a business standpoint, burgers will never go out of style. They're easily executable and people will go there. And so I think that creating concepts where you get a higher ticket average might be in the play. With spiked milkshakes and all the great sides, now we can get a higher ticket average. So it makes more sense. And we have a full liquor license. Because even in fine dining restaurants, you put a burger on the menu, it sells.
SI: The same with spaghetti. What's up with that?
RA: It sells. I think comfort food will always be a trend.
SI: Daniel Boulud had a $150 burger. Would you guys ever do something like that?
RA: I don't think to that level. We want to keep it accessible. I think here we're going to run grass-fed burgers, our burger-of-the-week, which gives the chef here some allowance to find out locally what they like. Local beef, whatever we can highlight. We have a dry-aged burger for $18. We don't run a Kobe on the menu.
SI: Even in Kobe Bryant land?
RA: Even in Kobe Bryant land. We have a Kobe hot dog. One called The Bryant, I believe.
SI: Are you a Lakers fan?
RA: I am a Lakers fan. I'm a Lakers and Dodgers fan, since I was 10 years old. Growing up in Hawaii you watch West Coast sports, so yeah. I was a Rams fan before they moved.
SI: Let's not talk about football.
RA: Yeah, let's not. But I went to UCLA, so I'm a Bruins fan. Our sports have taken a hit the last few years. I believe L.A. is one of the best food cities in the country, period, hands down. Food city — I didn't say restaurant city. There's a difference. Food is food of the people, it's the ethnic food, it's the food trucks, it's the places on the corner, it's the Mom and Pop places. Outside of it's original country, it's hard to find better Korean food than in Los Angeles. Japanese, Vietnamese, Thai, Chinese, Mexican. You know, there's a different set of diners here. Outside of L.A. they don't take it seriously sometimes, but the reality is that some of the best food in the country is here. It hasn't become part of the Angeleno culture to support the artisan chefs that are out there, 100%, 7 days a week. They'll support them 4-5 days, but it's hard for us to stay in business: we need them 7 days a week. But it's getting better. So I'll always come back and contribute to that.
SI: We kind of started the current food truck trend, but they're hardly new. Roy Choi didn't invent the food truck, he just reconfigured it.
RA: Absolutely. When I was in college in the 80's, we were eating off the trucks. It originated here, but it also [now] gives some chefs with a lot of dreams the opportunity to do their food, maybe on a minute scale, but it's their food. We see chefs bypassing the dream of having a restaurant and they're doing a food truck. It also can become a testing ground for chefs to create certain dishes or a certain style.
SI: How have things changed here since you opened Yi Cuisine?
RA: Over the last few years the gastropub has been coming in. I think that Neapolitan pizzas will get more and more exposure in Los Angeles. It's not happening now, but I can see somebody doing a high end Korean restaurant that becomes more mainstream. But I get back here, I've got to eat at Tommy Burger. I think L.A. is the best burger city in the country. When you think about tacos and burgers, when people are creating concepts all over the country, they have to come here to do their research.
SI: The obligatory In-N-Out R&D trip.
RA: As a chef you need to know your competition, so I went to Umami, enjoyed that. Even back in the day, from the Fatburger to Astroburger, it's a burger city.
SI: What about Filipino food?
RA: Filipino food will find its day in the sun. I think as Filipino-American chefs introduce those flavors into their cooking, there will be more of an understanding. It's such a soulful cuisine. It really needs to be left alone. You know, at Yi Cuisine I was doing Filipino dishes that were very straightforward, not a lot of “fusion” going on. To do a full Filipino menu and bring it to the limelight like Japanese or Thai? I think it's not impossible, but it's definitely challenging. But if anyone asked me if I had to pick a cuisine to eat for the rest of my life every day, since I grew up with it, it would have to be Filipino food.