Bio | Interview | Featured Recipes
Chef Rina Estero was born in Angeles City, Philippines and was raised there until age 12. Soon after arrival in Austin, Texas, Rina got her first taste of the food service industry cooking for customers in a bingo hall. The happiness she gave the guests there was her new fascination, she felt like she just had to make more people happy. She landed her first formal job in a professional kitchen at age 17 in a Japanese Restaurant. In her twenties, Rina traveled extensively through over a dozen European countries. Chef Rina's cooking style is profoundly influenced by her travels. Focusing primarily on French food, most importantly the attention to quality, Chef Rina is always trying to work the characteristics of Filipino cuisine into her dishes whenever possible. Chef Rina is also very conscious to minimize waste at every turn. After moving from Austin to Virginia, Chef Rina quickly realized that it was time to strike out on her own. After building a business plan and selecting a location, Nouvelle Restaurant was opened in August 2014. Nouvelle is a direct reflection of Chef Rina's commitment to quality and flavor, as well as her desire to keep dishes as authentic as possible.
Q: How did you get started with your career? Please describe your journey of how you got to where you are today.
A: I grew up in the Philippines until I was 12, in Angeles City, which is the "Food Capital" of the Philippines. Food has always been a central part of my life, and for my family's. We never cooked meals very far ahead of time, the evening's meal was prepared that day. Ingredients were always selected with care. Even though we had a staff, my Aunt always insisted on choosing the ingredients herself. It fascinated me that picking the ingredients meant so much to her, so I loved to tag along to the wet market, regardless of the 5:00 A.M. departure time. When I moved to the United States at the age of 12, I worked at a snack bar in a bingo hall that served short order favorites like nachos and chili dogs. I was instructed to plate things a certain way, but I plated things my own way and the customers loved it; so much in fact that sales actually doubled. I enjoyed the happiness that my work brought to the customers, I was hooked.
Q: What do you love most about your job?
A: I don't consider what I do to be a "job", it's my privilege. To create food that people enjoy, and to be able to make them happy, even for just that moment. It's a privilege to work with a staff I consider to be family, and to make friendships that will last a lifetime is something few people will come to know.
Q: Describe your cooking style.
A: I cook according to my philosophy, it's not really a style, but a set of guidelines. If I had to label it, I would say "International". I have done an extensive amount of traveling, and I try to bring all of those influences into my cooking.
Q: What is your favorite Chefwear item and why?
A: My favorite Chefwear item is the Short Sleeve Primary Cloth-knot Jacket. I love its durability. I have several that I have had for nearly 10 years that still function perfectly.
Q: If you could choose any chef (dead or alive) to spend the day with, who would it be? Why?
A: Dominique Crenn. I love how she ties poetry in with her upbringing. After hearing about her, I found my style is like hers.
Q: What is your favorite kitchen gadget?
A: My favorite kitchen gadget is this insane light, old pair of tongs. My staff hates them, but they are perfect for me. Also, if I may, I would say my own hands. My hands are how I can directly pass my love and affection into the food.
Q: What is the funniest kitchen incident you've encountered?
A: When I was the Chef at a restaurant in Pflugerville, TX I witnessed the funniest incident to date. We had 2 line cooks that bickered like brother and sister, and the sister always lost the arguments. One day she had enough. He was tasked to burn off the alcohol from some orange essence, and he asked her if he should use a hot pan or start it in a cold pan. She assured him that a hot pan should be okay, and 5 seconds later he was missing half of his eyelashes, eyebrows, and bangs. Served him right for talking smack to a "helpless girl".
Q: What do you do to stay educated about new trends in the restaurant industry?
A: I don't follow the trends in the industry. I make myself aware of them, but I mostly just focus on the quality of my dishes.
Q: What is your favorite meal?
A: I love it when my boyfriend makes me Pancit Palabok.
Q: Please list awards and accolades.
A: Nouvelle and myself have been featured in Distinction Magazine, Coastal Virginia Magazine, the Virginia tourism website. Additionally, Nouvelle was voted one of the 10 best new restaurants in Virginia in 2015. However, I make an effort to not compete; I just do my own thing.
Q: Which accomplishment are you most proud of in your career?
A: I am most proud of opening my own restaurant. Aside from that, I am proudest of being able to mentor many young cooks that are now chefs in their own right.
Q: What was the best advice you ever received in your career?
A: I was once told to remain humble. Also, I was advised to be "Happy, but not satisfied" by my partner in life and was told that in business there is always room for improvement.
Q: What advice would you give to a home enthusiast?
A: To the home cook: Keep pushing your boundaries, experiment, but don't poison your family.
Nouvelle Kinilaw Marinade