Filipino chef in Sicily makes Italians love Pinoy food 2
Chef Morris also applies Filipino cooking techniques to add more flavor to the simple, straightforward Sicilian dishes.

This Filipino chef in Sicily is making Italians love ensaladang talong and Pinoy BBQ

Chef Morris Danzen moved to Italy for love. Now he’s found another reason to stay: spread the good news about Pinoy cuisine
ANCX Staff | Apr 30 2022

In many different parts of the world, Filipino cooks and chefs are introducing Filipino food in ways big and small. One of these ambassadors is Chef Morris Danzen who has found ways for locals in a seaside town in Sicily to appreciate the flavors he grew up with. 

Chef Morris is quite proud that his audience—Italians and Filipinos alike—recognize the touch of a Filipino chef in the specialties that come out of his kitchen. “I use Filipino ingredients like kamote, soy sauce. I use Filipino techniques, and the flavor profiles are Filipino, which [the diners] really appreciate.”

Ensaladang Talong
Ensaladang Talong is layered with rice paper on top, representing rice as a staple in the Philippines.

Chef Morris found his calling in fusion cuisine after moving to Italy and working at a trattoria. Having fallen in love with an Italian woman, he followed his heart and married her in Italy. The couple settled down in her hometown, where her family owns the said trattoria. But the business was not doing well. 

“I was asked to help manage the restaurant and do whatever [I could] to help it,” Chef Morris recalls. “I was hesitant at first, because I didn’t want to do traditional Sicilian food. So, I suggested we make a fusion of Sicilian and Filipino cuisine, but only if they were willing to make the change.”

After two very popular “Filipino Nights”—in which Chef Morris created 6-course menus of Filipino food—he eventually won the approval of his wife’s family to make changes on the trattoria menu. This led to the business shifting from a traditional Sicilian trattoria to a restaurant serving “Filipino food with a twist” but adjusted to the European palate. The name: La Bottega Fusion Cuisine. 

Sisig Polpo
Sisig Polpo

The change brought in good business. Until the pandemic hit. The restaurant had to undergo renovations but is now back to serve its customers again. “We got an offer to collaborate with a pub that wanted to do a fusion of Oriental and Mediterranean cuisine, but what we do here is a lot of finger food—with a Filipino twist,” says Chef Morris. 

Having won a televised cooking contest in Italy (Gino Cerca Chef), Chef Morris has proven his creativity in combining different flavors to reach delicious results. What inspires him? “I just cook the food I really, really love,” he says. He looks to his childhood memories and the many things he learned from his mother for inspiration. He has a dish, for example, that’s based on ensaladang talong: “I use a white eggplant, grill it, and top it with anchovies, tomatoes, and tomato puree. I use rice paper on top to represent how we eat it with rice traditionally. It’s like an eggplant steak.”

Shrimp Kilawin
Shrimp Kilawin

His favorite among his creations, however, is a barbecued monkfish. “Its marinade is inspired by Philippine barbecue. I serve it with tomato salad.”

Chef Morris’ story was discovered by Mama Sita Foundation’s Mga Kuwentong Pagkain, an initiative the famous Filipino brand launched in 2012 as an annual food story writing contest. Now on its 10th year, it continues to bring together people from all walks of life in rediscovering and celebrating Filipino food anywhere in the world.

leche flan, ube sponge cake, and coconut milk sorbet
Leche flan, Ube Sponge Cake, and Coconut Milk Sorbet

For Chef Morris, the ideas in combining Filipino with Sicilian cooking come easily because the two cuisines have similarities. Sicilians, he says, like agrodolce (sweet and sour), and have a penchant for fried food, “and punchy, fishy food. In techniques, the way of preparing fish is almost the same. With escabeche and pesce in agrodolce. Theirs is simple, but the same as ours.”

Chef Morris also applies Filipino cooking techniques to add more flavor to the simple, straightforward Sicilian dishes. “When we make our sauces, we try to find unusual ingredients like liver, patis…. We get umami flavors from those ingredients, which you can’t find here in Sicily. [We have what we call] sahog. Our way of marinating food, as well as the taste profile—punchy!”

From Sicilian cooking, he learned the beauty of simplicity. “I’ve learned that the simpler, the better, in a way that you could still understand what you’re eating,” the chef says. It helps that top-quality fresh seafood ingredients are abundant in Sicily. He appreciates how the local cooking techniques help make the freshness of the frutti di mareshine.

Chef Morris Danzen
From Sicilian cooking, he learned the beauty of simplicity.

Being the only Filipino residing in the immediate area, Chef Morris feels the weight of responsibility to make Filipino cuisine known and appreciated. But he says it’s not easy to showcase Filipino food where he is. “There are a lot of cuisines that we compete with,” he adds. Which is why he can’t help but feel proud of other Filipino chefs in different parts of the world who work to share the delights of Filipino cuisine. It takes creativity and hard work to help make others discover and appreciate it, he says—two things Chef Morris has been putting in doing his job in Sicily for the past three years, promoting Filipino flavors and fleshing out the stories behind them.