We had the good fortune of connecting with John Cornelio and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi John, can you tell us more about your background and the role it’s played in shaping who you are today?
I was born in the Philippines, but moved to Anchorage, Alaska when I was only two years old. The schools I attended had a very diverse student body. Our district actually ranks amongst the top one percent in the nation for diversity. Three high schools, including the one I went to, top all the other High Schools in the nation. Because of this, I had the opportunity to meet people from all walks of life and around the world. It piqued my interest of cultures from a very young age. My family was also fortunate enough to take yearly trips to the Philippines. Back home I was able to soak in the culture and food of my Motherland.
Today, you can see and taste how my upbringing had a big impact in the way I present my take on Filipino food.
Can you give our readers an introduction to your business? Maybe you can share a bit about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
I always remember my Mom being in the kitchen baking and cooking up a storm. Nobody can outdo her chicken pancit and lumpia. Hers is hands down the best. My Dad, though, his pork BBQ was famous on the block. He eventually passed the recipe down to me. When I got older and me and my friends would have backyard BBQs and garage kickbacks, I would always man the grill and make my Pop’s pork BBQ. Unknown to me at the time, this memory would jumpstart my popup, “Toduken.”
After quitting my tech job of six years, getting into the restaurant industry and busting ass for five more years, I hit a wall. My passion for food completely disappeared, so I took a leap. I quit my grill cook job during the busy season and went back home to the Motherland after being away for almost 20 years. It was my Grandma’s 80th birthday and her wish was to have all the grandkids home again. How could I say no to the woman who raised me while my parents worked hard to provide for us and their siblings back home in the Philippines?
Once I returned home to the province, the smell of smoke hit me. It made me want to grill again, but it needed to be MY food. After my cousins took me to the roadside BBQ stand at the town market, the memories of my Dad’s BBQ and the parties me and my friends used to have came flooding back to my mind. I told myself, “THIS is what I want to do!”
Being born in the Philippines, but raised in Alaska, having the opportunity to visit the motherland every year as a kid, my love for travel and learning about different cultures and their food, growing up in the 90’s, working in fast food, fast casual, fine dining, and popups; all of these things have an influence on the food I make at Toduken. It started as just pork on a stick, but has since grown into doing more creative things with our plates. I want to take Filipino food to the next level and get the recognition it deserves. Everything I cook up is a taste memory. Come check us out, you won’t be disappointed. Just come through with an open mind.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Right now there’s a revolution happening in the popup scene of Phoenix. Ignited by the pandemic, you are seeing these creative cooks come out with stuff that they hold near and dear to their hearts. I love food with a story. You can see and taste the Chef’s passion in it. I’m going to be a little bias since I’m posted up at the Pemberton house, but I would totally take my friend there. Saint Pasta for some Jersey style Italian. Baja Fish Tacos & More for some tacos and drinks. It’s family run with a great vibe. Then more drinks at Why Not, Hop Box, and Baby Boy. And don’t forget to stop by Moiselle for charcuterie and wine, and end the night at Melt for some really good ice cream!
To burn off all the calories, I’d say go hike up Piestewa Peak or North Mountain.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
Everything I cook up is a taste memory. So, I would like to shoutout all the people and food I’ve met and ate respectively along my journey and had some sort of influence on the cooking style that I have today.