Having a meal with Rosenda Calloway is akin to being a special guest on a Food Network show. She’s confident and charismatic as she moves about her Palmer Ranch kitchen filling fresh wontons then frying them—teaching along the way.
The youngest of four girls born to Filipino parents, Calloway admits she’s never actually been to her parents’ homeland. Instead, she stays close to her heritage through its cuisine.
“Filipino food is made up of everyone who occupied the islands,” she says. “It has a Spanish influence, a Chinese influence, and it also has an American influence. My parents spoke two different dialects, but the common thing was food. Both my parents were very good cooks. My passion for cooking came from them.”
As a travel sales and development consultant for AAA, Calloway makes it a goal to visit Filipino restaurants on her extensive travels.
“Any time I can find a Filipino restaurant I am in heaven,” she says. “A lot of port cities offer good options because cruise ships tend to hire Filipino staff because of their welcoming nature.”
Calloway happens to be a perfect representation of that nature.
She continues the conversation, elaborating on ingredients as she presents her nose-tingling adobo: cooked chicken that has been marinating in vinegar, soy sauce, bay leaves, peppercorns and garlic.
“Chicken Adobo isn’t the national dish but it should be, because most people think of it when they talk about Filipino food,” says Calloway. “Anyone can make it and it is palatable for everybody.”
As a first-generation American who grew up in a small military town in Southern California, Calloway says in addition to attending PanAm parties, her family often played host to large Filipino gatherings.
“There were always people in our backyard,” she says. “And everybody would bring something, and it always included the staples of adobo, lumpia, and poncit.”
Calloway makes her lumpia—the Filipino version of an egg roll—using handmade wrappers.
“I grew up on fresh food so everything I make I want to be as fresh as possible,” says Calloway, who shops at the Gulf Gate Asian Market for her specialty ingredients. Calloway’s mother always maintained a garden growing up, so ingredient sourcing is something now ingrained in her cooking.
“My mother is 94 and still lives on her own,” says Calloway. “She still grows everything and is out in her garden four hours a day.”
Calloway says she always watched her parents cook. And when her parents opened a restaurant, the daughters were enlisted to help. As the youngest, though, she did more prep work than actual cooking. It wasn’t until she was older and living in LA that she breathed life into her current passion.
“I said to my mom, ‘I think it’s time I learned how to cook,’” she says.
Now, Calloway’s culinary talent runs the gamut, but she’s the only one of her sisters who consistently cooks Filipino food. And since there are no Filipino restaurants in Sarasota, Calloway gets her fill by making it or going to private parties, which she has been known to host herself.
“We’ll set up tables in courtyard and occasionally, I’ll just have a pop-up party,” says Calloway, adding, with a chuckle, “It gives us a reason to clean the house.”