is not your typical pan-Asian restaurant. The Cortelyou Rd. eatery offers a wide variety of Filipino dishes, but also draws from influences both local and far away.
This is all due to the dedication and passion owners and spouses Romy Dorotan and Amy Besa have for the Ditmas Park community and the power of food to bring such a community together.
Bringing SoHo to Ditmas Park
Before opening Purple Yam, Dorotan ran a well-known French restaurant, Cendrillon, which means Cinderella in French. "We spent more than 13 years in the old restaurant," Dorotan said. "It was known nation-wide."
After 13 years, however, it was time for a change. "We opened Purple Yam here because it is a nice neighborhood," said Dorotan, who has lived nearby since 1981.
"The neighborhood seems to have a lot of potential in terms of growth," he said. "We accumulated customers from the old restaurant and Filipinos who live in different parts of the neighborhood, Brooklyn and Staten Island, families and couples. It's all very diverse."
Experimentation is Key
"I didn't cook Asian [dishes] when I started cooking. I cooked French, Italian, American... it's a good thing to experiment," said Dorotan, who prefers to keep an open mind when constructing dishes and the restaurant's menu.
In addition to incorporating influences from other cultures in his dishes, Dorotan also pulls from the neighborhood for inspiration. "I'll buy from the Cortelyou Green Market," he said. "Not everything made here is local, but I try."
Dorotan makes many of his dishes' ingredients on site as well, including vinegar, jam and jelly. His creativity doesn't stop there; Dorotan has taken to creating unique ice cream flavors as well.
"A few weeks ago I made heirloom tomato ice cream and had a tasting at the Green Market," he said with a laugh. "We make purple yam ice cream and avocado ice cream. I don't know where I think of these things."
It's More Than Just Food
Dorotan noted that the restaurant business involves more than cooking and serving food; it can be a community building exercise.
To foster this spirit, Purple Yam does more than just serve food. "We've held cooking classes with visitin chefs. Chefs from Kerala, China, Maine... I like that kind of thing."
Dorotan and Besa also released a cookbook, and the revised edition came out in May. Memories of Philippine Kitchens discusses Filipino food, how the couple has been influenced by their Asian neighbors and how they transformed those flavors to the new landscape in the United States.
And at its very core, the restaurant is a people-person business, Dorotan said.
"Once theres food, it unites people," he said. "There's something about food that allows people to reflect on more than just the food. It's a good starting point to talk about other things; politics, yoga, anything."