The Local Palate’s 2023 summer issue dives into the thriving culture of Filipino food in Jacksonville, Florida. Here, we highlight the owner of Purple Roots, Francis “Kiko” Cruz, who serves authentic classics like his chicken Kare Kare and Sizzling Sisig.
Jacksonville, Florida is the only big city in the state where the majority of immigrated residents are from Asia. With a community numbered at more than 25,000, Filipinos make up 35 percent of the city’s Asian community, and about 12 percent of all Duval County immigrants.
Now, however, the Jacksonville dining scene is benefitting from an emerging influence of second-generation Filipinos eager to introduce the food they grew up with to a wider audience. Filipino chefs in Jacksonville, having been raised on their parents’ cooking, are using modern cooking techniques and blending ingredients from other global cuisines to create unique flavor profiles and new interpretations of traditional dishes.
Recognition of the growing influence of Filipino chefs has become a pet project for Agnes Lopez, a Filipino-American editorial and food photographer based in Jacksonville. Lopez has long been an advocate for the Filipino community in Northeast Florida. After a life-changing trip to the Philippines that sparked her desire to preserve Filipino culinary traditions, she became inspired to publish a book on Filipino chefs in the community, and created a group called JAX Filipino Chefs. What was initially conceived of as a book evolved into a documentary as a way for Lopez to utilize her professional skills while putting a spotlight on local chefs. “I have this skill set to give them a voice,” she says. “They can’t brag about themselves, but I can.”
Recently Lopez spent two months in the Philippines, where she traveled around to sample various regional cuisines. “It reaffirmed my belief that our food is not only a connection that ties Filipino-Americans back to our motherland but also something that needs to be shared with a wider audience because it’s really delicious,” she says. “My hope is that the JAX Filipino Chefs documentary will show people in northeast Florida that we have a group of talented chefs using their creativity to take Filipino dishes and flavors forward right now.”
Francis “Kiko” Cruz, Filipino Owner, Purple Roots
One thing we’re pretty excited about bringing to Jacksonville is a boodle fight. it started with the military in the Philippines bringing food from home and laying it all out on banana leaves. You kind of had to ‘fight’ for your meal. We’re going to offer that as a feast at Purple Roots, where our guests will gather around a table and the whole meal will be presented on banana leaves that will be eaten with your hands. this is a traditional form of Filipino eating known as kamayan.”Francis “Kiko” Cruz
Francis “Kiko” Cruz started his culinary career working with the Bento Restaurant Group bringing tastes of Asia to the American dining table. He helped open several dining options in Jacksonville, including Bento Asian Kitchen + Sushi, Domu, and Soupa Saiyan. After more than 25 years learning on the job—and with the encouragement of his mentor, Jimmy Tung, one of the founders of the Bento Restaurant Group—he created his own culinary destination: Purple Roots.
Growing up in Manila, Cruz was raised on Filipino food. When he began to develop recipes for Purple Roots with his wife, Evana; mother, Gilda; and brother, Jeff, they all wanted to make sure the dishes would be appealing to American palates. “We took a lot of time to create the menu. We are used to very salty flavors in dishes. Although the food is still Filipino, we tweaked recipes for American tastes,” Cruz says. “My goal is to build a bridge between Filipino and American cultures using family recipes we have refined.” His efforts seem to be making strides, as the majority of his customers are nonFilipino and eager to sample a cuisine that is a blend of Asian and Spanish flavors.
On the Menu at Purple Roots
A stir-fry noodle dish with chicharron, fried garlic, and a choice of chicken, pork, shrimp, or soft shell crab
Beef ribs or oxtail stew in a thick, savory peanut sauce seasoned with shrimp paste
Charred and sautéed diced pork in a citrus and soy sauce base, topped with onion, garlic, scallions, calamansi, and poached eggs, served sizzling
- by Erin Byers Murray