Behind a great name is its inspiration
Chef Silver Iocovozzi, owner of Neng Jr.’s in Asheville, North Carolina, has dedicated their life to introducing people to traditional Filipinx dishes with alterations to fit Iocovozzi’s own flare. Neng Jr.’s is inspired by Iocovozzi’s mother, nicknamed Neng (which means baby”) by her family. “I was always my mom’s mini-me,” Iocovozzi says, and Neng Jr.’s is meant to honor their mother and Filipinx heritage.
Iocovozzi got their start in the restaurant industry 10 years ago, working as a dishwasher at a small Japanese restaurant in Asheville. The kitchen’s hustle and the opportunity to learn and grow sparked Iocovozzi’s passion. They “always had an attraction to kitchens and cooking,” but never thought of pursuing it as a career. They went to culinary school. There, they met their first mentor, chef Snyder, who helped Thomas Keller launch the three Michelin-starred restaurant The French Laundry in Napa Valley. After completing school and growing their experience working at various restaurants, Iocovozzi pulled their favorite elements of cooking, food, and hospitality to create Neng Jr.’s in West Asheville’s vibrant community.
Using Food to Evoke Memories at Neng Jr.’s
For Iocovozzi, the dish that best connects them with their culinary roots is ensaladang mangga. The Philippines’ traditional snack plate of seasonal fruits served with a bright and salty dipping sauce gets a modern spin at Neng Jr.’s. The dipping sauce, Iocovozzi argues, is what truly makes this dish truly special. They use a pestle to pound lime juice, garlic, shallot, fish sauce, brown sugar, rice powder, and chile flakes into an emulsion. The combination of ingredients give this sauce a pungent flavor that Iocovozzi claims is reminiscent of street food in the Philippines. Iococozzi prefers serving the dip with crunchy chunks of unripe mango and fresh tomato slices for a sweet-meets-salty flavor combination that speaks to Iocovozzi’s heritage.
5 cloves of garlic
2 shallots, julienned
2 tablespoons mushroom seasoning
2 tablespoons rice
2 tablespoons brown sugar or palm sugar
2 tablespoons chili flakes
½ cup fish sauce
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 large tomatoes
2 white stone peaches
1 tablespoon flaky sea salt
- Roll limes with the palm of your hand to loosen of the citrus. This will yield more juice. After rolling, slice in half and squeeze juice into a small bowl or container.
- Use a knife face to crush garlic cloves and add them and shallots to a mortar. Set aside.
- In a room temperature pan, add the rice and place over medium heat. As the outer circle of rice starts to brown, toss frequently to distribute heat while still cooking rice. Rice is done once it develops a nutty aroma and is evenly light brown in color. Quickly transfer from pan to a spice blender and blend into a fine powder.
- Add rice powder, mushroom seasoning, sugar, and chili flakes to mortar and use a pestle to gently crush ingredients. Use a swirling motion to move ingredients against the walls and bottom of mortar and blend together.
- After ingredients come together (mixture will be thick and cake-y), add fish sauce and lime juice and stir well. Transfer sauce to a small bowl for serving.
- Cut fruit into wedges and chunks and arrange on a plate. Dress with olive oil and flaky salt. Serve with sauce on the side.
Video by: Evan Anderson
Edits by: Andrew Anderson films
Production by: Maggie Ward
Location: Elevation Lofts
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Recipe BySilver Iocovozzi of Neng Jr.’s in Asheville, North Carolina