Billy Dec is an entrepreneur, restaurateur, and actor who has appeared in film and television shows, including Chicago Fire, Empire, American Crime Story and Criminal Minds. Along the way, he’s picked up two Emmy Awards.
But it wasn’t always stardom and success in his life. He grew up in a Filipino- American family and started working in restaurants as a young boy to support himself and help his family who struggled financially. And he was bullied for his exotic looks and background; an experience that deeply affected him and inspired his advocacy work. For more than five years he served on President Barack Obama’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans & Pacific Islanders and the White House Bullying Prevention Task Force.
“I was bullied as a multi-racial minority kid that didn’t look like either side of his family or anyone in school. I had other challenges, like having no money with my family on food stamps, unable to afford healthcare. I worked multiple jobs from high school on to pay my own way, my own tuition and my expenses,” said Dec.
Restaurant work supported Dec while he pursue a law degree at Kent College of Law in Chicago and later Harvard Business School. After working as a lawyer for several years, he decided to leave the legal profession to focus on creating his restaurant concept.
“As a lawyer, I missed the emotional significance of delivering happiness and value in restaurants, putting smiles on faces, and solving problems quickly. This further solidified my love for entertainment and hospitality, and inspired me to leave law and commit 100 percent to it!” Dec said.
Dec’s concept is Sunda New Asian, currently with locations in Chicago and Nashville. The name “Sunda” reflects the intermingling of cultures surrounding the Sunda Shelf, a landmass submerged under shallow seas in southeast Asia, geographically the Java Sea, South China Sea, and the Gulf of Thailand. One will find the flavors of Japan, China, Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines at Sunda New Asian, all with a modern spin utilizing local ingredients.
Further inspiration for the menu came from Dec’s Filipino grandmother, recognized locally for her culinary skills and hospitality. “My Lola (grandma in Tagalog, the native language of my family in the Islands of the Philippines), was an amazing cook. I watched her prep and cook every day as she helped raise me and my siblings, taking so much care in sharing the process, flavors, tradition. I only wish she was still with us to try the handful of Filipino favorites she fed us growing up, mixed into our Sunda menu. I miss her.” said Dec.
These days, Dec is producing and hosting a documentary on PBS entitled “Food. Roots” which takes him- and viewers- throughout the Philippines to explore Dec’s ancestral roots. Along the way, he gains a deeper understanding of his family’s history and native food culture.”
Recipe: Sunda Chicken Inasal
One of the traditional Filipino dishes Billy Dec grew up eating is chicken inasal. Chicken parts are marinated in herbs and spices and grilled. The word “inasal” is a native term for “roasted meat” or “chargrilled.” The dish is said to have originated in Bacolod City in the Visayas islands of the southern Philippines.
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup fish sauce
1/2 cup minced ginger
1/2 cup minced garlic
1/2 cup chopped lemongrass, white part only
1 cup brown sugar
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
4 chicken breasts
1/2 cup chopped lemongrass, white part only
2 ounces achiote paste
1-ounce lemon juice
Place all ingredients, except for the chicken, in a bowl and mix until incorporated. Add the chicken breasts to the marinade, turn to coat, cover and refrigerate for 4-6 hours.
Put achiote and lemon juice in a small pot over low heat. Using a fork, mash the paste. Slowly add butter in small amounts at a time over medium heat. Set aside.
Take the chicken out of the marinade and pat dry.
Heat a well-seasoned grill or a heavy cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat.
Place the chicken on the grill or skillet and sear both sides until internal temp reaches 165 F. While cooking, baste the chicken with the glaze.
Serve with steamed white rice
Tip: Sear the chicken on the grill or a pan until you get the color you want — you can finish the chicken breasts in the oven to avoid charring of the meat.
The marinade can be used on different proteins such as beef and pork.
Where to try: Sunda New Asian currently has locations in Chicago and Nashville.