Fil-Am restaurateur Patrice Cleary of Purple Patch DC: Speaking Love through Filipino Food

Written by: Shin Kitane/Tuesday, Mar 20, 2018 10:36 AM

From being in the Marine Corps for eight years to opening Purple Patch restaurant in DC, it's hard not to put Filipina-American restaurateur Patrice Cleary high on our list of women who inspire us big-time.

Within a year of opening Purple Patch restaurant, established food critic Tom Sietsema gave the Filipino restaurant a good review on The Washington Post, headlining it as a place "where the spark of Filipino cooking charms." In that same year, Purple Patch was also named by DCist as one of the Top 10 restaurants to open in DC for the year 2015, and one of the Top 9 Filipino Restaurants in America (Tableblog).

 

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The restaurant's name, "Purple Patch," is an Australian expression that roughly translates as "a place of success" or "one's good luck." And while it might be charming to attribute the restaurant's success to the way it was named, we have a pretty good clue that it was the woman behind it--armed with her passion for food and her beloved mother's recipes, that allowed the place to live up to its name.

Patrice is Filipino-American, born in the Philippines to a mother from Bicol and a father from Massachusetts. She is married to Drew Cleary, who is Australian and co-owns Purple Patch with Patrice. In an interview with Myx TV for "My Motto," Patrice recalls how challenging it was to think of a name for the restaurant. She and her husband eventually settled with "purple patch," with Patrice fondly recounting how when her husband first met her, he told her that "he felt like he was in a purple patch when he was with me [Patrice]."

Patrice and her family moved to the U.S. when she was still very young, and so she doesn't speak much Filipino, but is surprisingly well-versed in all kinds of Filipino ingredients and food. This, she attributes to her mom, the woman responsible for inspiring half of Purple Patch's best-selling menu items.

"For her, it was teaching us to cook. She felt that as long as we learned how to cook, we would always speak the language of love."

 

Purple Patch DC's menu boasts of Filipino classics, prepared in the tradition of Patrice's Mama Alice. Among them are Pinoy favorites such as lechon kawali, crispy eggplant (locally known as tortang talong), sisig, adobo, sinigang, and of course, Mama Alice's Lumpia--"fried beef and pork spring rolls with banana ketchup dipping sauce." (Yes, the signature Pinoy banana ketchup comes with this dish!) There are also a lot of ube-based desserts to choose from.

They also have a lot of fusion dishes, interesting mixes of rich flavors from various cultures. The menu is not restricted to Filipino food, although it does comprise a significant part.

Today, Patrice remains very involved in the restaurant's day-to-day operations, and is thrilled at the great reception of their food and brand by the DC community and beyond. We got to ask her a few questions about her love for cooking and Filipino food, as well as about her journey from being part of the marine corps to a chef and restaurateur. 

 

You and your family moved to the U.S. when you were still very young. How did you remain connected to your Filipino roots?

My mother's way of acclimating us to the American way of life but still holding on to her identity was through food.  For her, cooking was her escape that brought her back a familiar place and her roots, it allowed her to hold on to her identity. Without telling us, she instilled this into us as well.  We knew who we were through our food,  as long as we could cook Filipino food we would always speak the language of love.  

 

How did you discover your love for cooking?

My mother definitely was very instrumental in planting the seed early on.  I also have an uncle who is Lebanese that was a chef and owned a restaurant.  I would help him prep food, cook and help run the restaurant.  I have always loved to cook and would host dinner parties all the time at my house.  Like my mother, cooking was my way of holding on to my true self.  I could be whoever I wanted to be in the kitchen.

 

You were part of the Marine Corps for 8 years! How was that like and what would you say is your biggest takeaway from that experience? 

Oh wow!  Yes, 8 years in the Marine Corps, Semper Fi!  It was tough but I realize now that the Marines prepared me for the success that I have today.  As a Marine Corp leader, you are responsible for the men and women under your charge.  It is your responsibility to motivate a group of people to believe in one common goal.  You are held accountable for everything that you do and that others do. 

You don't just have one job, you have multiple jobs. Owning a restaurant, being a chef, the general manager, and   the accountant is a lot of responsibility.  I definitely would not be able to do what I do without the experience that the Marine Corps has taught me.  For that, I will forever be grateful!

 

Purple Patch DC has made it to the top of many lists, and has become a go-to for people who wish to experience Filipino food in DC! Can you tell us how it all started?

We opened Purple Patch on March 17, 2015 and created a menu with Filipino and American comfort food.  Since we were one of the first to open in DC we had a lot of people that were curious about our food.  That allowed us to receive some free press and publicity.  Tom Sietsema, the DC restaurant critic came and reviewed us after a few months and gave us a good review, which again had people wanting to come to our restaurant.  He then put us in his fall dining guide as one of his top fall restaurants to try in DC. This really started it all for us.  I was nervous because it opened big doors for us but very fast. A lot of credit goes to him for our early success.  He took a big risk with us.  We were a very new and young restaurant with an owner and chef that had never done this before with a new concept and no investors. I mean really, we could have easily failed within the first year. 

Fast forward three years now and we have been in numerous publications, several documentaries, interviewed by countless writers and on national TV.  To say that I am proud of what my team and I have accomplished is an understatement, I'm friggin ecstatic.  

 

What would you say is a Filipino value that helped you succeed in your business? 

Filipinos are very passionate about what they do. They are givers and hard workers that know their struggles but are prideful about not showing them. We have a relentless can-do attitude and can carry the weight of a family on our shoulders.  I attribute a lot of my success to these innate traits that were only fortified by the strength of my mother.

 

 

About Shin Kitane
Shin Kitane writes to remember and believes that words have the power to heal, inspire, and move others. She dreams of a world where men and women are treated equally, where race, gender, and religion are not measures of one's worth in society. She is also a book-hoarder and a firm believer in re-watching Mean Girls and Harry Potter multiple times a year. Follow her misadventures @shinkitane on social media.
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