The buko meatballs were a standout on Chef Joe Bayley's Spanish-Filipino menu, which was on display at Cortona Cafe during Friday's pop-up.
The buko meatballs were a standout on Chef Joe Bayley's Spanish-Filipino menu, which was on display at Cortona Cafe during Friday's pop-up.

Chef Joe Bayley is a reformed cheater.

In 2009, Bayley left his job as a chef on an Alaskan cruise line to appear on the cooking contest show, “Chopped.” While taping the intro segments, he admitted that he peeked into his neighbor’s “mystery basket,” which held their challenge ingredients.

“Yeah, I looked. I don’t mind telling you. I got maybe 10 extra minutes to think about what I’d do, but when you have to improvise on the fly so much, it can make a difference,” he said. “You have to improvise so much though, I don’t know if it really helped.”

Bayley shared this with CHT during a pop-up last Friday for his forthcoming Spanish-Filipino restaurant La Colonial, set to open in the Central District mid-2018.

Bayley won his episode of “Chopped,” and used the prize money to pay for a six-month trip to Spain to learn Spanish cooking.

Now, Bayley’s playing it straight.

He tested a six-item a la carte menu at the pop-up, held at Cortona Café on Oct. 13, which was an assortment of Spanish late-night staples and reimagined Filipino favorites.

Bayley’s Buko meatballs were a standout during the pop-up. Served in a luscious coconut cream sauce, they were topped with roasted coconut chips.

The patatas bravas were also a hit. The pork sinigang, a Filipino soup, is an interesting menu item. The light, not-too-salty broth had pine and floral flavors that let the smoky pork belly, smooth acorn squash, okra, and sweet long beans shine.

The menu at La Colonial will include 12-14 standard dishes and a rotating market menu of six to eight plates that will highlight hyper-seasonal local food. La Colonial will also serve a brunch menu that includes adobo — a breakfast hash and unofficial national dish of the Philippines.

“I want it to be a place where you can go with your spouse and spend $75. I also want it to be a place you can stop in before you go home to have some beer and food, and spend $12,” Bayley said.

While in Spain, Bayley enjoyed the communal feeling of the restaurants, where people shared standing tables with strangers, and no one was on their phones. He plans to recreate that experience at La Colonial.

“I want high tables to promote interaction. There’s going to be eight seats at the bar, and maybe eight cocktail tables behind that,” he said. “I want to put on a little bit of a show. There’ll be an open kitchen, and the chefs will bring the food out to you.”

Bayley isn’t too concerned about sticking to traditional Spanish or Filipino recipes. He imagined a time when one of his chefs may want to serve ossobuco: “You want to serve ossobuco? OK, make it fit. Use lamb neck. Use coconut cream.”

“Everything everyone’s ever made can be morphed into anywhere. I feel like people in Seattle are progressive enough to understand what we’re doing,” Bayley said.

Bayley also wants to make sure his restaurant is part of the community. He’s the son of a Filipino mother who grew up on the Eastside, but now considers Central District his home.

When asked if he felt like he was gentrifying Central District with his restaurant, he said: “Yeah. I mean, of course I am; I’m that guy. But I live in this neighborhood. I love this neighborhood. I don’t just want to have a restaurant. I want to do community development, hold a cooking camp for kids in the summer. If you’ve got a 15-year-old kid who’s interested in cooking, they can come here and learn.”

Bayley plans to hold another pop-up before Thanksgiving.