Canberra chef on culinary journey and Filipino restobar


Strong points
  • Chef Joemel Naboya owns the first Filipino restaurant and bar in Canberra, serving diners unconventional dishes such as Free Kilawin, Lechon Pancake and Adobo and Pares baos.
  • Joemel’s food stays true to Filipino flavors.
  • The family business survived the challenges of Covid with the help of Joemel’s wife, daughter and staff.

Chef Joemel Naboy and his team have found a way to successfully marry Filipino flavors with more familiar Western dishes. Free Kilawin, Lechon Crepe, and Adobo and Pares baos are some of the dishes on its menu.

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Chef Joemel [L] and chief TJ [R] are responsible for creating the restobar menu. Credit: Provided

Passion for cooking

Joemel’s love for cooking started when he was in high school. One evening, his mother cooked him a meal which he did not like. When he shared his comments with his mother, his mother told him that if he wanted good food, he had to learn how to prepare it himself. A tip he keeps until now.
“As soon as I learned to cook, my friends from school always came to see me and feasted on the food I prepared. It boosted my confidence. My first dishes include lumpiang shanghai [Filipino-style spring roll], tinol [chicken broth soup] and sinigang [Filipino sour soup],” he shares.
Joemel’s friends in Canberra first tasted his cooking at potlucks. They encouraged him to start a catering business and join food bazaars.

By word of mouth, other Filipinos began ordering dishes from him, such as barbecued pork, palabok [a stir-fried seafood and noodle dish] and kare-kare [beef stew in savoury peanut sauce].

Pinoy fusion cuisine

“We offer Filipino cuisine with a twist,” says Joemel.
He shares that he uses other Asian cooking techniques and ingredients as the basis for his creations, such as using kilawin [Filipino ceviche] as filler for the wanton.
Wanton Kilawin

Wanton Kilawin

His experiences as a migrant and the influence of other Asian flavors help him create the food he serves to his customers.

“I fill our pancakes and baos with either lechon [roast pork], adobo [braised pork] Where Parry [braised beef stew].”

Family is at the heart of Papa J’s success

Papa J’s is a family business. Joemel and his daughter Keena opened the restaurant to offer foodies in the nation’s capital a different take on Filipino cuisine.
Joemel’s wife, Mylène, is in charge of the accounts while her daughter-in-law helps Keena with marketing and personnel management.
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Keena [middle] and the Papa J’s team Credit: Provided

“The restaurant will not be possible without the support of my family. Our staff also made it easier for me to run the business. It will never become a success unless it is for everyone,” explained Joemel.
Papa J’s survived the challenges of Covid because everyone involved in the business worked hard to keep the restaurant open to diners.
“We are delighted every time people come to our restaurant and give us feedback. It means we are doing something right.
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