“No one can have too many cookbooks,” wrote Marilyn Donato in a letter that came with her autographed cookbook, Philippine Cooking in America. More than just to teach the uninitiated how to cook Filipino dishes, the cookbook adorned with the Philippine map on its front cover, aims to alleviate homesickness through food.
A full-blooded, Philippine-born and raised Filipina who moved to the U.S. for her post graduate training in Dietetics, Marilyn knows what it’s like to long for our homeland’s food and be paralyzed from preparing it due to lack of experience or know-how. Growing up in a country where live-in maids are not only a privilege reserved for the rich, many Filipinos took kitchen work for granted until they have to live abroad. Lucky if you move to a place where Filipino food vendors exist. Otherwise you are left at the mercy of your own cooking skills to satisfy your hunger for your native country’s food – unless of course you can afford a Filipino cook abroad.
The first edition of Philippine Cooking in America hit the market in 1972 when there were hardly any Filipino cookbooks published in America. In fact, according to The Roanoke Times, this is believed to be the first published Philippine Cookbook in America. Forty-four years later and now on its eighth revised edition, Marilyn’ s cookbook with about 200 recipes, addresses the availability of new food products that make cooking a lot more fun and convenient.
MFB: What was it like for you to live in the US in your twenties? What did you like most and what did you like the least about living in America then?
MD: Travel is and has always been a positive adventure for me. I just loved meeting many new friends both Filipinos and Caucasians who were like family to me. I was so excited with my first snow fall, the autumn leaves, spring then summer. It is hard for me to think what was the least I liked, maybe becauseof my “Pollyanna” attitude or “anything goes”. I loved spontaneous invitations to visit a place, shop or eat someplace else.
MFB: When was the first edition of Philippine Cookbook in America conceived? Please relate to us the story that prompted you to write this cookbook?
MD: Philippine Cooking in America was conceived in 1963 in New Haven, Connecticut. I was shopping for my cooking ingredients in the store owned by a Chinese lady, whom I’ve become friends with. Her two daughters were my food servers at Yale Medical Center Hospital. In one of our conversations she said: “Marilyn, your country is the only one I do not have a cookbook from, why don’t you write a Philippine cookbook?” My pride was hurt a bit and I answered her back, “The Philippines has many published cookbooks!” But she planted the seed for me to do as she said.
MFB: Was this the first cookbook you authored? Please tell us about the challenges you went through to get a Philippine cookbook published and made available in bookstores in America.
MD: Philippine Cooking in America was the very first cookbook I authored. Never in my wildest dreams had I imagine that one day I would be publishing anything, and a cookbook at that. There were challenges but they were eased by my friendship with Mr. Glick who owned a publishing company for cookbooks in Boston, Massachusetts. According to him, next to the bible, cookbooks are the most published books.
Mr. Glicked helped and guided me on how to gather recipes from our Filipino friends, and how to distribute the finished cookbooks. My dear mother-in-law, my Ilocana live-in maid and my husband tested the recipes with me in the kitchen, writing down the procedures and measurements of ingredients. The several Filipino organizations, associations in America used the published “Philippine Cooking in America” cookbooks as their fund-raiser project and helped distribute them to Filipino stores and book stores. And since I was the syndicated food editor for several Philippine-American newspapers and magazines, a caption after each article, showed where the cookbook can be ordered from.
MFB: Who are your target readers for this cookbook?
MD: The target readers for “Philippine Cooking in America” are the whole Filipino population in the United States, Canada and Europe.
Marilyn Donato with thousands of her cookbook fan mail
MFB: You’ve sold tens of thousands of books and received thousands of letters from your readers. Which ones among the letters you received are the most memorable?
MD: I remember letters about how their meals have become more delicious and reminiscent of their meals in the Philippines and about how they never thought they could cook like “experts”. I also remember receiving a letter from a mixed household where the wife is American/Caucasian. She was so happy when her Filipino husband exclaimed: “Wow! How did you learn how to cook Filipino!”after tasting the Filipino dishes she prepared.
MFB: About how many percent of the population of Roanoke are of Filipino descent? What is the general perception on Filipinos and Filipino food in Roanoke?
MD: The population of Roanoke, VA is about 200,000 and about 5,000 are Filipinos….about 2.5 %. The general perception on Filipinos and Filipino food in Roanoke is admirable. The Filipinos in Roanoke are mostly physicians, nurses and wives of Americans. The hospitable and friendly characteristics of Filipinos in Roanoke predominate as we share our Filipino dishes with our American friends at work and in the community; when there are food festivals, church activities and school programs. We celebrate our Philippine Independence with parade and food galore as well as sale of Philippine decorations, wooden bowls, blouses, and my book “Philippine Cooking in America”.
MFB:Please describe the Filipino food scene in Roanoke? Virginia? Is Filipino food visible in the mainstream?
MD: In Roanoke, since most Filipinos are in the health field, there are no Filipino restaurants. But in Norfolk or Virginia Beach where Filipinos abound (maybe 50,000); there are Filipino eating places, markets and stores.
MFB: What advice can you give inexperienced and reluctant Filipino cooks abroad who long for Filipino food?
MD: It’s never too late in life to learn and perfect Philippine cooking. Be creative. Use substitutions the best you can, i.e. anchovies for “bagoong”. Or bring the jars of “bagoong” or bottles of ‘patis’, soy sauce, etc.When I was new in Roanoke, I talked to the managers of the supermarkets to stock fresh ginger, soy sauce, some oriental vegetables and fruits, and they did!. There is no longer a lack of oriental food products.
If it weren’t for the Filipino noodle dish, Pancit, Alexa Alfaro, her siblings and Filipino food in Milwaukee wouldn’t probably exist today. Sounds far-fetched? It won’t be after you read this story.
Once upon a time, in a faraway and sparsely populated land called Alaska, there lived a Filipino immigrant named Ray Alfaro. Ray, born and raised in Caloocan City, worked at a hospital where he met Deb Fucile, an Italian-German nurse from Wisconsin. Ray fell head over heels for Deb. Problem was he couldn’t muster the guts to ask her out. Then an idea formed. Why not get someone to do it for him? And so he asked a colleague, an avid pancit fan, to be his messenger in exchange for pancit. Long story short, Ray and Deb wed and had three children. One of them is Alexa, who now with her brother Matthew, owns Meat on the Street, the first and only Filipino food vendor in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Matthew and Alexa Alfaro
Filipino food in Milwaukee? Who would have thought that there would be a demand for this previously obscure food in this sparsely Filipino populated city? Meet Alexa Alfaro and find out how she introduced and created an addiction for Pinoy food in a city in the Midwestern U.S of A.
MFB: Have you been to the Philippines?
I visited the Philippines when I was in 5th grade for a six-week trip that turned into eight weeks. It was a trip I remember to this day. The culture and infrastructure from a developed country to one that’s just developing is permanently engraved in my memories. It was magical and heart breaking.
Our drive into the Tondo area was the heart breaking part. Along the sides of the roads were children living in cardboard boxes and tires. I’m talking three, maybe four- year old orphans.Some of these children had younger siblings, whom they had to take care of. At a very young age, they had to work and provide for their younger siblings. It was an eye opening experience for me at 10 years old.
Prior to this trip, I had taken for granted a “normal” shower, drinkable water, and Wisconsin summer temperatures. My Philippine stay included showering with a large plastic bucket and a pot. You fill up the large plastic bucket with cold water, scoop the water with the pot and dump the water on your head. Now in 115 degree weather, one shower is not enough so this was the routine usually a couple times a day.
Now let’s talk magic, aka food. To me food is magical, in taste and how it can make you feel. First experience was the street food in the Philippines. Now the US only had ice cream trucks at the time but the Philippines had everything. My cousins and I constantly snacked on mango lychee flavor ices and ate pork BBQ from the street vendors.
Next was the fish market. Now while the smell was rancid and could make you gag, the visual trumped it. Fish hanging, fish on tables, fish on bins, fish in buckets, fish in crates, nothing is refrigerated, no ice in sight, just fish for as far as the eye can see and the nose can smell.
Also, I was lucky enough to see one of the vast rice fields in the Philippines. Getting there was an adventure on its own. First, the AC went out. Second, it took forever to get there. Third, as breathtakingly scenic as it was it was equally breathtakingly terrifying – single lane road along a winding cliff. But once we were there it was an amazing sight. Level upon level upon level of green. Terraces holding water. Military with semi-automatic weapons. I now know I had the privilege to see one of the wonders of the world.
MFB: What was it like for you, of Filipino heritage, to grow up in Wisconsin?
AA: Growing up in southeastern Wisconsin and being Filipino made me stick out.
It started when myself and two younger brothers were babies. People would constantly ask my mom from where she adopted her beautiful children. My mother is Italian-German. She viewed this as an insult, replying she carried each of us for months and gave birth to us. It’s still a sore subject to this day that we all like to tease her about it.
In elementary school, I was constantly confused with another girl in my grade who had an olive skin tone. Emeli is Puerto Rican and we look nothing alike.
Growing up we always had a pot of rice with dinner and my dad would not accept macaroni and cheese as a dinner choice. My dad would allow us to eat with our hands. I only eat my rice if it has soy sauce on it which must be Kikkoman.
Other Filipinoness? My dad would crack his wing bones in half to suck out the marrow. Lastly, we started eating sushi, the raw stuff, at a young age. Overall, very Filipino.
I realized how different Filipino food culture was from American food culture when my friends would come over for dinner or go out to eat with my family. One of them referred to sinigang as lake water. Fine, more soup for us.
Also, it was a little hard to explain to your friends why your dad had a fish head the size of a football in your fridge. Yes we eat it, no it’s not that weird.
For my birthday, every year I would request as much Filipino food as my mom would allow us to make. Usually the menu consisted of pancit, lumpia, and pork BBQ on a stick. At first my friends were hesitant to try it. Now they are proudly addicted to Filipino food.
MFB: About how many Filipinos are there in Milwaukee? What is the general perception on Philippine cuisine there?
AA: There are approximately, 1,700 Filipinos in the Milwaukee area according to the Internet.General perception of Filipino cuisine is dependent on your experience. If you had it, you remember it and love it. If you are lucky, you know someone who will get you your fix or invite you over for a Filipino family party. Otherwise you were SOL (sadly outta luck) until late June of 2014…
MFB: How did you get started in food? What prompted you to set-up Meat on the Street?
AA: I began formally working in the food industry at 15, my first job was scooping ice cream. I was paid $5 an hour. From there I always worked in the food industry, Famous Daves, Buffalo Wild Wings, a raunchy beach bar, and an upscale steak house in Milwaukee. This might sound weird, but I enjoyed making people happy with food, it felt comfortable and a lot like home for me.
My early years and informal food beginnings started with my dad in the kitchen. He taught me how to chop, dice, slice, roll, skewer you name it. We would stay up late rolling eggrolls or skewering meat. He would tell me stories about his childhood and family. To this day my dad brags of my lumpia rolling ability. He would make all sorts of different food with different flavor and spices. I am almost always willing to try it.
Meat on the Street began in late June of 2014. It started when I was working as an engineering sales intern. My summer project was to determine if the company was losing money based on their current quoting procedure. Based on my data and results I determined they were and it was a lot to me. They told me awesome job and they might present it to the big wigs at their yearly meeting. I thought if a company can potentially be losing X amount of dollars and run while profiting I can definitely run a business.
I knew engineering was not going to be my long term happiness and I asked myself what would make me happy. I kept gravitating back to food. It had been a running joke since I was 12 that my dad would open up his own restaurant. I thought, well, why not make that joke a reality. I researched food trucks on a national level, then at the local level. I looked at competition in Filipino cuisine, Asian cuisine, and then food truck wise. It was a no brainier. People loved our food. We would serve it at every big party and there were no leftovers. Guest would ask, when is the meat-on-a-stick arriving? That was when the idea of a Filipino food truck was born.
Now telling your Filipino father who is an electrical engineer when you are in engineering school that you want to drop out 22 weeks from a degree to pursue a Filipino food truck is downright gut wrenching. That’s why you start with your mom. Her reply, “That’s interesting.” Thanks for the words of encouragement mom. Finally I worked up the courage and pitched the idea to my dad. His response was the purchase of a used WE Energies truck in the middle of December.
Three seasons in and it still feels like a dream. We have been so well received by the city of Milwaukee. People love the food. Whether they are first timers or looking for a little home cooking.
The name came from my brother’s friend, Josh. He is insanely intelligent and I do believe you will know his name one day. My brother Christian asked him for suggestions. Meat on the Street was one of them. It was a done deal.
MFB: Please define your concept, target market and goals for Meat on the Street. Long-term plans?
Alexa and Matthew Alfaro in their Meat on the Street Filipino food truck at Kilbourn Park, Milwaukee, Wis., Tuesday August 16, 2016
AA: Meat on the Street’s concept is authentic Filipino food and traditional American food with Filipino twists. Our menu consists of BBQ sticks, aka meat on a stick. This is common street food in the Philippines. We serve beef, chicken, or pork. We have white rice, our delicious garlic rice, and pancit, a traditional Filipino rice noodle dish with vegetables and seasonings. We also serve pork adobo, chicken binakol, and lumpia rolls. We sell an American version of kimchi which is our veggie slaw. It’s a green and red cabbage, carrots, and onions with a sriracha, soy-honey dressing.
Our target market is anyone who is hungry. Our menu has been designed to provide meals of substance, meat and carbs and/or veggies. We have elder Filipino who enjoy our food and little kids whose parents come back for 2-3 orders because their child enjoyed it so much and they didn’t get any.
As for now, Meat on the Street is Milwaukee’s only Filipino food vendor. We are expanding this year into a food court styled location at ELEVEN25, 1125 N. 9th St. Current opening timeline is late fall. This space will be open Monday through Sunday from 10am to 9pm. Our menu will include our current truck menu, with plans to add more Filipino dishes and ramen. There is seating inside and we will offer take-out.
With our Milwaukee location underway, I am looking at Madison for our 2nd location with some type of mobile cart. Chicago area is a 5 year plan for us.
MFB: Which Filipino dishes are the favorites?
AA:Meat on the Street’s best selling dishes are garlic rice, pork adobo, and the meat sticks.
Meat on the Street’s Adobo Bowl
The number one question for the garlic rice is, “What’s the secret ingredient?” To which we reply, “Garlic.” There is no secret to our garlic rice. It’s white rice, garlic, oil, salt and pepper. We have customers who come back for seconds or have eaten with us before and purchase two orders right away. One for now, one for later (maybe a few minutes later, wink, wink).
The adobo is like a blast from the past for many Filipinos in the area. I’ve found that the younger generations of Filipinos are less likely to be able to cook the food. They find the truck and are ecstatic. For them, it’s as close to being in their nanay’s or lola’s kitchens. We’ve heard our adobo is out of this world, I would die for this dish, and more.
A conversation I was lucky enough to overhear was a guy eating our pancit at a Milwaukee County Zoo event we attend. He took a bite, looked at his wife, and said, “I miss my mom.” For us, there is no greater compliment.
The meat sticks is where it all began. Our first year of the truck, this was the only item on the menu, meat sticks with a side of white rice, garlic rice, or pancit. People of all ages love them. Children will come back three, sometimes four times. Their parents are willing to buy their children as many as they want. Other times, adult men will order two sticks, come back for three, and then come back for three more. The most we have ever sold to a single person is 21 in 15 minutes. He claims his family kept eating his; we never judge how many sticks you order.
MFB: How far is Filipino food from crossing over in Wisconsin? What else can be done to give it a boost?
AA: Unfortunately, Filipino food has awhile to go in Wisconsin. We are the only Filipino food vendor in Milwaukee. There is a Filipino cart with American-Filipino cuisine, and possibly one more location more north-west?
The best thing for Filipino cuisine is awareness. Once you have it, you know it and are addicted to it. We have people who will glance at the menu; a Filipino dish catches their eye and BAM! They are ordering and excited.
MFB: What do you consider as your greatest challenges and accomplishments as the co-owner of Meat on the Street?
Greatest challenge in the beginning was getting people to try our food. We are seen as ethnic food and Matt and myself look Filipino. This sometimes makes people wary to try us. We have had our friends come down, given them free food to stand outside the truck and eat. People will then stop and ask about it and are more willing to give us a try.
The other challenge, as anyone who has worked in a family owned business is working with family. It is great, don’t get me wrong. I feel very blessed to be able to do this with some of the people I hold closest to my heart. However, you try working with your siblings and parents on a 90 foot square box in the midst of a crazy event with 50 people in line on a hot day. Let me know how it goes. It can get heated. We are all able to laugh about it after the fact but in that moment it’s a different story.
Meat on the Street in Milwaukee
Our greatest accomplishment is where we are today. We have met so many individuals who love our food, Filipino’s who have flashbacks when eating our food, and the success we have had to this point. It is truly amazing to me that I can say that I own and operate a food truck for a living with my brother. That is great accomplishment, being able to have a personal and working relationship with Matt. The business strains it for temporary moments but it also strengthens it.
My mom tells people when asked, our greatest accomplishment is legacy, the present lives on through the past. Our legacy as American-Filipino sibling entrepreneurs is to be able to simultaneously share our culture and have each other’s back. It brings tears to her eyes.
MFB: If someone asks for your opinion about the viability of opening a Filipino-inspired restaurant in your area, what would you say?
AA: I would say there definitely is viability. This was our goal and we are excited for this next chapter in our business. We think our ELEVEN25 location will be well received in the downtown Milwaukee area.
I definitely think starting with a food truck was the better route. It got our name out there, we were able to market ourselves to a large audience all over the Milwaukee area as opposed to settling in one permanent location and getting people to come to you. I believe if you are passionate and willing to put your heart and soul into it, anything is possible.
Oct. 15,2016 is the return of Savor Filipino, the big Filipino food event launched by the Filipino Food Movement that woke national interest in 2014. This year’s theme is “buksan”, meaning to open – a call to the public to open their minds and their palates to various chef interpretations of Filipino dishes that will be offered at the event.To be held at The Overlook Lounge in Oakland, California, tickets are priced at $64 – $199.
We asked the co-founderand VP of the Filipino Food Movement what she considers as her accomplishments and frustrations as a Filipino food advocate. But first, a brief personal introduction: US born to Filipina mother, Joanne Boston-KwanHull, lives in Daly City, south of San Francisco. Filipinos makeup the biggest population in Daly City that this tongue-in-cheek, hyperbolic claim is often told:
“You know why it’s always foggy in Daly City, right? Because all the Filipinos turn on their rice cookers at the same time.”
Joanne presents herself as a 9 to 5 employee at a medical accounting firm in San Francisco and a 24/ 7 Filipino food advocate. She spearheaded projects, such as Project Adobo and kapaMEALya, and is the Vice President of The Filipino Food Movement (FFM), a non-profit, community-driven organization to help mainstream Filipino cuisine.
I quote from the FFM website, text that resonated with me and I’m sure would resonate with most Filipinos around the globe too:
“We believe that the story of our culture, and indeed ourselves, is programmed into the DNA of each ingredient, no matter where it is grown; each dish, no matter how it has evolved; and each cook, no matter where he or she may come from. “
MFB: As an advocate of Filipino food culture, what do you consider as your biggest achievement? Biggest frustration?
Sous Vide Pork Adobo with brocolli rabe & fried mushrooms by Chef Jerrick Figueroa at Pampalasa Restaurant in San Francisco.
JBK: I would have to say that Savor Filipino (the country’s first Filipino Festival) was our biggest achievement and frustration. It was a triumph because 30,000 people came to the event! This was the first Filipino food-focused event ever held in San Francisco. Being part of the steering team was a great learning experience. Again, it took a lot of hard work, lots of late meetings and sleepless nights. We noticed a lot of things before, during, and after the event:
1) Filipino chefs were eager to work with us during this event and they did not hesitate to collaborate with each other. This was great to see.
2) Patrons were saying that the prices were too high. It almost made me think that they did not believe value can be put into Filipino food. We had top-notch, nationally known chefs cooking dishes that can appear in a white table cloth restaurant. Yet, there is this ridiculous belief that Asian food – especially Filipino food – should be “cheap.” At this event, we had quality ingredients made by quality chefs. Nothing cheap about that.
3) There are still people who cannot let go of the fact that Filipino food is evolving before our very eyes. Filipino food is special to our chefs because it is so attached to their memories and families. They like to pay homage to a moment in time or even a person in their life through a dish that they fashioned themselves, but was motivated by a traditional Filipino dish. Old school believers do not like that. I highly doubt that the Filipino food from 2010 is the same as the dishes in 1910, 1810, 1710, and 1610. Sure the evolution came over a course of centuries, but now there is a fear that the integrity of the dishes we know and love will be lost if it is customized too much. That’s totally understandable, but we also have to understand that we can respect the traditional and give room for the contemporary at the same time. Change always comes with time.
MFB: What is your advice to the global Filipino diaspora who would like Philippine cuisine to be globally recognized?
JBK: Be present. Go to Filipino events. Go to family parties. Cook the food. Do anything that will potentially teach someone about the cuisine. Share it on a blog. Take photos. Teach a class. Cook a dish for your friends from a Filipino cookbook. We need to expose the food. All the while, we need to keep an open mind.
We shouldn’t judge someone else’s adobo or afritada because it will never be exactly as how you grew up with it. We shouldn’t write off anyone else’s dish just because it doesn’t look or taste like your mom’s. Enjoy it for what it is. If we constantly compare our standard to everyone else’s version, we will be disappointed majority of the time.
A lot of people tell me that because there is this competitive spirit in Filipinos, it will be naturally hard to impress each other. This is why people refuse to eat out and prefer to have Filipino food at home. If they choose to eat out, they’d rather eat Japanese, Italian, Indian, etc. This can be why there is a lack of restaurants.
MFB: What’s your goal in the next few years?
JBK: It may not be a goal that will be accomplished by me, but I hope that there is constant Filipino representation on mainstream television. I hope there will be a go-to figure that will educate the general public about the dishes. Another goal I have been holding is to open a Filipino culinary culture center somewhere in the Bay Area. I live in Daly City – one of the most Filipino-dense cities in the country. I would love to open one near there. It would be a place where we can have workshops, wine tastings, pop-up dinners, chef seminars, classes and so on. The sky’s the limit! My general goal is to have Filipino food recognized as a delicious cuisine that isn’t automatically linked to Fear Factor.
How old were you when you figured out what you really wanted to do for a living?
At a very tender age of two, Christian Andre Pettersen (CAP) already showed an inclination for his future vocation. Tuxedo-clad, the toddler Christian played waiter in his father’s fish restaurant in Bodø, a town in the North of Norway. At nine years old, he was Dad’s little kitchen assistant assigned to scouring pots and pans, washing dishes and peeling vegetables. Year after year, his duties expanded and by the time he turned eighteen, he was snatching awards at prestigious competitions from doyens of Norway’s gastronomy. Now at twenty-seven, he’s unstoppable. He has garnered an enviable 11 golds, 8 silvers and 1 bronze like a man with a mission – a mission to live a dream.
Christian’s father, mentor and inspiration lived long enough to see his son live his dreams. Before Christian’s father passed on in 2013, Christian made him a promise – to stand on the podium as the champion of the culinary equivalent of the Olympics – Bocuse d’Or. It’s a promise he’s determined to keep. Next year, Christian is one of the acclaimed chefs who will be vying for the ticket to represent the country at Bocuse D’Or Europe.
We agreed to meet with Filipino-Norwegian Christian at Restaurant Mondo located by the harbor of Sandnes in Norway, where he’s the Head Chef. He was meticulously plating food at the restaurant’s open kitchen when we arrived. His focus on his work was unmistakable: slightly furrowed brows, head bent over the food on the counter, tattooed arms in motion; it was almost petrifying to announce our presence. As we spoke with him later on, his features softened.
MFB:Please tell us more about your Filipino heritage.
CAP: My mother, Charito Billones , hailed from Carmen, Cebu. My father met her in 1987 in Cebu when he set sail across the Pacific and along the coastal countries of Asia, including the Philippines.
MFB: Have you been to the Philippines? What was the experience like for you?
CAP:I’ve been seven times, but I was very young then. The last time was when I was 12 years old. I don’t remember much, but what stood out to me was the Halo-Halo. I found its interesting mix of textures and cooling quality in contrast to the hot weather refreshing. I also remember trips to exotic islands.
MFB: How strong is your exposure to Filipino food and culture?
CAP:My mother often prepared Filipino food at home, like adobo, pancit and spring rolls. There was always rice on the table – even for breakfast. My father also prepared Norwegian food so I grew up with food from both worlds. That’s why I’m referred to as the East meets West Chef.
There is a big Filipino community up there in the north. We attended many get-togethers. Sometimes traditional Filipino dancing using bamboo poles (Tinikling) was showcased.
I also had a very Catholic upbringing and attended mass every Sunday. I served as an altar boy.
MFB: What was it like for you, of mixed heritage, to grow-up in Norway?
CAP:I was born and raised in Norway. I never felt like an outsider. As a boy, one of the starkest differences I noticed was in our religious practices. We went to church every Sunday, while most Norwegians didn’t. It was tempting to sleep in and relax on Sundays, but not for us, we were in church at 11am. No excuses.
MFB: Please tell us about your father, who inspired you to be a chef.
CAP:My father, who was a chef and restaurant owner, was my inspiration and mentor. Actually, he urged me not to become a chef. As a chef himself, he knew that it is a very demanding occupation. The job requires a lot of hard work and can take over your life. My father and I had a discussion about this. After proving my skills and passion, we settled that if I was going to pursue my career as a chef, I should be the best of the best.
My father inspired me to do great things. He taught me that life has no limitations except the ones you create for yourself. That’s something I always keep in my mind. I’m living my dream right now, thanks to those words.
I’ve competed 20 times and won a medal each time, making me one of the chefs in Norway with the most participation in professional culinary competitions. My father lived to see me reap awards. In the end, I became his inspiration.
MFB: Which one among the 20 competitions you participated in stands head and shoulders above all the rest?
Nordic Championship June 2015 Denmark
The Norwegian Culinary Championship I won in 2011 is the most memorable. I was the youngest chef in Norway to win it. I was only 21 at the time and competed with the country’s seasoned chefs. It helped me become who I am today.
MFB: Bochus D’or is said to be the most prestigious gastronomic competition in the world. How close are you to getting the most coveted golden trophy?
CAP: Bocuse d’Or Norway will be held in January, 2017. I hope to be one of the six to compete. The winners at the Nationals will represent Norway in the European Selection in 2018. Winners at the European will compete in the Bocuse d’Or World Grand Finale in Lyon in 2019.
MFB: Can you give us an example of a dish you created where you incorporated Filipino flavors and cooking techniques into the food?
CAP:I made pancit, but instead of using noodles, I used thinly sliced cabbage. I infused it with flavors and served it with crispy pata (pork leg). I gave crispy pata a twist by using pig’s ears, which I popped to achieve a very crispy texture. I crushed it and coated the meat with it. I’ve served this to top chefs in Norway and they really enjoyed it.
MFB: Mondo opened in June 2016, while Stavanger is still suffering from an oil crisis. What prompted the opening of Mondo? What is the concept and how is it unique? Any plans of introducing Filipino-inspired dishes at Mondo?
CAP: The price of oil is low now so the only way for it to go is up. Mondo was born during an economic downturn and positioned to be stronger in an upturn. So far, we’re doing very well. The restaurant is full every night.
In Mondo, which means world, we use local ingredients and take inspiration from cooking techniques and spices from around the world. We have a changing 5-course and 9-course menu and occasionally include my takes on my Filipino favorites: halo-halo, crispy pata and adobo.
MFB: What is your advice to aspiring Filipino chefs in Norway.
It’s an American Dream in the making. Or shall we say a Filipino- American Dream. Paolo Dungca, one of the founders and chefs of Timpla, a supper club in Washington DC, isn’t ashamed of his humble food beginnings.
Born in San Fernando, Pampanga and raised in Paranaque, Metro Manila, Paolo followed his mother and brother to the land of opportunity when he was thirteen. The United States has become his home since.
Paolo’s first job in the food industry was a dishwasher in a restaurant in Disneyland. Working there cemented his passion and aspirations to rise in the kitchen’s hierarchy. From the lowest rung of the ladder, Paolo toiled his way up. A few years later he was working elbow- to-elbow with distinguished chefs, such as Chef Kevin Meehan in Los Angeles, , Chef Jeffrey Buben in Washington, DC and Chef Cathal Armstrong in Alexandria.
Together with his three teammates, Paolo utilizes his finely honed skills into creating masterful dishes for Timpla, a Filipino word for a blend or a mix. Just as their name suggests, their food is neither Filipino nor American, but a blend of their cultural identities – Filipino-American.
Timpla Team ( JR, Kristina, Katrina, and Paolo)
MFB: What was it like for you, of Filipino heritage, to move to the US?
PD: It was tough assimilating to a new country as a teenager because of the language barrier and cultural differences, but luckily we moved to Los Angeles, CA where there were many Filipinos. It felt like home. However, many Filipinos in LA couldn’t speak Tagalog, so interestingly the language barrier was just as apparent with Fil-Ams as it was with Americans.
In terms of food, I never really experienced a shift. When I moved to America I was old enough to understand the difference between Filipino and American cuisines. Furthermore, there are numerous Filipino joints in Los Angeles so I never really felt deprived: Jollibee was 10 minutes away from my house, Goldilocks was nearby, Gerry’s Grill, Seafood City, Chow King, etc. I always had Filipino food around me, unlike my Timpla teammates JR, Katrina, and Kristina, who growing up, had to travel 4-5 hours to the closest Jollibee.
MFB: How did you get started in food? What prompted you and your team to set-up Timpla?
PD: My first restaurant job was washing dishes at Golden Vine Winery (GVW) in Disneyland.
Golden Vine Winery in Disneyland
While working, I saw my friends in the kitchen cooking with pressed white coats and face glimmering from the grill fires. I wanted to be like them. So when a position opened up in the kitchen, I applied for it and became a line cook. That’s when I fell in love with cooking. I loved the adrenaline, the rush, the push, the intensity of the kitchen, and the true value of teamwork. I loved the process of creating something from start to finish, the reward of creating something delicious and seeing the satisfaction from guests. I worked at GVW for 3 years and worked my way from line cook to lead line. I enjoyed the ambience at GVW but wanted to expand my knowledge of culinary arts and learn about different cuisines and techniques.
After leaving GVW, I met Chef Kevin Meehan of Kali Restaurant in Los Angeles, CA.
Paolo (left) with Chef Kevin Meehan (right)
At the time, he was doing supper clubs and that was when I learned the ins and outs of running a supper club. He served contemporary California cuisine using local ingredients and modern techniques. It was under his mentorship that I realized that I wanted to imitate his style, but with Filipino cuisine.
In 2014, I moved to the east coast and worked at Vidalia in Washington, DC, where I was exposed to the fine dining scene in DC.
Chef Paolo (right) with Chef Jeffrey Buben (left), owner & chef of Vidalia
While working at Vidalia, I was offered a sous chef position at an upcoming Filipino restaurant, Bad Saint. I helped open Bad Saint working alongside Chef Tom Cunanan, where I learned how to push the boundaries of Filipino cuisine. He taught me the importance of researching different regions in the Philippines and going in-depth to unearth the stories behind the dishes.
Bad Saint- Filipino Restaurant in DC
Paolo (left) with Chef Tom Cunanan of Bad Saint (right)
I am currently a sous chef at Restaurant Eve in Alexandria, Virginia. Working under acclaimed Chef Cathal Armstrong has taught me the importance of using quality products to create the best food, as well as the grit and discipline needed to become a great restaurant.
Restaurant Eve in Alexandria, Virginia. Photo Credit: Restaurant Eve
Coincidentally, Chef Cathal is opening a Filipino, Thai and Korean Restaurant all under one roof in D.C.’s Southwest Waterfront in fall 2017. The upcoming Asian restaurant will be named after the Filipino word for left, Kaliwa.
Paolo with Chef Cathal Armstrong of Restaurant Eve
MFB: Please define your concept for Timpla. How is it different from other Filipino-themed supper clubs?
Chef Paolo’s version of Kare-Kare: Braised Oxtail, Charred Eggplant, Baby Bokchoy,Wild Mushrooms, Shrimp Paste Gel, Peanut Veloute
PD: Timpla’s supper club consists of a 5-course menu displaying Filipino dishes with modern culinary techniques and seasonal inspirations. As Filipino-Americans, we cannot distinguish ourselves as either Filipino or American, but as combinations of both cultures. When constructing our dishes, we take inspiration from our blended cultural upbringing, empowering us to push past the traditional and into the innovative. Our cuisine tells the complex, yet immensely gratifying story of finding your place in a melting pot culture. You can read more about the details here: http://www.timpladc.com/timpla-stories/17/5/2016/how-to-transform-filipino-cuisine
MFB:Which Filipino dishes are the favorites/ bestsellers among your guests? What are the comments?
PD: We don’t have a bestseller because the menu changes every supper club based on the seasons and what’s available at the farmers’ markets. One of the best comments we received is our “boldness” in not serving rice with our dishes. When we first started Timpla, one of our priorities was to eliminate rice because we believe Filipino dishes can stand on their own. We have achieved that, but with some push-back from more traditional guests who feel like their meals aren’t complete without rice.
Timpla’s Adobong Pugita (Photo Credit: Costa Photography)
MFB: What is your guest/target market profile?
PD:We get an interesting mix of attendees at our supper club: half are usually Fil-Ams who grew up eating traditional Filipino cuisine and are curious to try our modern interpretation; the other half are people who have never or seldom experienced Filipino food and are drawn to a supper club serving a cuisine they don’t know much about. We create an intimate setting of 10 guests per dinner and it’s been great hearing Filipino guests share with the non-Filipino guests their experiences with the dishes and their opinions on our interpretation.
Timpla’s Ginataang Soft Shell Crab
MFB: Has Filipino food crossed over in DC? Why or why not?
It’s slowly becoming more exposed. Restaurants,such as Bad Saint, Purple Patch, and Restaurant Eve are showcasing flavors from the Philippines in different ways and educating diners on what Filipino cuisine is. They each have their own interpretation and present the food in their own way, but at the end of the day we’re all working towards bringing Filipino cuisine to the mainstream.
MFB:What is the general perception on Philippine cuisine in DC?
People just aren’t aware of it. Non-Filipinos haven’t had much of it with the exception of a Filipino neighbor’s party, or a Filipino friend bringing lumpia to a potluck. For Filipinos who grew up here, they expect traditional cuisine and are more critical of restaurants that make the food more upscale.
Timpla’s Sinigang: snapper, radish, tamarind dashi poured table side
MFB:What do you consider as your greatest challenges and accomplishments?
The greatest challenge would be pushing boundaries and presenting traditional dishes in a modern way, while still preserving authenticity. How do we make Filipino food elegant enough for non-Filipinos to enjoy, but at the same time retain the comfort and heart that reminds you of home? Additionally, we challenge ourselves to use seasonal high-quality ingredients at every supper club, which forces us to consistently change the menu. These challenges become our accomplishments when executed correctly and the guests go home with a new appreciation for Filipino cuisine.
Timpla’s Cassava Cake
MFB: What are your goals in the next few years?
PD:We want to continue with Timpla and expose people to the wonders of our cuisine. We want to keep researching in depth the different layers of our culture and hopefully travel to the homeland to experience the food ourselves and learn from the locals.
MFB: If someone asks you for advice about opening a Filipino-inspired restaurant in DC, what would you say?
Why is Filipino food unknown in Norway? In June, we asked the couple behind Oslo’s first Filipino restaurant this question. Their reply had something to do with tourism or the lack of tourism initiatives to promote the Philippines as a holiday destination to Norwegians. To test their theory, I consulted Finn.no, the go-to website in Norway for people in search of everything but (or maybe including) the kitchen sink. I hit “pakkereiser” or holiday packages: 400 results for Thailand, zero for the Philippines. Contrary to Filipino food, Thai food is popular in Norway. Coincidence or proof?
To shed more light on the link between tourism and cuisine and Philippine tourism in general, let’s ask Tourism Attaché and Director for Northern and Southern Europe Department of Tourism, Gerard Panga. Gerard , has been with the Department of Tourism (DOT) for twenty-two years, with previous assignments in Taiwan and China. He took over the London Office in Feb. 2016 with jurisdiction over UK & Ireland, the Nordic Countries, Spain and Italy. Gerard has been very kind to immediately accept my invite for a Q &A.
MFB: Please tell us about the “It’s More Fun in the Philippines” campaign.
GP: The “It’s More Fun in the Philippines” (IMFITP) campaign was launched in January 2012. The slogan was created to rebrand the Philippines anchored on:
the strength and character of the Filipinos as very hospitable and fun-loving people
the beauty of our destinations and exciting activities which guarantee “more fun” experiences for the visitors.
The campaign started with a catchy slogan and meme, promoted online showing why it’s more fun in the Philippines. The campaign also challenged netizens to create their own memes based on creativity and wit. This became viral, generating thousands of entries, and creating wide scale awareness on the country’s campaign and tagline across all key source markets around the world.
Through the years, DOT intensified its branding campaign and tactical cooperation with the travel trade and media. Along the way, the IMFITP campaign was also cited as one of the best marketing campaigns undertaken by a National Tourist Office.
“…have you eaten?”
MFB: How is the Philippines promoted as a travel destination in Norway?
GP: We tapped a marketing representative to help us promote the Philippines in the Nordic countries. This office knows well the local travel trade and media networks, and the marketing dynamics to maximize our presence in the market, despite the limited resources. Norway is part of DOT’s opportunity markets.
UK remains the most important and top source market for the Philippines in Europe. This is where most of our marketing resources are allocated.
For Norway and the rest of the Nordic countries, we work closely with big agents and partner airlines on joint marketing to promote the Philippine programs covering soft adventure, leisure, beach holiday, city break, cultural immersion and water sports. All these anchored mainly on our unique selling points – distinct and colorful culture, value-for-money destination, more fun experience and very friendly and peace-loving Filipino people.
MFB: What is the main driver of tourists to the Philippines?
GP: It would be our islands, beaches and related activities, which include water sports, diving, island hopping, beach parties, local cuisine and so on.
Here’s what the department’s visitor profile report tells us:
Top 4 Things Tourists Like Most About the Philippines
People ( warmth and kindness)
MFB: Please tell us about Kulinarya Food Trips/Tour Packages. How strong is the push to promote the Philippines as a culinary destination in Northern & Southern Europe
GP: Kulinarya tours bring tourists to destinations such as Manila’s downtown, Pampanga, Cavite, Quezon and Bicol, to name a few. These tours showcase the specialities of the region, province, town and even family recipes. They feature unique food preparation techniques, history and traditions.
For Northern and Southern Europe, the packages being promoted would still tend to highlight sun and beach, diving and adventure. But recently, with the aim of putting our Philippine culinary heritage on international centre stage, we participated in Spain’s most recognized culinary event – Madrid Fusion 2015 and 2016 editions. We had three of our best chefs invited as presenters in the show with two of them featured in special dinners in the most popular restaurants in Madrid. And for the first time in the history of Madrid Fusion, the Philippines was the first Asian country to be given the honor to host Madrid Fusion outside Spain. Dubbed as Madrid Fusion Manila, the event has brought to the country some of the best and most recognized Michelin chefs as speakers, as well as international media.
Apart from the formal culinary setting and gourmet experience, Manila was also recognized as one of Asia’s Top 10 street food cities by CNN.
“Thai (food) is very popular in Oslo because of the growing tourism, trade and industry between Norway and Thailand. Personally, I think tourism plays a big role in boosting Filipino food in Norway. The Philippines has never been marketed as a vacation paradise for the Scandinavians, unlike Thailand and soon, Vietnam. I think there is a lot of concern about safety, corruption and kidnapping incidents involving foreign tourists in the Philippines. Our country needs to be seen and be visited a lot more. Food is a huge factor for tourists. Norwegians long for Thai food right after a relaxing vacation in Thailand, for example. So again, tourism is the main key to be seen and be known in Norway.”
Please comment on this.
GP: First of all, I commend the couple for their passion and for breaking through to introduce our cuisine.
Sampling local food is always part of any tour program offered by our tour operators. Independent travelers have unlimited dining options also when exploring our country, from local to international cuisine.
As part of my job as a tourism marketer, I get to host and dine a lot with many foreign guests and every time I would ask them about our cuisine, they would always say that our food is tasty.
The correlation between food and tourism may not be absolute. For example, Maldives is very popular for beach holidays but not necessarily for its food. Dubai is very exciting for shopping and unlimited activity options. Personally, I don’t enjoy Arabic food.
Yes, Philippine food could be more popular if more Norwegians are able to travel to the country. We need not wait for that. Conversely, we may make it as a starting point and catalyst to create more awareness about our food and our country, and propel the people to travel to the Philippines.
We know that our Filipino cuisine is delicious and could be world class. We need more enterprising Filipino restaurateurs.
Certainly, we need to do more to promote Philippine cuisine. As of now, our country as a destination is more known for beaches, soft adventure and our friendly and hospitable people.
Our country has a new government, which is aggressively addressing “travel demotivators” (i.e. corruption, safety concerns, lack of infra and service facilities, etc.) to mitigate the negative impressions and enhance the awareness and overall confidence in the Philippines for both business and leisure travel.
Travel safety is a universal concern even for us here in Europe. We are glad there are more Europeans traveling to the Philippines. As of May 2016, travel from Norway to the Philippines increased by 4.25%. Overall European outbound travel is expected to grow at a slower rate of 2.8%. From our market jurisdiction, we are having bigger growth rates out of UK (14.85%), Sweden (19.18%), Denmark (25.39%), Italy (12.04%) and Spain (26.14%).
MFB: Why is travel growth rate from Norway so much lower compared to neighboring Sweden & Denmark?
GP: It could be partly related to economic conditions. Sweden is projected to achieve a 3% GDP growth in 2017, Denmark 2% and Norway only 1.6%.
MFB: Why is there a lack of Philippine package tour offers or promotions in Norway?
GP: The Nordic market is an opportunity market for the Philippines. We have full market development projects lined up and this would include the development of products, press and blogger trips and tour operator familiarization trips to the Philippines. In this process, definitely food will be something that can be highlighted while we aim to increase the awareness in the market on the Philippines as a whole.
In our next product presentation and marketing activity with the media and travel agents, we may hold it in a Filipino restaurant or a function room serving Filipino food.
Ad on Vagabond Travel Magazine
MFB: If Filipino food becomes more known abroad, would it open a new or bigger market segment of tourists to the Philippines?
GP: We have recently seen an increasing interest in the Philippines in terms of our culinary heritage. Filipino food featured in international publications, television shows and various content published and shared in social media, slowly but surely, help it make a mark in the international culinary arena. We are optimistic that Kulinarya would continue to be one of the experiences that our visitors can look forward to.
DOT is also working aggressively to get as many hotels/resorts and restaurants accredited to cater to markets which require or prefer Halal food.
MFB: How many visitors from Norway does the Philippines receive each year? How would you compare this number to other countries, say the UK or Italy? Where do you see Philippine Tourism at in Norway five years from now?
In 2015, we received these arrivals from our source markets (under our jurisdiction):
Norway 20,968 (increase of .59%) compared to previous year
Sweden 23,206 (+6.15%)
Denmark 15,269 (+6.79%)
UK 154,589 (+15.65%)
Spain 24,144 (+24.76%)
Italy 21,620 (+8.83%)
As we have shown in the other table, we are having a good start for all our markets. Norway is up by 4.25% as of May this year. We hope to sustain our growth momentum amidst the challenges brought about by the Brexit and lower travel appetite among the Europeans because of the terror threats.
For more information about travel to the Philippines:
Jonan wrote, “Indeed, Leo (Fernandez)has become an inspiration of many Filipinos, especially those who are in the cooking industry. Somehow, his featuring Filipino food into the NZ limelight through MasterChef has added encouragement to my wife’s pursuing her opening a Filipino cafe in Timaru, months after Leo’s stint in the show. Congratulations on your next venture, Leo. Thank you MFB for this very informative and inspiring article.”
I was chuffed to bits (I’m sure Leo Fernandez was too). A door didn’t open only in Auckland, it also spurred an opening in a small port district, more than a thousand kilometers south from the capital city. And this was how the Q & A below began.
Jonan’s wife is Jewel Castillon. She is the woman behind Food Haven, the first Filipino Café in Timaru, a city with a Filipino population of no more than a few hundreds. Her inspiring story is well worth a read.
MFB: Please tell us about your Filipino heritage.
JC: I am from Iloilo, Philippines. I grew up in Ajuy, Iloilo, a town 87 km from Iloilo City. I finished my Bachelor’s degree in Commerce from Central Philippine University then later my Master of Arts in Psychology from the University of San Agustin in Iloilo City.
My husband Jonan, daughter Jadyn and I came to New Zealand primarily for a change of lifestyle and better opportunities, especially for our daughter.
We wanted a slower pace of life, a place to live where there is balance between work and family. New Zealand is that place for us. The country is beautiful and relatively safer to live.
MFB: Please tell us about the Filipino population and community in Timaru?
We first settled in Auckland in 2011 for almost a year, then moved down to Timaru because of work opportunities for myself and later on, ministry work for my husband, who is a pastor. We got our residence visa in Timaru and stayed here since then.
The whole district of Timaru has a population of less than 50,000 people while Timaru city has a population of around 37,000. Filipinos are a minority here, roughly at one percent.
During our first few months in Timaru, we noticed that most Filipinos we met were married to Kiwis. Then we encountered Filipino families working in dairy farms.
Lately, we have seen the arrival of Filipino professionals moving down here in the south – working as nurses, IT’s and engineers. We have also met several Filipinos who are in the hospitality industry working as chefs in cafés and restaurants in tourist areas like Tekapo and Queenstown.
MFB: Foodwise, what was it like for you to live in New Zealand?
The South Island has a strong English culture. Probably because the first settlers are from England and Scotland and this culture is reflected in their food.
Kiwis in general enjoy a variety of tastes and cuisines. There a number of Indian, Thai, and Chinese restaurants and takeaways here. There are also fast food chains like KFC, McDonald’s or ‘mackers’ as they call it and others more.
What’s obviously missing is street food. The fresh, vibrant kind of outdoor and kiosk-type food stalls.
MFB: How did you get started in food? What prompted you to set-up Food Haven?
Cooking and baking has always been my passion. I have always wanted to enroll in a culinary school. Even while having a full time work back in the Philippines I used to make and sell pies and cheesecakes as a part time business. I remember I would get lots of apple pie orders in the month of December and I really enjoyed it.
Moving to Timaru from Auckland, I learned about the two-year Diploma in Cookery with Strands in Pattiserie course at former Aoraki Polytechnic now Ara Institute. I thought this could be the chance I’d been waiting for. I enrolled in February 2014.
The school has a very sturdy cookery program. I learned a lot from this course and honed my cooking skills. It was a fruitful and creative two years for me, being able to combine the western way of cooking with our Asian palate and cookery methods.
The fact that there was no Filipino cafe or restaurant in Timaru City was a sign that Filipino food was unknown in the mainstream. We took this as an opportunity to set up a Filipino food business.
Initially we planned to do food business from home, but strict NZ food regulations made us look for a commercial space to make compliance simpler. Fortunately, we found an empty cafe in the heart of Timaru City.
With lots of optimism and hard-work, we set sail on this exciting and challenging food business journey. Along the way, we met friendly and supportive people in the Timaru District Council who helped us in the process.
My husband and I named our café, Food Haven- a place where we offer Filipino food and Filipino hospitality to both kababayans (fellow Filipinos) and local residents.
Having my own cafe, I am able to design my own dishes. Most are classic Filipino dishes and some are a fusion of western and Asian ingredients. It’s lots of fun for me to have a venue to express my love for cooking.
It’s not easy to start a business, I have to confess. A good dose of education, positive attitude, hard work, patience, and perseverance are a must. My previous work and life experiences helped me as well.
Our Christian faith is our rock and foundation that encourages us in all circumstances. So far things are going well and the future looks bright.
MFB: How did MasterChef NZ finalist Leo Fernandez encourage you to go for it?
JC: I watched Leo Fernandez on the TV show Master Chef NZ. I was happy and inspired to see him seize the great opportunity to introduce and showcase our cuisine on national TV.
Through MasterChef, Leo showed that Filipino food can be a mainstream cuisine and at par with other popular cuisine like Korean, Indian, Mexican, Japanese, etc. That encouraged me to start my Filipino food business.
MFB: Please define your concept, target market and goals for Food Haven. Are there any other Filipino food establishments in the area?
JC: Our concept is to offer tasty Filipino food at a reasonable price. Our target market is both Filipinos and Kiwis. It is also our mission to introduce Filipino food to the locals. We wanted Food Haven to gradually grow as a Filipino food hub, catering to Filipinos and Kiwis in Timaru, Canterbury and Otago districts.
The closest Filipino restaurant is in a town next to Timaru which is about an hour drive.
MFB: Which Filipino-inspired dishes are the favorites? What were the comments about these dishes?
Our customers like Batchoy, Adobo, Lechon Kawali, & Pork BBQ. They also love our Sans Rival and Ube cake. It is always very rewarding for me when our customers express their appreciation of our food by either giving a commendation or eating all the food on their plate.
At first, Kiwis who didn’t know our cuisine thought Filipino food is very spicy, like Indian food. We explain that it’s not. After they’ve tried it, they would have an ‘aha’ moment and actually like it.
MFB: How far is Filipino food from crossing over in NZ? What else can be done to give it a boost?
JC: I believe it would take at least a couple of years more before Filipino food hits mainstream in Timaru or in New Zealand, in general.
Some customers expressed not being adventurous in food but we gladly introduce them to something that’s closer to their palate, like the fusion dishes we serve.
I feel that in order for Filipino food to have more appeal to the international community, it should be modernized a little bit. Although the ingredients should remain the same, the presentation should be tweaked a little. I am sure young Filipino chefs who have the knack for modernist plating will have no trouble doing this.
MFB: What is the general perception on Philippine cuisine in Timaru?
JC: Filipino food is at its infancy stage. Some locals don’t have a clue what our cuisine is.
Though, those who have tried it had positive things to say about our food. We met a few Kiwis who told us how they’ve tried making adobo but never seem to get it right.
There were several occasions when people stopped by the café to ask about the yummy smell pervading the arcade alley when we were cooking adobo. I take this as an indication that our common and homely food is to be proud of.
MFB: What do you consider as your greatest challenges and accomplishments as the owner of a newly-opened Filipino cafe?
JC: The greatest challenge is to introduce Filipino food to the local community. We consider it an accomplishment that we are able to do this and win regular non-Filipino customers.
I find great joy and accomplishment in being self-employed because I have the freedom to do what I’m passionate about. Of course, the challenge is how to make the business successful.
It’s very rewarding to hear from kababayans how thankful they are to have eaten the food they’ve missed since coming to New Zealand. For example, a Filipino customer said the last time he had Batchoy was 5 years ago back home. Also, another Filipino shared how happy he was for eating Halo-Halo after 8 years. I’m happy knowing that Food Haven has brought them closer to home.
Food Haven’s Batchoy
Having a food business in the centre of Timaru provides a great opportunity for me and my husband to meet people from all walks of life and be part of a friendly business community at the Royal Arcade in Timaru.