The sun shines on Filipino food in Canada. The optimism boost from the recent MasterChef Canada Season 3 cannot be denied. Fil-Canadians Jeremy Senaris and Matthew Astorga reached honorable second and third positions respectively. In a segment aired on June 5, Jeremy’s kare-kare and and Matthew’s adobo took the spotlights. Both Filipino dishes gained judges’ approval.
Behind the scenes, another Fil-Canadian carries the torch. Allan Pineda, the Filipino Food Movement representative and social media coordinator in Canada, with his wife Amanda, run an interesting alternating series of Pinoy pop-ups: Baon Manila Nights (contemporary Filipino Cuisine) and The Art of Kamayan ( boodle fight-style traditional Filipino cuisine). Allan is also a part-time food writer for The Filipino Journal and the Food and Beverage Coordinator for the Food Division of “The Culture Card” a year long experimental project focusing on Filipino Culture and Food in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.
Though Allan admits Filipino food in Canada lags five years behind their neighboring American country, he’s latched with laser-sharp focus on what needs to be done to catch up.
Get to know the man whose love for Filipino food can probably only be surpassed by his love for his wife. (When you read the Q & A below, you’ll understand why I say this :-)). And don’t skip his answer as to why Baon Manila Nights is different from other pop-ups. Who knows who might be cooking for you at his next event? Matthew Astorga perhaps? Or maybe Jeremy Seneris?
MFB: Please tell us about your Filipino heritage. What brought you or your parents to Canada? Where are you or your parents from in the Philippines?
AP: I’m 3/4 Filipino my mother is half Chinese. My parents like most immigrants came to Canada for opportunity and a better future. My mother is from Paranaque, Manila. My father is from Natividad, Pangasinan.
MFB: What was it like for you, of Filipino heritage, to move/grow up in Winnipeg? Please tell us about a point or stage in your life when you became acutely aware of how your Philippine food culture is different from Canada’s food culture?
AP: Growing up in Canada means getting used to the extreme cold. We have harsh winters and hot summers. The weather fluctuates like you wouldn’t believe, from +35 C in the summer and down to -45C with the windchill in the winter.
I became aware that we were different in terms of food with the other kids at lunch time, when everyone brought their “baons” to school. Mine would often be a piece of chicken with rice wrapped in tin foil and others’, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
MFB: About how many Filipinos are there in Winnipeg? What is the general perception on Philippine cuisine there?
AP: There are about 85,000, nearly 10% of the population. A huge chunk. Filipino cuisine is virtually unknown, even with 10% of the population there are maybe 6 Filipino Restaurants with the rest take outs and grocery store buffet style service. As opposed to maybe a population of 1% Japanese and over 100 Japanese or Sushi Restaurants. Sadly, there is a giant gap in terms of restaurant to population ratios.
MFB: How did you get started in food?
AP: I started cooking at the age of 17 after I was promoted from a dishwasher at restaurant. From then I worked as a short order cook until I enrolled into culinary school. After graduating, I cooked on and off in French bistros and restaurants while attending college and university to attain jobs elsewhere out of the industry.
MFB: What prompted you to set up Baon Manila Nights? How long has it been since you launched?
We started our pop up dinners out of necessity. There is nothing like this where we are except for the mom and pop types of eateries, where the food is superb but visually unappealing to others not of Filipino heritage. We’ve been up and running for a little over a year. Baon Manila Nights and the Art of Kamayan, which we both host monthly, usually sell out. The community and city are slowly learning more about Filipino Food.
MFB: Please define your concepts, target market and goals.
AP: Our concept is different from others by not trying to contain or promote one chef. Our goal is to work with, promote and expose all Filipino cooks, chefs and restaurateurs in the city, as well as abroad. We have a different guest chef each dinner so the menu is revolving and always different. We will be doing a pop up dinner with MasterChef Canada Finalist Jeremy Senaris in the near future – the exact date to be announced.
Our target is literally everyone; we aim to get the youth more involved in their culture and have the older generation experience Filipino food in a different way. With the Kamayan dinners, we want to teach the younger people about their roots and also teach non -Filipinos about how we do things in our homes.
Chef Allan’s Ube/Purple yam Trio : Ube Gnocchi, Ube Ice Cream, Ube Polvoron Crumble with Vanilla Cream Cheese Glaze and Skyflakes Crumble
MFB: Which are the favorites/ bestsellers among Winnipeggers?
AP: Jerk Chicken Pancit, Kinilaw and our Gourmet Lumpia are the faves. The jerk chicken is a perfect blend of two different cultures (a creation from one of our pop up dinners involving a chef from Trinidad). Kinilaw or the Filipino equivalent of ceviche, has a fresh clean taste. The Gourmet Lumpia was simply mind- boggling for people. Examples of gourmet lumpias we make are reuben, “Fili” cheese steak and Ube cheesecake.
MFB: Please tell us about your involvement with the Filipino Food Movement.
AP: .Well, hopefully I can do something good. I try to help and organize things here in Canada by heading the FFM Canada Page and being the social media Coordinator. There is virtually little or no communication between provinces with only little clusters of people all doing their part (a great one at that in their respective cities). We need more communication and networking.
How far is Filipino food from crossing over in Manitoba? What else can be done to give it a boost?
AP: We are about 5 years behind from everyone else. Hopefully with our trip to Savor Filipino this year in Oakland, California, we can learn, network and make new colleagues and friends. What we take in from there, we can then pass on to others in Canada.
MFB:What do you consider as your greatest challenge and accomplishment as the co-owner and chef of Baon?
AP: My greatest challenge is yet to come. It’s getting Filipino Food and the people who make it recognized.
My biggest accomplishment is meeting my wife, who supports me 100% and pushes me to succeed. Without that, I would have done nothing.
MFB: If someone asks for your opinion about the viability of opening a Filipino-inspired restaurant in your area, what would you say?
AP: I would say if done right and marketed the right way it would be super successful. The Filipino population in Winnipeg is too large to allow a new contemporary Filipino Restaurant to fail. But that of course is if we support each other.
MFB: Any other plans in the pipeline?
AP: We have a few plans in the works. Ambitious, to say the least, but I would rather aim high and miss than to not to shoot the ball at all.
- A monthly cooking class program for adults and children to teach our youth how to cook traditional Filipino food (a lost art these days in homes).
- working with locals and nutritionists across the country to develop an online cook book that includes healthy recipes and lifestyle
- Filipino pop-up dinners collaborating with chefs across Canada and the world
- Web series highlighting Filipino food, chefs and restaurants in Canadian cities and then branching out to other provinces and cities and hopefully trips to the United States and other countries.
- Become a leader in the Filipino Food Movement. Establish a network for everyone to communicate with each other in Canada and maintain an updated database of restaurant owners, chefs, etc. Maybe one day we can hold forums and share ideas and see what works and what doesn’t in our respective regions.
*Allan Pineda is one of the contributing authors of our upcoming book, My Food Beginnings – a collection of Filipino food memoirs.
Connect with Allan Pineda
Website: Baon Manila Nights
Facebook: Baon Manila Nights
Facebook: The FFM Canada
Bringing people together through food and stories.