A few days before the deadline for submissions to our Filipino food anthology project, I received a message from Robert Menor aka Chef Rob that he had just seen my invite to contribute a story and recipe. When he said he’d be honored to contribute, I was thrilled, but doubtful. How can he possibly pull off a 1,000+-word story and an original recipe in a matter of days? Well, I don’t know how he did it, but he did! Come closing date, in my inbox was Rob’s story, exquisitely written with a beginning, middle and end, and a recipe of his signature dish, Adobo Loko. It was everything I asked for and more—reading it gave me goosies.
Rob’s story and recipe are among those that’ll be published in our forthcoming book, The New Filipino Kitchen: Stories and Recipes from around the Globe. Here’s an excerpt from his powerful prose.
“I grew up in California in the late ’80s in the Filipino community of Stockton and Lathrop. At that time in South Stockton, growing up in a Filipino family meant you were barely one generation removed from Jim Crow and your family worked in the fields, the canneries, or the seasonal jobs available in Alaska. Oh yeah, and did I mention your parties were huge and prep often began a day before?” – Robert Menor
MFB: Please tell us more about your heritage.
RM: Both my parents were born in the States. My mother was born in 1963 to first wave Ilokano parents and raised in Lathrop, CA. My Dad was born in 1963 to a Mexican/Puerto Rican mother and an unknown father from Mexico. Filipino and Mexican cultures are different linguistically and in observance of religious holidays, but similar in their colonial past and food.
MFB: You were the head chef of Papa Urb’s Grill, a Filipino Restaurant with a twist in Stockton , what drove you to move to Columbus?
RM: I was a chef for three years at Papa Urb’s until I saw an opportunity to be the “Filipino food movement” by actually moving around and being a devout missionary to the vocation of our food.
MFB: How big is the Filipino community in Columbus, Ohio?
Compared to Stockton, the population in Columbus is a more recent wave of diaspora. The community is organized with various groups from the younger collegiate to the older working professional.
MFB: Please tell us about Bonifacio, the Filipino restaurant you work at in Columbus.
Bonifacio is named after Bonifacio Yanga, a WWII veteran and the grandfather of the owner Krizzia Yanga. The concept is classic Filipino cuisine as well as Filipino inspired desserts and cocktails.
MFB: Please describe the Filipino food scene in Columbus.
The Filipino food scene in Columbus is just beginning. Prior to the opening of Bonifacio, Filipino food was only sold by turo-turo joints and small carinderias, but unfortunately those places closed down as there was not enough awareness and business to support them. It had been probably around 5 years since there has been a Filipino restaurant prior to Bonifacio. Less than a year after Bonifacio opened, another Filipino restaurant opened that is more of a fast casual/turo-turo set up. Right now, Filipino food is only just starting to permeate the awareness of Columbus diners. We are in a place where we have to do a lot of education and have many guests who have never had Filipino food before. We find that most of our guests have a Filipino friend or coworker, but don’t know too much about the food and culture, so we make it a point to educate them about the history of the food and the culture behind the food.
MFB: Please tell us more about Bonifacio’s first year anniversary celebration: Kamayan Fest on Nov.18, the goal of which was to raise $10,000 to raise awareness and obtain national recognition for the over 260,000 Filipino and Filipino-American soldiers for their wartime service to the U.S. during WWII.
On November 18th, 2017, we hosted KamayanFest to celebrate Bonifacio’s 1st year anniversary. It was the Midwest’s largest Kamayan event to date with 200+ guests. There were performances from local Filipino singers, dancers, spoken word artists, and eskrimadors (those who engage in Filipino martial arts, eskrima). There was also a cash bar featuring Filipino beers and liquors. All the proceeds went to Filipino Veterans Recognition (FilVetREP).
MFB: What would you like to achieve within the next 2 years as the chef of Bonifacio? As a resident of Columbus?
Growth as a leader in and out of the restaurant. Be able to cultivate, groom, and grow talented cooks whose shared goal it is to ascend the hierarchy of Filipino food enlightenment.
Connect with Robert Menor:
Facebook: Rob M
By Jacqueline Chio-Lauri
Compiler, Contributing Author and Editor
The New Filipino Kitchen – a 2017 Sunshot Prose Finalist Prize Winner
My Food Beginnings: Bringing people together through food and stories