Migrant Filipino Food Stories & Recipes Get a Book Deal— Against All Odds!

Less than two months ago, a sudden surge of energy spurred me to jump in the air till I cramped, shimmy till I was blackmailed and fist pump till I felt I was Pacquiao. No. I didn’t snort crack or anything like that. I simply received an offer to publish our Filipino food anthology project. Oh, so you think I’m exaggerating? You won’t think so once you read this story.

More than a year ago, I had the privilege of speaking with someone who’s been-there-and-done- that in the book publishing world. When I asked about the chances of getting a collection of stories and recipes traditionally published (meaning book publishers, not I, pay for the cost of publishing), her initial reaction gave her away. I knew it was going to be, not just an uphill struggle, but a HELL of an uphill struggle.

Truth be told, the expert, who to this day I regard with high esteem, didn’t stomp my hopes and dreams right off the bat. Instead, we looked high and low for similar books on the market and researched how they were doing. An apples-to-apples comparison was rather difficult, as this project is one of a kind: more story-driven than most other cookbooks. Anyhow, the most similar books we could find were Filipino cookbooks. To say the least, the number of traditionally published titles on Filipino food in the food category of Amazon were probably as little as the number of Filipino restaurants – not in America— but in Europe as a continent! That’s heartbreakingly miniscule. In fact, if you go to Amazon’s Books: Asian Food Category, a drop-down list of cuisines includes Korean, Vietnamese and even Wok Cooking, but not Filipino. Out of the few Filipino food titles, not a single one at that time, ranked within the 100,000 of Amazon’s Best Sellers Rank. Apparently, publishers look at these markers when deciding whether it’s worth their time and money to publish a book.

I’m sure you’ve heard how difficult it is to have any kind of book published in the uber-competitive land of the U.S. these days. If getting a book published is like climbing the Matterhorn, publishing an anthology (which is reputably more difficult to pitch), in an untraditional format (part memoirs, part cookbook), centered on Filipino food (which historically hasn’t demonstrated blockbuster potential), written by mostly new authors, and an editor (moi), who’s not even from the US for that matter would be like climbing the Matterhorn in a wheel chair, on a foggy day and with snow on the route.

Luckily, our prospect of getting published went from almost zilch to very likely when I delivered a 100+-page pitch aka book proposal that I’d labored over with blood, sweat, and tears for several months. Before I knew it, the project has a book agent.

An excruciating wait followed. Days turned into weeks, weeks into months, strands of my hair turned into grey, still—no offers. Though publishers, even imprints of some of The BIG FIVE, bit the pitch and requested for the full proposal, even a newbie like me knew that interest hardly translates to an offer. More weeks and months passed. NOTHING . . . just a slow torturous trickle of “we’ll pass” replies with some odd demoralizing comments. I started giving self-publishing some thought.

On July 10, the moment I’ve been dreaming of came. AN OFFER! A week after—ANOTHER OFFER! But it wasn’t over. The painful process of waiting to cement the deal ensued and the state of being in limbo commenced again. Many more sleepless nights of bridled excitement, fear and uncertainty paralyzed me from moving on. A litany of what ifs seized me.

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Watching the sun rise on the island of Crete while reading the publishing contract

Thanks to our agent, details were negotiated, the contract was reviewed and discussed, re-reviewed and re-discussed, rinse, repeat. Without her I would probably have signed the contract blindly just to spare myself from the agony. One day, when I thought I couldn’t bear the suspense any longer, the deal was signed with Agate Surrey. Agate Surrey has published award-winning writing on food for 30 years, with authors ranging from Food Network stars and James Beard Award winners to former food editors and contributors to the Associated Press, Wall Street Journal, and Chicago Tribune. Thank you, Agate, for believing in the power of Filipino food and people.

I won’t forget comments we had received from others, such as, “I’m not seeing a Filipino cuisine trend coming,” or “We have tried without success to rouse an interest in a book on Filipino cooking,” or “We’re not confident we would be able to break this project out on a large scale.” These words will continue to haunt and challenge.

Let’s prove them wrong.

We’ve climbed the Matterhorn. Now we’re going to tread harsher terrain with a series of strict deadlines to meet, before setting off on the next gargantuan challenge: The Mount Everest of all uphill struggles—how to get this book a top-ten spot on the bestselling lists published by The New York Times, Publishers Weekly, or the USA today on a shoestring budget and at a time when anti-immigrant sentiment is raging through the Western World. I know I can’t do it alone. But together—we can. PEOPLE’S POWER!

Tentative book release: Fall 2018.

Foreword to be written by two-time James Beard award-winning writer, John Birdsall.

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John Birdsall

A huge thank you and congratulations to the 30 amazing contributing authors, including The White House Executive Chef Cris Comerford! I’m also very grateful to our food photographer and stylist, Rowena Dumlao-Giardina; she soldiers on with the daunting task of styling and shooting the dishes on a tight deadline.  And last but not least, many thanks to all of you, who liked, followed and supported My Food Beginnings. Thank you for your continued belief and support in this project and what it represents. We can’t wait to get a copy in each of your hands.

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Migrant Filipino Food Stories & Recipes Get a Book Deal— Against All Odds!

The First Published Philippine Cookbook in America ( An Interview with a Filipino Cookbook Author)

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Marilyn Ranada Donato

“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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

Connect with Marilyn Donato:

 Website: www.philamcookbook.com

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The First Published Philippine Cookbook in America ( An Interview with a Filipino Cookbook Author)