Through their website and hosted dinners across the country, Filipino Kitchen aims to change the dialogue around Filipino cuisine in America

The Filipino Kitchen Serves Up the "No Guts, No Glory" Pop-Up

Only two weeks after serving up Filipino brunch at temporary restaurant (also known as “pop-up”) Rice and Shine in Los Angeles, chef AC Boral was explaining his dishes to a new audience, only this time it wasn’t comfort breakfast food. While adobo fried chicken may be an easy sell, trying to serve “Walkman” and “Adidas” (classic euphemisms for pig’s ear and chicken feet) in Chicago’s River North art gallery district is something else entirely. The dinner was appropriately titled “No Guts, No Glory”, though the name didn’t solely represent the food that was being put out.

“Why we called it No Guts No Glory…it came down to not be compromising. It’s great as it is, you don’t need to fancify it” said Sarahlynn Pablo of the food. “It became a rallying cry. You need guts to put chicken feet in River North.” Indeed, while the kare kare that night didn’t look like the familiar oxtail in peanut stew, the flavors were all there; tender beef with a peanut sauce brought to life by salty shrimp paste. Same goes for the sinigang which is normally born from packets; here Boral used tamarind and green mango to get the distinctive sour flavor. Even childhood favorite Milo made an appearance that night, though as part of a drink definitely meant for adults to enjoy.

Boral, Pablo, and Natalia Roxas-Alvarez make up Filipino Kitchen, a website formed last November that aims to connect Filipinos to their roots through the use and discussion of food. While the site initially focused on photos, recipes, and interviews with Filipino American chefs, very quickly they jumped at the opportunity to host their own pop-ups. And with these dinners they strove to put something out above and beyond, which was met with some predictable backlash from some people in the community. “The immediate gut reaction is to push us back down” laments Boral.

There are common barriers that people recognize when talking about trying to bring Filipino food to the masses in America. Too often people ask things like “Why should I pay $50 for this when I can make it home for cheaper?” and “This is not better than my mom’s cooking.” “No one’s saying anything about your mom’s [cooking],” replies Pablo. Rather than try to answer these questions, Filipino Kitchen aims to create new ones. “We’re not providing answers, we’re just trying to start the discussion,” says Boral.

Roxas poses one such alternative question: “You can go to a [restaurant] and pay fifteen dollars for a burger, go to McDonald’s for a dollar, [or] make your own for mere cents. Why is that such a difficult thing to grasp when it comes to Filipino food?”

Another sobering one from Boral: “If somebody else were to make our food, who wasn’t Filipino, would they get a lot more support?”

Flipping the questions around in a way that forces community introspection is something Filipino Kitchen strives for. Pablo lays it out: “We want to reframe the conversation. Look at all the other benefits we could have as a community by supporting our own businesses, having our food be out there on a main stage. No offense to neighborhood joints, but let’s have it be out there.” “We’re shaking the pot; you shake the pot, you agitate people. There’s always room for improvement” adds Roxas.

Filipino Kitchen will be very busy this year in spreading the message. They’re in the midst of a collaboration with The Errant Diner and UniPro for their #FKEDUP series, and will soon be speaking at ECAASU at Harvard in late February. They hope to do another pop-up dinner while there in Boston, then creating more dinners for the California and Chicago crowds. And while all this is happening, they hope to be selected for the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery regarding the topic of Filipino food in Chicago. If everything goes well, expect Filipino Kitchen to visit England and the Philippines.

All in 2015. Again, they’re very busy.

“To get it out there and get that sea change of thought, that’s what Filipino Kitchen is going to be about” says Boral of their project. Roxas adds, “We’re being unapologetic about it. We’re going to be true to what we are and who we are.” “It” being Filipino Kitchen, which is hoping to eventually release a book and maybe open a permanent restaurant. That’s a lot on the plate for this trio, but if they continue to put as much work into all parts of their site as they do on their dinners, it’s bound to be a fulfilling journey. They just want more people to sit with them at the table.

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About the Author

Ryne is a proud Filipino/gamer/geek from the streets of Chicago. His skills include proficiency in HTML, CSS, social networking, Street Fighting, and photographing/critiquing food. He is currently using his powers for good, developing websites for IBM and contributing articles to BakitWhy.com. He is also the host and producer of BakitCast, the official podcast of BakitWhy.