Savor Filipino showcases unique dishes by top chefs, Pinoys & others


OAKLAND – Thousands of people attended Savor Filipino, an event organized by The Filipino Food Movement last October 15 at the beautiful Overlook Lounge. It has been two years since this event was first launched in San Francisco. That year, Savor Filipino was a bit overwhelmed when 30,000 people showed up at their venue in an open plaza in downtown San Francisco. This year, it was held in a controlled environment with limited space and expected a crowd of 1,400 people. From Savor Filipino’s first launch in 2012, the food scene has changed and the cuisine of the Philippines is finally attracting food lovers from all ethnicities.

Back in 2012, Andrew Zimmern, host of Bizarre Foods on the Travel Channel, had a theory: “I predict, two years from now, Filipino food will be what we will have been talking about for six months … I think that’s going to be the next big thing.” And, boy, was he right.

Since that year, Filipino cuisine has been making waves in the international scene. Foodies, Filipino and non-Filipinos, from across the nation flocked at the posh Overlook Lounge to get a taste of the elevated Filipino cuisine prepared by top chefs all over the country.

Buksan Theme
“This year’s theme is Buksan meaning to open. And our goal for this event was to basically open up a treasure chest – what Filipino food can be…what treasures can we find in Filipino food…what gems do we have in Filipino food? So we told the chefs, do what you want and be creative with what you want because a lot of the chefs are very restricted on what they can prepare at their own restaurants. So this is the time for them to get as creative as they want, do things that’s they’ve never tried before, explore their history and culture, and just have fun,” said Joanne Boston-Kwanhull, VP of The Filipino Food Movement.

“A lot of food festivals we have right now pressure the chefs to pay some kind of fee to be in it. A lot the time they cannot afford to be at big festivals but we don’t ask anything from the chefs except for their talents, their hands and their time. We want them to have this network where they can rely on each other and help each other out. They may have some pains in running their businesses and we just wanted them to have these connections so they can call on each other for help, if needed,“ she added.

Savor Filipino wants the family kind of environment, like a get together, which is what Filipino cuisine or Filipino food gathering is all about: good food, connecting with people, bonding and good energy.

Creating Broad Awareness
“The Filipino Food Movement was really created (for) broad awareness of the cuisine (and also) to create a new market dynamic,” said Filipino Food Movement Founder and Board Chairman, PJ Quesada. He added, “…we want to create demand so we are using the modern tools of our era where we are using visual tools, using social media, we are using execution. Food is a form of entertainment now. So we have our chefs, our artists, they are the entertainment. They are the stars so we build a stage for them so that is what Savor Filipino is – it is a stage for the culinary artist to perform and it’s a stage where the audience can gather and see what these chefs can do. What we want the world to see about Savor Filipino is that Filipino food is amazing and it’s worthy of investment; it’s worthy of experimentation. Everyone has a standard or a truth of Filipino food and we want people to know that every truth is acceptable and there is a place in the spectrum for all kinds of Filipino food. And it shouldn’t be just limited to traditional, authentic or fusion or whatever monitors people have been using to describe it.”

The Filipino Food Movement Art Director, Al Perez said, “We wanted to elevate Filipino cuisine and showcase Filipino food as something up to par with any other Asian and mainstream cuisine out there.”

Diverse Chefs. Elevated Filipino Cuisine.
Savor Filipino organizers invited Filipino and non-Filipino chefs from across the country to participate in this event. “We are very conscious that we did choose chefs of non-Filipino heritage. When I go to food shows talking about Filipino food, people will look at me and say, “but you are not even Filipino”. I get it because it’s surprising to see someone who is not Filipino talking about Filipino food with so much passion – well, we love our food,” said Quesada.

He added, “And when people see somebody who is not Filipino doing this, I really think it challenges the traditional sense of what’s allowed in Filipino food. Because when you remove someone else’s standard, and you only apply your own, I feel like the possibilities are limitless.” Hopefully, in the next few years, more non-Filipino chefs and cooks discover our amazing Filipino cuisine.

Jersey-born Charleen Caabay of “Kainbigan” restaurant in Oakland, CA prepared Pancit Lomi. “Pancit Lomi is a popular dish which originated in the province of Batangas, where my mother’s side is from and I wanted to bring that out because it’s not your traditional sinigang or arroz caldo. I wanted to bring something new and open the different flavors and layers of the Pancit Lomi,” she said.

Chef Janice Dulce of FOB Kitchen in SF was slated to prepare the third course, Beef Mechado. She said, “it is one of my grandmother’s specialty dishes. I’m doing it with short ribs in mechado braising liquid with onions, tomatoes, bell peppers, garlic and bay leaves. We then braise that for three hours so it’s super tender and will serve that on top of garlic mashed potatoes, beautiful piece of short-rib and top it off with crispy onions, roasted bell peppers and carrots.”

Both Chef Janice and Chef Charleen prepared dishes that are close to their hearts – family, tradition, happy memories and heritage – that is what Filipino cuisine is all about.

Chef Brian Hardest – Executive Chef and Co-Owner of Guerrilla Street Food in St. Louis, MO prepared Fabada Asturiana (braised pork and sausage with Fava Beans) for the Buksan Dinner. He has been cooking for the past 20 years and started creating Filipino dishes in 2011. Chef Brian was inspired by tasting Chicken Adobo and instantly fell in love with it.

Then each dish just became more interesting and more creative and less than he understood how to make it, so he said had to learn how to make this food. Chef Brian and his business partner, Joel Crespo, were thinking of setting up a food truck and he was determined to serve Filipino food hence the beginning of Guerilla Street Food –which is an award-winning Filipino inspired restaurant.

Dominican Chef Miguel Trinidad – Executive Chef and Owner of Maharlika Restaurant & Jeepney Gastropub in New York, NY — prepared Ginataang Alimasag over Bringhe (softshell crab in coconut milk served over heirloom Rice Paella) for the Buksan Dinner. He started a project in 2008 with business partner Nicole Fonseca as she wanted to put the Filipino cuisine on the map. “She wanted to bridge the culture and wanted to introduce it on mainstream. And in 2011, we were fortunate enough to open our brick and mortar and a year later, we opened up ‘Jeepney’ and here we are now,“ said Chef Miguel.

These are just four of the 15 amazing chefs featured in Savor Filipino 2016.

Good Food For A Good Cause
“West Bay Pilipino is the beneficiary of FFM Savor Filipino 2016 – which is the most important Food Festival in the Bay Area if not, the nation because we have culinary talents being flown in from other parts of the United States,” said West Bay Pilipino Multi-Service Executive Director Vivian Araullo. “We are very pleased because parts of the proceed goes to fund our college prep for underserved Filipino youth. This will also inspire the youth to possibly pursue their career in the culinary arts so it works (any) way you look at it. But the most important, in my view, is getting to team up in promoting Filipino culture on Filipino-Amercian History month,” she added.

Expectations Met
“Our goal for Savor Filipino was to shine the spotlight on the potential for Filipino cuisine. So base expectation was the food would taste good, the food would look good, the guests would be happy and the chefs would be happy. And the turnout was better than expected,“ said Quesada.

Sonia Delen, president of The Filipino Food Movement, said “The turnout was amazing. It’s awesome even with the threatening rain people still came. We are absolutely delighted that we have so many people, not only Filipinos, but the mainstream coming here to enjoy the food and meeting people. We didn’t only want to showcase the Filipino food but also the beverages and drinks. Be proud of what we produce out of the Philippines.” Savor Filipino featured special cocktail drinks using Philippine made alcoholic beverages (Tanduay and Infanta Lambanog) and Sun Tropics Juice Drinks.