“At our first event, we sold out of food, and when we told my mom —our head chef — what happened, she said, ‘How could you run out of food? I need to be there next time.' She hates the idea that we could run out of food, that people wouldn't be served.”
AC Saigusa, her husband Angel, and AC’s mother, Alice — the team behind 5 A’s BBQ — prepare a massive spread of pancit, brisket bisteck, and their specialty, Bicol Express: stewed pork spiced aggressively with Filipino chili peppers. What’s unique about the Bicol Express served at 5 A’s is that it combines Angel’s Bicolano heritage with the rich culinary traditions associated with AC’s home region of Pampanga — a fusion of two of the Philippines’ most iconic eating experiences.
“First, AC tasted my mom's Bicol Express — because that's my mom’s specialty, from where we are from in Bicol. Then AC and her mom, Alice, made their own style of Bicol Express, using their Kapampangan techniques and influences. We say it’s our specialty, because it’s truly a reflection of our family's kitchen — we’re from two different regions, living under the same roof,” Angel says.
In this way, the menu at 5 A’s is a microcosm of the Filipino-American experience. AC and Angel immigrated to the US as teenagers, so their palates are firmly rooted in the traditions of their home regions in The Philippines. But like most Filipino-Americans, they’ve also grown up on a healthy mix of Filipino favorites from across the islands — a direct result of the blending of regional populations into a larger, pan-Filipino community stateside.
"With our food, it's all meant to be traditional, and quality. So we're mixing cuisines and styles, but it's a mix of regional Filipino influences and tastes. So in that way, it's very authentic and makes use of legit Filipino techniques and preparations, and that idea of tradition is very important to us. We want to keep the experience of our food close to home. Some of our recipes are influenced by my side of the family, which comes from Pampanga, and some of our recipes are influenced by Bicolano cuisine, which is the kind of food that Angel grew up eating with his family,” AC says.
The 5 A’s project itself is an outgrowth of the recent additions to AC and Angel’s family: daughter Alianna and son Angel IV, and their desire to spend more time around their children. Moreover, AC was convinced that her mother’s cooking talents could find an audience outside of the family home.
“It's hard to work for someone else, on someone else's projects. And then when you have kids, your own family, you're looking for something stable for your family, and a way to spend more time around them. So I decided to push the idea of 5 A's — because I am very proud of my mom, I know that cooking is her major talent, and I wanted everybody to be aware of her and her food. So this business is really for my mom, and for the kids. 5 A's stands for our family: all of our names start with 'A,' -- my mother Alice, my husband Angel III, our daughter Alianna, and our son Akiro (Angel IV),” AC says.
For the young and growing 5 A’s team — the operation is formally just six months old — Undiscovered SF represents a major platform for their menu (they’ll be serving their special Bicol Express and BBQ sticks at this month’s Undiscovered) as well as an opportunity to work alongside some of the Bay Area’s institutional Filipino eateries, picking up insight on the food business from a mix of established veterans and rising stars.
"Undiscovered has been great for us. We’ve learned so much from our neighbors about how to operate a booth in that type of environment, and they were so gracious even though it was our first time in San Francisco. We learned about how sharp you need to be if you want to be in this business, and to have everyone helping us out, from the Undiscovered team to our fellow vendors, who were helping us rather than just competing with us, it was a real sense of community and a learning experience that we're so thankful for. These established eople are giving us pointers, and they're more experienced than us -- and they're Filipino! So it feels like being in the Philippines. It's really that feeling of Bayanihan.”