Posts tagged food
Dreams Become Real at Sweet Condesa

“My son was turning eight, and I told him that when I retire, I’d open a bakery or a cafe. And his response was like, ‘Why would you do that, why would you start your business when you're older? You don’t have to wait until later; you can do it now.’” 

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Melody Lorenzo, owner of the modern Filipino dessert catering company Sweet Condesa, recalls her son’s role in motivating her to launch the business, and also notes the influence of her own childhood in creating a project that captures memories of home. 

“I was never a baker. But being born and raised in the Philippines, it was always a special experience to me – all the flavor profiles I feature are flavors I grew up with and enjoyed, especially during the holidays. Those are the ones that I miss most. So I wanted to incorporate that into something more modern — elevating Filipino desserts that could be at home at a formal event or a casual setting,” she says. “For example, childhood favorites like ube, pandan and calamansi and inserting them into familiar items like pies, tartlets, and bars.”

Without formal culinary education or professional kitchen experience, pursuing her dream meant starting from scratch and taking up a new craft – motivated by memories of her favorite sweets to eat and share with family. 

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“I always loved desserts, so in 2008 I signed up for a three-day baking workshop with Meg Ray, the owner of Miette Bakery in San Francisco. And I got so inspired to get good at baking – but I was mostly just doing it on the side for family and friends. And I did that for a couple years, but then had the thought: in any kind of business, you have to give 100 percent no matter what, so even if you have limited time, you still have to give that 100 percent,” she says. 

Melody points to her mother as the source for her entrepreneurial spirit, and notes that by giving the fullness of herself to her work, she’s able to make an impact on people’s spirits. 

“My mom was a caterer in the Philippines, and as a kid, I got exposed to that kind of environment — putting so much hard work and your passion and doing what you love. Now, I’m inspired to pursue my own culinary endeavor to create reimagined and handcrafted Filipino and Latin-inspired desserts,” she says. 

Drawing energy from the smiles of her customers and clients, Melody sees returning that positivity to her community as an integral to Sweet Condesa’s identity. 

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“Because of how my business started, I feel like part of my purpose is to inspire people to see that no matter how busy or hectic your life is as a woman in the modern world, there’s no reason to delay your dream or set it aside — you are able to find the time and the courage to chase your dreams. Thankfully, I have a supportive husband (who coined the term ‘condesa’),  taste testers (my two sons, Aeden and Tiago) and family who are behind me 100%. It’s already hard to build a company, so you might as well do it from a position of confidence! Believe in yourself and believe in your product so that your confidence will translate to the consumers that approach your brand,” she says. 

In this way, Melody and Sweet Condesa do so much more than delight customers, or share Filipino flavors with a broader audience. Every bite of Melody’s pastries, cakes, and treats reflects the spirit of being self-made – a message she wants to share with the world. 

“For aspiring entrepreneurs, remember to follow your heart, pursue your passion, and do what you love.”



Written by Paul Barrera.

Salo Series: Nourishing the Soul, Pleasing the Palate
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“Like most other Filipinos, my mother wanted me to be a doctor. But halfway through pre-med, I realized that was not what I wanted. So I had to break it to her, and she didn’t take it well: she said, ‘Fine if you don’t want to be a doctor, you should be a nurse.’”

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Yana Gilbuena, chef and creator of the itinerant and immensely popular Salo Series pop-up dinners, traveled a great distance on her journey to culinary cool – a path that spans multiple career arcs and continents, and sees the passion of youth blossom into a cultural touch-point for Filipino America.

“Growing up, my grandmother had our cooks show me how to go to the market and shop for a menu, how to make charcoal and make fire in the outdoor kitchen. And my aunt was the one who really gave me a different perspective on cooking. For her, cooking was something that you do for pleasure. And when I moved to the United States, I felt very uprooted mainly because it wasn’t necessarily my choice to move here — and it was primarily my mom’s. Coming home and cooking was like therapy. It helped me bring back memories of growing up with my grandma. Just being able to focus on one task and then be able to create something is instant gratification,” she says.

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Raised in the Filipino kitchen through her cultured childhood, Yana’s next steps reconcile her education, her early career, and her passion for communicating the stories and dishes that sustained her upbringing.

“I had a major car accident when I was 23, and that got me thinking that if I had died, what would have been my legacy, what would have been my impact on people? So I switched gears and went back to school to study architecture, and I was in the design industry for about 7 years, designing kitchens and baths and furniture designs, eventually moving to New York where I was moonlighting for a blog. They gave me all the food assignments, and I realized after attending a few pop-up dinners that a lot of them lacked a genuine sense of culture. I felt that there was an opportunity to do Filipino food in a way that for me was truly in the style of ‘Home,’” she says.

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For Yana, the sense of ‘home’ constitutes a critical aspect of both the Salo Series project and her approach to food as a philosophy, espoused in her recently published Kamayan cookbook, No Forks Given. It’s a straightforward approach to cooking that stresses nourishing the spirits of the people around the table, as well as the pleasing their palates.

“I see food as a way to express your identity and who you are. There is no hard definition of what Filipino food is – each person who cooks Filipino food is part of the tapestry of what Filipino food is. Together, we make this bigger picture that’s so diverse and so beautiful,” she says.

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Girded by a strong sense of community, the Salo Series project stands for much more than tasty, authentic Filipino food, presenting each dish as a site of interaction with the journey of a chef – and the histories that built her skills, passions, and perspectives.

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“Filipinos have been in the Bay Area for so long, but we haven’t been able to fully express our heritage. And I am glad that SOMA Pilipinas is helping bring that to the forefront and highlight not just Filipino-Americans in SF, but the longstanding connections we have as a people across the diaspora as well as The Philippines.”

Written by Paul Barrera. Photography by Albert Law.

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Aliwang Lutu: A Different Style of Cooking
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“I remember vividly waking up to a hissing sound – my Apu using her old school pressure cooker, and her pounding away on some garlic in her mortar and pestle. The house would always smell of Gisa, browning onion and garlic, in the big metal kawali, and the doors were wide open so the house wouldn’t get stanky. But the memory of cooking that really stands out is first being taught how to cook rice using my finger as a measurement. That really rocked my world as a little kid interested in cooking.”

Mark Pecson, chef of the brand-new pop-up project Aliwang Lutu, doesn’t hesitate to identify his Filipino childhood as the genesis of his interest in the kitchen. And paired with formal French training in one of the world’s premier hospitality destinations, Mark’s culinary perspectives invite refreshed experiences of Filipino cooking that’s classically rooted in the family table.

“I graduated from culinary school in Las Vegas a few years ago, and worked in a French restaurant for a year at the Cosmopolitan Hotel. Those experiences taught me foundation and finesse, and a great deal of discipline in the kitchen. After applying those techniques to Filipino cooking and foods that I've been around my whole life, my career really took off from there. But just like any other Am-Boy, it was the cooking of my Apu (my grandmother), and my family that inspired me to really delve deeper into my culture and the cuisine,” Mark says.

Using French methodologies to express Filipino flavors, Mark’s cooking honors traditional perspectives by introducing preparation and presentation techniques more closely tied to boutique restaurant experiences, rather than Filipino family parties. Understanding this process as a show of deep reverence for the familial dishes that form his culinary foundation, Mark explains the name of his project.

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“This will be my first dinner under the name: ‘Aliwang Lutu.’ In my family’s native language, Kapampangan, the phrase means ‘a different style of cooking.’ Filipinos are notorious for remaining strictly traditional when it comes to cooking and eating their cuisine, so in itself, the simple act of speaking the name of my project has a certain weight to it, for certain audiences.  I believe that introducing my style of French finesse and aesthetic plating techniques will open the door to new ways of enjoying traditional Filipino dishes for my guests,” Mark says.

Appreciating new ways of doing things – for example, sitting down to a familiar dish prepared in a different way – requires a cultivated ability to loosen the mind and release established ideas of the way things have been done in the past. Fortunately for Aliwang Lutu diners, Mark’s done all the rigorous work of research, ideation, and testing, resulting in approachable dishes that prize experience and smiles as much as excitement and innovation.

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“Inspirational food, for me, has to be tasty, eye-catching, and creative. My cooking style has always been about trying to create a paradox between traditional dishes and flavors, and making it different in more than one way. I find lots of food ideas from high end restaurants, trying to apply a level of finesse and honing in on the concentration of flavors, all while breaking down how chefs innovate with ingredients on the plate,” Mark says.

Importantly, Mark’s vision isn’t just limited to what’s for dinner. He recognizes the impact that projects like Aliwang Lutu and Kulinary Confidential have on individuals, and how those relationships and stories translate into greater strength for the Filipino community and SOMA Pilipinas.

“With Filipino cuisine gaining popularity in today’s food scene, it is very important to utilize channels like Kulinary Confidential and underground popup chefs to highlight talent that may be overlooked, especially here in the Bay Area and in SOMA Pilipinas. The heritage of the Filipino people has been preserved in its food culture, and will continue to be preserved through projects like these, because I believe that our job as chefs is to make doubters into believers, one dish at a time. Being the youngest chef on this panel of amazing chefs, I want to be able to prove my worth and bring a wind of hip, creative energy into this awesome community!”


Written by Paul Barrera. Photography by Albert Law.

Ox and Tiger: Rooted in History, Cooking for the Community
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“One of the things that EJ and I always enjoyed together since our first date was cooking. We would cook special meals for each other for birthdays/anniversaries, and have iron chef challenges where we would battle and have our friends and family judge whose food was better. Our obsession went next level when we were living in Chicago. We bounced a lot of ideas and actually tested them out in the kitchen, and also tried to recreate a lot of food that we ate growing up. EJ cooked Filipino food, and I made Japanese food. But by that time, we’d had a lot of influence on each other's cooking – so we started to explore where these two cuisines could compliment each other.”

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EJ Macayan and Hitomi Wada, the team behind Japanese-Filipino pop-up project Ox & Tiger, understand the value of knowing where you come from, turning knowledge from elders into useful solutions for the present.

“I grew up with both sides of my grandparents, so I was surrounded by many cooks. They had rich gardens in their backyard, and I would help cultivate and harvest the produce. This continues to have a significant impact on me as a chef, as I am always trying to figure out ways to serve the most fresh produce, [because] growing up I had no fear in trying something new. My palette was very open to the different flavors our cuisine had to offer. Fast forward many years with many family parties with lots of food, I put myself into culinary school and never looked back. I wasn't sure where it was going to take me, but I knew how much I loved to eat and decided to choose the path that would let me do at least that,” EJ says.

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EJ also credits his grandparents’ cooking with formational influence on his cooking and his early appreciation for a wide range of flavors.

“Living in Salinas, CA and spending a lot of times with my grandparents, I was surrounded by farmland and the ocean, My favorite dish was Pinakbet, and the ampalaya was the best part of it to me. The bitterness was so extra, it laid a strong memory that wasn't harsh but interesting enough to keep eating. I also loved eating grilled mackerel and rice with tomatoes and patis. I started to love vinegar when my uncle gave me Jicamas and salt vinegar as a snack. From then on, pickles were a staple for the rest of my life. My family introduced me to all the flavors of our cuisine, but the sourness was what attracted to learning more about our food. For this reason, you will most likely taste something sour in the dishes at Ox & Tiger,” EJ says.

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With a foundation in well-known projects like Rich Table, Yuzuki Eatery, and Fat Rice, the team has firmly set down roots in the Bay Area primarily because it is a hub of a surging wave of Filipino culture.


“I cooked a lot of food at Fat Rice that reminded me of my childhood. There were a lot of similarities in flavors and regional ingredients that I wanted to reconnect with. I was cooking with so many different flavors but felt like there was something missing. I slowly realized that I didn't have a platform to share our Filipino cuisine and how it is entertaining and flavorful as all of the food that is out there. This really guided our decision to move back to California and to be a part of the Filipino movement that was surfing the nation,” EJ says.

Importantly, the team doubles down on the importance of community in the formation of the Ox & Tiger project, citing personal relationships in the Bay Area alongside the region-wide movements as key motivators for heading to Northern California. 


“Cooking for one another was something that made me feel at home with Hitomi. Being able to share something about my upbringing and my family to her was something that meant a lot to me. Coming back from Chicago, we were on the outside of the Filipino food scene in the Bay Area. So I started working with long-time friends JP & Kristen at The Sarap Shop. They introduced me to the community, and I was able to meet one after another welcoming us in like we were already part of the movement. The Sarap Shop is a major reason for us being where we are right now. Without them Ox & Tiger would still be a dream,” EJ says.

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With their dream now a reality, EJ and Hitomi look to share the spirit of the communities they grew up in with the SOMA Pilipinas community at Kulinary Confidential – bringing the flavors and experiences they’ve cherished with their friends and family to a new group of friends and family.

“Sharing food with others generates the feeling of home. As a culture we have been immersed in it all of our lives. We had grandparents cooking the favorites at all the parties, and what we do now is carry that tradition for the future. I want to be able to be that person in our family to take those recipes from our elders and pass them on to the youngsters. There is a lot that we can pass down, and doing that with our food will keep our culture thriving. Ox and Tiger will introduce a refreshing take on our Filipino Cuisine, yet bring nostalgia that could help the Filipino/Fiipino Amerian people connect or reconnect with their heritage. The Filipino heritage is about bringing people together and what better way to do that than through food?”

Written by Paul Barrera. Photography by Evelyn Obamos.





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