Posts in Food
Turontastic: Beyond Bananas

“We started as a menu item offered at Coffee Adventure, a cafe in Milpitas, which was co- owned by my business partner, Karen Recinto. Coffee Adventure was a vendor at the Undiscovered SF night market in 2017 and we sold the turon at their booth. But the name ‘Turontasitc’ started when I brought my turon to a birthday party potluck – I dipped half of it in a milk chocolate ganache, and a friend of mine said they were ‘turontastic!’”

Image from iOS (7).jpg

Julius Santos of Turontastic explains how something as singular and uncomplicated as turon can so completely encapsulate the hungry imaginations of Filipino people the world over – and how he’s turning everyone’s childhood favorite into something much bigger than fried bananas.

“in the Philippines, turon is the quintiessential Filipino snack. On every corner in Manila, it’s a street food. People eat it any time of day – and it’s a personal childhood favorite, like a lot of people. I grew up in the streets of Cavite and Manila craving turon. But as I grew up, and immigrated, I found that wanted to do something more when the discussions came up with Coffee Adventure about a ‘gourmet turon’. And just like anyone else trying to represent their culture, I wanted to put my best food forward, and represent myself with pride, so I thought about how we could use turon as a vessel to explore Filipino culture,” Julius says.

A former travel writer and host on TFC’s Adobo Nation, Julius’s media work has allowed him to deeply explore the breadth and depth of Filipino cuisine – uncommon perspectives on regional cooking that he’s excited to bring to Turontastic.

“My writing career exposed me to all kinds of Filipino food from around the archipelago — there are so many of our people’s dishes that are so delicious that just aren’t known outside of their home region. We want Turontastic to actually reflect the whole nation — not just Manila. So, even though ube is a recent craze here in the US, our ube turon is carefully based on the traditional ube turon made in Davao. It’s the only place in The Philippines where they have it in the streets. They use a traditional ube halaya, then wrap it up and deep fry it as a turon – and thats the inspiration for our ube mochi turon, which we top with ube ice cream, ube powder, and jackfruit,” he says.

Following through on his intent to share his knowledge and complicate the discussion around Filipino food, Turontastic has grown into a complete experience of flavors that seeks to provide a more complete look at the diversity of the Filipino kitchen.

“We just changed our tagline to ‘Filipino Snacking Experience’, because we have more stuff now to offer — a proper Filipino meryenda. We serve Pancit Batil Patong, a dish from the Tuguegarao in northern Luzon that’s now a craze in Manila. It has a beef-based broth, topped with beef strips, and we use flat egg noodles. And on top of the beef strips, we put ground chicharron and quail eggs. It’s a totally different experience: it looks like the noodles are actually floating,” Julius says.

Image from iOS (8).jpg

The uniting thread across Julius’s evolving menu is that Filipino food always has the potential to be a brand new experience, for Filipinos and non-Filipinos alike. Armed with this strategy, Julius executes clever takes on timeless classics by pairing familiar ingredients with unconventional approaches.

What makes our halo-halo different is we use ube snow. Traditionally, halo-halo uses shaved ice and is topped with tropical fruits. Instead, we shave ube ice, or ube snow, and add mochi as well as popping boba. So it’s something that really riffs on things that people might know and like, but might have never tried in the format we present,” he says.

Still, alongside all of this progression, Julius also traces a much simpler story of Turontastic that’s best exemplified by its namesake offering.

“Really, it’s something that started as a birthday gift, and grew. We just want to continue making people happy. And we want to do that by making turon as iconic in the mainstream market as it is to anyone who had a Filipino childhood.”

Written by Paul Barrera, photos by Marky Enriquez.

FoodCat Jimenez
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.’” 


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. 

unnamed (3).jpg

“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. 

unnamed (1).jpg

“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
2019 Salo_002.jpg

“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.’”

2019 Salo_005.jpg

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.

2019 Salo_006.jpg

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.

2019 Salo_008.jpg

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.

2019 Salo_009.jpg

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.

2019 Salo_010.jpg

“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.

FoodCat Jimenezfood
Aliwang Lutu: A Different Style of Cooking
2019 Aliwang Lutu_020.jpg

“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.

2019 Aliwang Lutu_012.jpg

“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.

2019 Aliwang Lutu_015.jpg

“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.