Posts tagged filipino
The Art of Warriors

“We don’t do interviews.”


Seated around a shady, cutty picnic table on the southern edge of Lake Merritt in their hometown of Oakland, Aaron Jurell Sarmiento and Joe Aquilizan of Bayani Art — the East Bay collective that exclusively produces and promotes work documenting Filipino resistance — discuss why it’s so difficult to find media coverage of their project, which has grown into a relative phenomenon in Filipino communities across the globe, from Daly City to Saudi Arabia to Canada. They feel that every articulation and movement of Bayani Art should be intentional and purposeful, like a warrior in battle, and Joe and Aaron Jurell don’t see interviews — or recognition of any kind, for that matter — as a functional part of their work.

“I see us as ghostwriters. We're not concerned with image. We only care about creating a vehicle that takes people to a different awareness about themselves and their history. And the people that see the work, it's up to them to decide what direction they pilot that vehicle. We don't want to force anything on anyone. We're just sharing these histories and artworks because of the liberation and sense of self they’ve given us,” Aaron Jurell says.

Joe nods in agreement, then segues into a brief anecdote about their latest design featuring Rajah Sulayman, who led a revolt against Spanish invaders in 1574. For Joe and Aaron Jurell, Bayani Art should always reflect a secure and empowered sense of Filipino identity, based around a vast store of knowledge of the history of the islands that the pair have cultivated through serious study. Their proficiency in the narrative of the Filipino people has been strengthened over seven intensive years at Bayani Art, but for both Joe and Aaron Jurell — like many Filipino-Americans — the search for identity has certainly been much longer.


“Before we started Bayani Art, someone asked me about Filipino history, and I couldn't answer. I was so embarrassed that I could recite the history of another country, but I didn't know my own country's history. I felt like, “I need to know who I am.” And I realized it was almost impossible to find any accurate histories of our people — and that I wanted to find them. I think it's time for our people to realize that we have made major contributions to world history, and I feel like it's partly our responsibility to bring those stories to light. We need to know the stories of our warriors, the Bayanis who defended our people. Just the opportunity itself to learn about our true history is a huge motivator for why we do what we do,” Joe says.

Aaron Jurell continues, explaining how the pain and struggle associated with much of Filipino history requires him to constantly let down his guard in order for the lessons of history to be fully expressed in the work.

“We are just two brown men trying to do the right thing. What makes Bayani Art special is that we use our people’s history, our struggle, our flaws, to our advantage. Everything that has ‘Bad,’ written all over it, we’ve learned to use that to our advantage. Learning to be vulnerable and explore the struggle and resistance of our people, and sharing what that did for us, is what makes the project meaningful. The simple exchange of giving someone a shirt, you don't know how much joy that gives me to share our history. All people deserve to feel that joy,” he says.


And as pupils of history, Bayani Art’s major preoccupation is to properly honor the stories of the heroes and heroines of the Philippines. Each design is essentially an academic exercise, requiring exhaustive research and dialogue with the artists as well as expert historians and elders, ensuring that each piece produced by Bayani Art is an artifact consistent with the long legacy of Filipino power.

“The Katipunan hat -- which is sold out already -- took half a year to create. That's a long damn time. Designs like that don’t just come out of thin air. We meet with the artists, discuss what’s possible. And once it's completed and approved from a visual standpoint, we send it to the historians and my historian friends will look at it and tell me, "No, fix this, this isn't accurate," so it goes back and forth, back and forth. That's how a design can take six months,” Joe says.

“And sometimes, six months might not even be enough time. There are designs we've released that we could have spent 10 years refining and perfecting. When you're dealing with the material we are dealing with, taking that time and being delicate with the histories is absolutely necessary. Absolutely,” Aaron Jurell says.

Both Joe and Aaron Jurell understand the stories that Bayani Art tells as part of a lineage of Filipino resistance that extends to the present day — the ongoing legacy of a warrior people, expressed through art that preserves the beauty and honor of their struggle. 


“Doing this project has helped me understand myself more. I've become a better human being because of Bayani Art. I’ve become a better father. Bayani Art has taught me so much about who I am and where I come from. We're just trying to communicate with our people, and inspire our people. That's what our people need, from generation to generation. Our children need to always learn more about who they are,” Joe says.

And they feel that Undiscovered SF is a perfect platform for that learning to continue growing and flourishing in the Filipino community.

“Our people need to find a way back to ourselves, and knowing our true history is a big first step to getting to where we need to be. The new generation is really doing it. Doing Undiscovered SF, it's something amazing and different, where you’re seeing such an emphasis and pride around the simple fact of being Filipino — just being Filipino. We're honored to be a part of it. Seven years is a long time to be doing this, and we've never seen an event like Undiscovered SF,” Aaron Jurell says.

Pinoy Heritage’s Trans-Pacific Pantry

Emerging from clouds of fragrant barbecue smoke masking the crowd at Pacific Cocktail Haven on Sutter, Chef Francis Ang of Pinoy Heritage, in shorts and an apron, projects a calming energy that seems to quiet the overwhelming din of the popular happy-hour haunt. He shakes hands, offers a quick smile, then shrugs.


“So I guess I’ll just fire away. You aren’t allergic to anything, right?” he says casually, and turns back for the kitchen, expertly skating through the amoebic crowd toward the kitchen steps, nestled in a crook between the bar and lounge.

Minutes later, the first plate arrives: corn with crab fat butter and salted duck egg powder, flanked by bistec skewers -- garnished with preserved calamansi -- and chicken inasal with marinated cucumbers and pickled garlic. A second plate presents grilled figs with chorizo and purslane mixed greens, beside Francis’ lobster pancit, followed by the third course: sisig fried rice with pickled onions, topped with a perfectly poached egg. Soon after, Francis reappears at the table with slightly disheveled hair and his hands on his hips, nodding thoughtfully at our scraped-clean plates before sitting down to talk about the history of his project -- rooted in a strong sense of duty and service to the Filipino community.

“My wife and I went back to the Philippines during Typhoon Haiyan, so about 2013, and we were stuck there, we got hit by the typhoon, we were like spot on where the typhoon made landfall. So we did a small fundraiser there, and then we came back to San Frncisco and put on a full-on fundraiser at The Fifth Floor, where I was the pastry chef. We did an all-Filipino dinner with a bunch of Filipino friends, and a bunch of restaurants supported, and a lot of people came out as well, and that kind of triggered us to do what’s become Pinoy Heritage.”

The project’s name genuinely reflects the Pinoy Heritage team’s dedication to a thorough, ongoing examination of the Filipino kitchen and its countless iterations across the islands of the Philippines.

“We've been back to the Philippines twice recently: the first time was six months, last year, and this year we are at two-and-a-half months. We have been traveling to different regions, learning the cuisine, and learning how things are prepared. It means a lot because we get to express our country's food: it's not 100 percent per se, because we are doing it with California ingredients.”

It’s a demanding research process that Francis, through his education, is familiar with and thus happy to undertake -- but it also serves as to inform Francis’ main space of self-expression.

“Obviously, our grandparents are big influences on our food, but honestly, cooking ... I don't know. There's no real reason I started. I went to the University of Santo Tomas in the Philippines for Food Technology, then I came out here and went straight to culinary school. I didn't study anything else. So I have been cooking ever since I was, I don't know, 19? And then I have always cooked both savory and pastry, but since I went to culinary school, I met this pastry chef/instructor Mark Hobson, he's really talented, he opened my eyes to how you can be artistic, because I can't really sing, or dance, or do any other artistic stuff, and I realized that cooking was an outlet for my creativity.”

Today, part of satisfying that creative impulse means engaging with larger currents surrounding Filipino food culture and, Francis says, working to turn his personal expression into work that benefits his community.

“The Filipino food movement is kind of a wake-up call, you know, since Filipino food sort of blew up and it happened, it just kind of woke up a bunch of Filipinos. It's time for us to open our own joints, it's time to do Filipino food because it's like -- why can't we get good Filipino food in the City? Right now, it's there in small pockets, but it's not obvious. And it just makes sense that we want to try to open something and be part of that, and grow Filipino cuisine to where it is more accessible.”

At the same time, Francis sees that growth as going hand-in-hand with a perspective that looks beyond simply serving “Filipino food.”


“I don't see what I am doing as solely Filipino food -- I am trying to compete with the rest of the good restaurants in the City. It's not just like, I want to be better than X restaurant -- I want to be like Liho Liho Yacht Club, it's packed every day, I want to be like State Bird Provisions. It's not just good Filipino food that's my goal. It’s a good restaurant.”

Francis’ crazy delicious offerings at UNDISCOVERED will include barbecue skewers, from-scratch pancit, and sisig fried rice.

“UNDISCOVERED is great exposure for Filipino culture. Because a lot of people have no idea where the Philippines is, let alone how to spell it! So that's going to be a wake-up call, and then they are going to realize how good Filipino food is, and everybody is going to go eat Filipino food more than any other cuisine. Just kidding!" 

Fantastic Filipino Flavor From the 5 A’s Family

“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.” 

Foodmarky enriquezfilipino, bbq
Mestiza Mixes Influences with Ease

“There's something about Filipinos and Filipino culture, we are just so adaptable, and as a people we’ve been exposed to so many different influences, so I think it's just part of our DNA.”


The after-work crowd at Mestiza, the popular eatery on Bryant and Fourth, is building to a low rumble, and Deanna Sison Foster shuts the door to her office just as a Michael Jackson impersonator settles down at the bar with a frosty bottle of San Miguel. Mestiza is Deanna’s fourth and most recent project -- she was also on the teams behind Famer Brown, Little Skillet, and Victory Hall and Parlor -- and she explains how each endeavor expresses her perspectives on food as a Filipina-American with a rather unique upbringing.

“Coming from a Filipino family, food was an important part of our family traditions. In Florida, we would get together with other Filipinos and have big picnics around food, but then we moved to Germany. So my parents were from the Philippines, and I was living in Germany , but raised in American culture. So the influences of what I ate were always varied. We were a military family and entertained frequently. My mom, who was a great cook, would often be thematic about her dinner parties -- everything from sushi to Indian curry, to Filipino food. So I guess that eating as part of a cultural practice and socialization was a big part of my life, and something that I have always enjoyed.”


It’s an energy of communal enjoyment that Deanna was able to duplicate at her previous projects -- and something that’s in great supply at Mestiza, where Chef Sophina Uong (formerly of Calavera and Picán in Oakland) lends her expert hand in a range of cuisines and techniques to create taqueria and pulutan-inspired selections, rooted in an encyclopedic range of Southeast Asian and Latin flavors.

“I just want to be surrounded by good food, good people, and good vibes, so that’s how Mestiza was born: paying homage to my Filipino roots, as well as the way that I grew up eating a mixture of different cultures and influences. Even the word Mestiza' traditionally, it's common Filipino slang to refer to a person of Spanish origin. But my interpretation of 'Mestiza' is its true meaning, which is mixed, and I feel like that’s what we’re about: this harmonious mixing of cultures.”



It’s a pattern that Deanna sees reflected in the rich cultural history of the Bay Area, as well as the histories of both Filipino and Mexican peoples.


“Mestiza speaks to a lot of people who grew up in the Bay Area, because everyone comes from a different background. I think the Mexican notion of a taqueria is awesome, and I wanted to give props to Chavo’s, the taqueria that was in this spot for 30 years -- I felt like we needed to highlight the rich culinary history that Mexico and the Philippines share. For 200 years, the Mexico-Manila galleon exchanged produce, spices, and other foods between the two lands. There are so many similarities between Mexican and Filipino cuisine, and the flavors and ingredients that we use.”

Still, Deanna is careful to stress that Sophina’s food won’t be limited by traditional cultural markers, and wants Mestiza to truly represent its philosophy of constantly mixing and remixing ideas in and out of the kitchen -- although presenting Filipino food that reflects her generation’s tastes, a relative rarity until recent years, remains a focus.

“San Francisco is really known as this culinary capital where you can find basically any ethnic cuisine -- it is heaven because we have the best of the best. But I found that Filipino food was really underrepresented, and I knew that it fit very well with the flavors and spices of Mexican cuisine. I think that’s how a lot of the newer generation of Filipino-Americans have grown up, eating, enjoying, and identifying with a lot of different influences.”


This mixing of cultures has produced a unique and varied Filipino-American identity that Deanna is excited to experience at UNDISCOVERED, where Mestiza will be serving Pork Adobo Nachos with Achara and Epazote Crema, Vegetarian Chicarrones topped with Chile Con Queso, and their famous Sticky Wings served with a spicy Chile Morita Sauce.

“We are overdue for an event like UNDISCOVERED. Filipino-Americans have played such a big role, especially in San Francisco, that it’s about time we had a designated cultural district and I am super proud and excited to be part of it. The Filipino-American culture here in the City is so strong and unified with so much amazing talent, I can’t wait to see us all out there.” 

Foodmarky enriquezmexican, filipino