Posts tagged modern
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!" 

Sarap Shop’s Filipino-American Dream

“I got yelled at, I didn't know any lingo, and they put me in charge of one of the dishes for brunch! It was like a frito mixto, so it was like tempura-fried vegetables. I was like, ‘Oh man, what am I doing here!’”


Kristen Brillantes gives a hearty smile as her partner JP Reyes recounts his door-to-door search for his first job as a cook just five years ago, something he pursued after a realization common among young Americans took hold in their relationship: both he and Kristen wanted out of their day jobs.

“I was working at Google, and he was at One Medical, and we would take BART together from Daly City and get off at Embarcadero every day, and every day we would both be like, "I hate my job!" Eventually, we had a discussion, and I didn't think he was really going to quit his job, but then he did that day. And he knocked on different restaurant doors in Jackson Square, and he was just asking like, 'Can I work here for the day?' And then he ended up working that first shift at Cotogna, and made a ton of mistakes!” Kristen says.

The intensity of the experience only fueled JP’s curiosity about the restaurant industry, and together, he and Kristen quickly began exploring how to use food to pivot away from their traditional jobs and toward a project closer to the heart.

“After the first gig, they said, ‘Just read up in some books, you don't really have to go to culinary school, it's not worth the money, getting out of school and having all that debt, the best way to learn is to be hands on, learning in the kitchen.’ And I would watch my mom cook every now and then, but mainly Kristen's mom was the one I got close with, and we started cooking together and I was learning from her.”

It was a learning process that Kristen quickly joined in on, something she says is not just a direct outgrowth of her professional education outside of food, but also a reflection of her and JP’s shared values of relationship-building and community.

“I got interested in cooking mostly because I was like, "Why are [my mom and JP], the two people I want to spend time with, always hanging out without me?" They wouldn't let me in the kitchen! I was like, "Teach me!" I have always been involved professionally in team. development and organizational behavior. So it's like, how can we actually be supportive partners to one another, where our relationship isn't just romantic? We should be in a position where we know what each other's individual goals are, and support that. We just wanted to build a business where, you are spending all of these hours working, you might as well spend it with people you want to be spending time with anyways," Kristen says.

Kristen cites this familial, communal energy as a key aspect of the Sarap Shop project, and reflection of the decidedly Filipino values built into its menu of fiesta favorites, including adobo, reflection of the decidedly Filipino values built into its menu of fiesta favorites, including adobo, tofu sisig, and a vegetarian laing (taro leaves stewed in coconut milk).

“They say what makes Filipino food is that it's always cooked form the heart, and that's why it's so different from house to house to house. So when we were making our menu, we were cooking all stuff that are the favorite things that people in our lives like to eat. Like the tofu sisig, my brother's girlfriend is vegetarian, and sometimes there isn’t something for everyone on [Filipino menus]. And that's not the vibe I've ever felt growing up in a Filipino home, like, everyone should feel loved and feel welcome through the food. So I guess we have signature dishes, but I think the loving intention is what we try to portray as our signature thing: that our menu is inclusive so everyone feels like you were meant to eat here with us,” Kristen says.


At the same time, she says that Sarap Shop’s roots in traditional Filipino values are far from stagnant, and that the project’s emphasis is on a progression that seeks to further refine what it means to be Filipino-American, in and out of the kitchen.

“I am excited about UNDSCVRD because it is so Filipino to do. It's not just food, we are doing all the things, and it's like, you know when you have Filipino holiday parties, or like family parties, and everybody is doing their talent? So that's hella what it feels like to me. Like, 'Yo this is just a big family party and everybody is doing the talent show part,' but nobody's parents are forcing them to do it. We are just doing it!”

“Being American, it's like a salad bowl. Everything should retain its own identity and character, but when you put it together, it elevates everything, so we try to keep that in perspective. [You take] all the stuff your parents taught us, and evolve from that, and I think that's a link to the American values. There is a new generation of [Filipino-Americans] interested in conscious living, and community, and people not wanting to live by themselves anymore -- there is a communal aspect to living and business that feels less stressful, and I feel like events like this can demonstrate to older generations and to future generations that there is modeled behavior that you can keep showing, that you don’t have to do it alone. That you can share resources, and everyone can succeed, and there is enough success to go around,” Kristen says.

It’s a uniquely Filipino-American philosophy that she feels is reflected in the UNDSCVRD Night Market, where visitors can sample Sarap Shop’s famous tofu sisig and adobo, as well as pick up bottles of their house-made spicy condiment, Manila Sauce.