Posts in Food
A Championship-Level Confluence of Traditions is Happening at MAC BBQ

‘I think, being Filipino, as children we develop a palette for, like, a variety of flavors – we understand, you know, what flavor is. But it’s not this academic thing, or like, a chef thing. It’s just what you learned to eat from your mom or dad or whatever. It’s very Filipino to understand food as not just a passion but, like, a way of life. We take that ethic with us every time we produce our barbecue.’

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Chris Cave and John Valenton are the minds behind MAC BBQ. They’re not a restaurant, a pop-up, or a project. They’re ‘strictly a barbecue team,’ students of what they describe as the ‘dogmatic’ traditions of American barbecue that are ultimately rooted in the deep South. In this way, MAC BBQ might better be understood as a cooperative, culinary pursuit shared by two longtime friends, rather than a straight-up food business.


‘We’re constantly trying to find the perfect cook … sort of. It’s more like, we’re always constantly trying to work on and think about our craft and find something that sticks and that people like – especially us – and then share it with friends and family. That’s really the best description of what we do, or why MAC BBQ exists,’ Chris says.

Boasting an educated pedigree that counts some of the barbecue world’s most established names (and Grand Champions) as mentors, John and Chris understand that truly authentic and contest-tier barbecue experiences can only come from the artisanal hands of tested pitmasters. You can literally taste the pair’s respect for the methods and practices that define American barbecue culture. Still, John carefully points to his Filipino childhood as his earliest exposure to the essential craftsmanship and details of true home cooking.

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‘My family is super Americanized. None of us spoke Tagalog. But of course, we still ate Filipino food at home. Back in the day, though, there were no Filipino food stores around us, my mom made everything from scratch. Lumpia wrapper from scratch. Bagoong from scratch, grinding up leftover shrimp shells into a paste. She had to do that all by herself. So that sort of became the tradition and the culture around food in my household. We were all just really well-versed in how to work with care and attention in the kitchen,’ John says.

Although MAC BBQ can sometimes be spotted serving its take on tocino – and both John and Chris are lifelong fans of Filipino BBQ – their identity lies distinctly within the realm of traditional, American barbecue competitions, regardless of how far they decide to express their identity as a restaurant. And as a traditional barbecue endeavor, they know that progress along either front will require doing things right, and doing them right very, very often, in order to sustain a culture of excellence – something John says he finds by staying rooted in Filipino culture.

‘My mom’s style of cooking is all about routine – a pinch of this, a pinch of that. It’s not precise, but it works because she’s following her routine. With barbecue, there are so many idiosyncrasies, so many things that can happen because you're working with wildfire. At every stage, there is a right way of doing something, and there's a wrong way. We pride ourselves on never taking shortcuts, on never wavering from our routine – at all. Everything that our patrons receive is basically the best you can get – from prime meats to the best wood to ideal methods. And I think that’s another way we express our Filipino heritage – we really want the best experience for people eating our food,’ John says.

Written by Paul Barrera. Photos from MAC BBQ.

FoodCat Jimenez
Straight Up: A Bar of Brothers

The standard experience of a bar at a catered event is, you know, all black outfit, oxblood vest, very formal. The bartenders and almost robotic, and the menu is boring. Rum and coke, that’s it; no flavor, no character. So we decided to develop event-specific cocktails depending on the event, and the people we were working with – not just because it was good business, but because that’s really what we wanted to do. Create good drinks, develop our talent, be challenged,” Paolo says.

Paolo Dayao, his partner and best-friend since Kindergarten Joseph Alcasabas, and little brother and chef Vince Dayao are the minds and muscle behind pop-up bar Straight Up. Put onto the bar hustle by Joseph’s cousin Randolph Cabrera, the pair are the creators of the hit Milo-Coco mocktail – which drew thirsty patrons of all ages and backgrounds at the July debut of Undiscovered SF’s 2019 season. Today, the Straight Up team’s concept focuses on complete Filipino flavor experiences that pair mixed drinks (masterminded by Joseph and Paolo) with Vince’s evolving approach to Filipino food.

Straigt Up Bar and Bites at Undiscovered SF Night Market 2019

“While we were exploring the world of trying to open a bar, Paolo’s youngest brother, Vince, started to grow in the kitchen; plus, I feel like growing up Filipino develops a special relationship with food – your passion and your love through food. That led to a collaboration with Vince we called Silog Mondays, where we paired Filipino inspired cocktails with his food. It was really popular, and that was where we realized, ‘Hey, we got something going,’” Joseph says.

Riding a three-year journey – from a creative catering-bar project into a fully-fledged, Filipino-focused bar and food program – what’s most refreshing about Straight Up is how they point their roots as key motivators for their hustle, and understand their business as a way to express gratitude for the chance to increase Filipino representation.


“I spent a part of my childhood in the Philippines, I have really vivid memories of sitting in Manila traffic, and kids my age knocking on our car window asking for change. It made me sad to know that those were the cards they’d been dealt – and being on the other side of the glass, I knew it meant I had to make the most out of my cards. Some people just don't get the chance to do what they love or what they want. So we're blessed enough to have this opportunity, and we have to pursue it because we could have easily been dealt a different hand,” Joseph says.

In turn, Straight Up also embraces the value of growing in the SOMA Pilipinas community alongside the rest of Bay Area Filipino culinary scene – carefully noting the uniquely productive and creative possibilities of working closely with people you trust deeply.

“I feel like the Filipino food industry is very tight knit. Like, everyone kind of knows each other; everyone kind of recognizes each other’s work. Like, at Undiscovered in July, we were setting up our tent and I was like ‘Damn, that guy over there is hustling! Am I doing enough right here?’ So, I feel like that motivation, in and of itself has created more challenges for me, Joseph, and Vince to kind of push harder, you know? To make better drinks, and really do a compete experience with food and drink,” Paolo says.

“The great thing about growing in SOMA Pilipinas is when people who you just met give you that feeling, like they’re looking out for you, for sure. You know? Even though they don’t even know you, they’re here to help you, wanting to build that relationships which is really ... they’re building more than relationships, you know?” Joseph says.

Armed with such a mature and evolved perspective on their work, Straight Up’s excitement about their craft and product pushes boundaries, asking patrons to engage with different perspectives on Filipino culture and truly consider what it is that makes a meal, or a drink, a special experience.

“For us to carry on the Filipino tradition, I feel like would be through the food because that’s all we cooked and ate growing up. And, you know, just seeing how it brought everyone together all the parties and the focus on family, and togetherness. You learn that at such a young age, it just becomes a part of you, you know? It was cool to me! And still is. So we definitely want to push like that aspect of like, family, community, and getting people together, and feeling good,” Paolo says.


Written by Paul Barrera.

FoodCat Jimenezfood
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!’”

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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.

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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.’” 

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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.