Have Filipino food, will travel
NEW YORK CITY — She traveled around the USA, igniting sparks of enthusiasm. She fired up bellies with what is traditionally familiar: Filipino food.
Yana Gilbuena is the chef creator of the Salo Series, an original concept of traveling and cooking her way around the 50 states of the USA.
Her adventurous spirit is refreshing. Her journey to every city reads like a splendid buffet: snorkeling in Key West, Florida; touring a pig farm in South Carolina then cooking at a beach house hours later; curing pork tocino in Raleigh, North Carolina; serving food kamayan-style (without utensils) on banana leaves in Virginia Beach; cooking for a sold-out group of 80 in Washington, DC.; spending Easter in Delaware; making an adventurous menu for Philly’s Asian Art initiative; dining at a rooftop in New York City; partying at an industrial loft in Providence, Rhode Island; meeting Pinoys on a ferry to Anchorage, Alaska.
Since we last cooked together in New Jersey, she had continued on to Denver, to Nebraska and plans to end the 50-state experience in Hawaii.
For the past year, Yana has been bringing people of all ages together in every state for Filipino pop-up dinners. Pop-ups are meals cooked by a chef in various locations, not necessarily a single permanent place.
Yana recreated her grandmother’s cuisine as experienced from childhood. Her Filipino palate is strong. No matter where she goes in the world, the authentic Filipino flavors are with her, and she transforms them into traditional dishes, sourced from ingredients in the locality.
She buys her ingredients from wherever she is and then weaves in her natural flair and instinct for what is the right timpla (flavor). Her goal is to bring people together through Filipino cooking. This is what the Salo Series is about. Filipino food is at the heart of it all.
Yana was born in Bacolod, Negros Occidental, and grew up in Iloilo City. An only child, Yana was raised by her grandmother. They lived in the district of La Paz, well known for its batchoy(soup with noodles and organ meats). After high school, Yana went to the University of the Philippines-Diliman for her BS in psychology.
Having lived in the US for 10 years now, Yana’s independent, adventurous streak got her started on the Salo Series.
“I always believe that when we are out of our comfort zones, that’s when we break through the walls we’ve built and start to discover who we really are, what we’re capable of, “ she explains.
“Being in a foreign land, not having family and friends, your support system can only go two ways: either you break down or you fight through it. I believe that as Filipinos, we are strong, we have the ability to see the positive side of every situation, make the most of it and emerge better.”
Yana maintains a sense of gratitude and wonder anywhere she goes. No obstacles or challenges make her lose sight of her goal. In every dinner she prepares, Yana shares her heritage and roots.
Yana came to my home in early fall to cook with me. I had ingredients fully stocked in my pantry. I gave her the choice to cook anything. She baked a bibingka (rice cake) for merienda(snack). This is not the easiest thing to do when one is visiting someone’s home and kitchen the first time. She efficiently whipped up this favorite Filipino rice cake. We relished the buttery slices while she told me travel stories and shared recipes.
Yana takes into account the people who will eat her food. When planning the menu, she gives people what they will enjoy. Her choice of dishes is based on what she buys from the local markets: sisig (sizzling chopped up pork head parts), tocino (sweet bacon), chicharon bulaklak (crispy chitlins), mango float, flan and many more traditional Filipino favorites.
Not every dinner is perfect. There have been challenges, cancellations and location-related issues. But nothing discourages Yana.
“I recalibrate. I go for a run, a hike, be one with nature. Being outdoors puts things in perspective for me. So long as I have clothes on my back, food to eat, a roof over my head, everything is going to work out. Humility helps me see things clearly.”
To aspiring chefs, Yana’s advice is, “Do it for the passion, not the money. In the words of my biology professor ‘whatever you do, do it the best way you can, people will notice.’”
What’s next on her journey? “I want to keep traveling, doing pop-ups, collaborations with people.”
From Hawaii, her last planned stop in America, Yana heads back to the Philippines next year. Salo Series may go to Asia. Plus she’s got 7,000+ islands waiting to be explored. Yana may just turn up in your city. Bring your appetites when she does.
For more stories on the Filipino diaspora go to PositivelyFilipino.com
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