Leap and the Net will Appear [Part Dalawa {2}: Charm City Night Market]

 Baybayin print (Photo by Zhou Winston  @wzhoupho  to )

Baybayin print (Photo by Zhou Winston @wzhouphoto)

“Leap and the Net Will Appear.” I don’t know if it’s because I’m a liberal artist, a dreaming American, a spoiled Millennial, or a stubborn Aries—but for some reason this quote fuels me to wonder, explore, and create without fear. To me, this quote sends the message that if we just go for the thing we want, the thing we dream about and yearn for, the universe will conspire to support us and make sure we succeed.

Sometimes I fight this feeling of curiosity and try to obtain a “normal life” by focusing on my client-based, secure, 9 to 5 career. Oftentimes I am even scared of the feeling because of this looming thought that if I don’t succeed then I will disappoint my parents and my whole family. However, I push hard to stay empowered and motivated by this quote. Thank God for that, because this little quote led us to start hosting supper clubs from our crowded dining room and tiny galley kitchen back in 2015, contribute to our first ever published recipe and story for The New Filipino Kitchen, and it’s what encouraged us to sell artwork at the first ever Charm City Night Market.

Prior to the Night Market, Timpla had been quiet to the public for quite some time, sitting comfortably in the silo of our living room as we shared our new focus of storytelling and artwork through the internet. Yes, we were sending out monthly emails and getting positive responses from subscribers, but we hadn’t really poured our souls to the community since our last supper club in 2017. Which is why when Stephanie Hsu (@chinadollbaltimore) and Leandro Legara (@foodnomad) of The Chinatown Collective approached me to sell work for an upcoming Asian-American night market she was organizing, the little voice in my head whispered {or maybe more like shouted}, “Yes, it’s time to leap!”

Until then I had only vendored twice, at the Baltimore Vintage Flea. Whether it was a mismatched audience or general inexperience on my part, both events only managed to sell a handful of pieces. As a result, I worried that our new artistic endeavor would not and could not be as successful as our previous food endeavors. Food was easy—everyone likes to eat (especially Filipinos) and we had years of collective experience in the food industry. Selling artwork, on the other hand, was a whole new ball game. Once I confirmed with Stephanie, my mind began to race with anxiety: will people like, understand, or care about our work; will they view us as legitimate in the art field; will they finally find out that we in fact don’t know what we’re doing, and that we’re just carelessly leaping off cliffs and hoping to find nets?

 Manning our booth at the Charm City Night Market (Photo by Jasper Samson  @jaspaaah )

Manning our booth at the Charm City Night Market (Photo by Jasper Samson @jaspaaah)

With doubts in our minds but promises made and money already deposited for vendor fees, we had no choice but to push on. When brainstorming what to create for the market, we started with some basic concepts that we thought would be most marketable to the attendees: watercolors of Philippine flowers, landscapes of beaches, etc. We conceptualized for days but were neither excited nor enticed to create any pieces. We eventually realized that this is because when one creates art, he/she cannot simply push themselves to do the work if there is no emotional connection to the act. It is not like doing mindless paperwork or doing the same tedious task over and over again. It must be felt from deep within the heart and soul; felt by the purest form of self; the self that is most closely tied to the divine.

Feeling unmotivated and discouraged with our brainstorming, we scrapped the bland, watered-down ideas of what we thought could sell and shifted our energy towards what we knew in our souls we wanted to express. We brainstormed ideas about what would excite us to create meaningful work that we would be proud of even if no one was interested in purchasing them. Once I let my guard down and stopped approaching the project by what I thought people would be willing to pay for, I shifted my attention to my favorite topic—the one topic that I keep gravitating towards year after year, project after project: baybayin and indigenous tribal symbols. These were the themes for my senior projects in college, the basis for our Timpla logo, and the only thing that really fuels me to create. With that, we read through our go-to books on Filipino tribal symbols (1) and baybayin (2), scanned old notes from similar projects, and constructed new concepts inspired by Filipino life and history. In the end, we came up with seven strong pieces ranging from lighthearted and recognizable to deeper and more thought-provoking:

In the month leading up to the night market, we denied any and all social gatherings to work on the pieces. There were long nights of flurried designing, but the time we spent making art didn’t feel like work at all—in fact, it felt like a beast had unleashed from sleeping quietly within our bones and heart, a feeling similar to when we used to plan and execute our supper clubs. We felt stress and stiff joints along with elation, adrenaline, and excitement as we prepared our beloved pieces to showcase and sell. We weren’t confident in the audience reception, but we decided to take the leap and anticipated what we would meet on the other side.

 Our amazing parents supported us by coming to the art show!

Our amazing parents supported us by coming to the art show!

On Saturday, September 22nd, a quiet and otherwise abandoned grassy field right outside of downtown Baltimore was transformed into a busy and bustling array of activity. Chinese lanterns and string lights lined table tents and buildings. Food vendors, artists, crafters, dancers, musicians, and performers brought the space to life. Streets were closed down in order to make room for the foot traffic of 12,000 attendees! And at the center of the tent arrangement, right across from the stage, we carefully and meticulously set up our grand reveal of Timpla’s rebrand—telling the story of immigration and cultural identity through art.

 Our amazing titas Vivian and Lyn surprised us with their attendance!

Our amazing titas Vivian and Lyn surprised us with their attendance!

The night began in full swing, with attendees circling the perimeter even before the event officially started. As the evening progressed, more and more people scattered throughout the space and—much to our surprise—tens, dozens, and eventually hundreds of people curiously stopped at our booth. Filipinos and non-Filipinos alike were drawn to our colorful watercolors of jeepney, parol, and bahay kubo; our bold digital prints of baybayin and tribal symobls representing kapamilya (family), mandarigma (warrior), and diyosa (goddess); our nouveau pop prints of flowers, teacups, and maps of Maryland and DC. And, at the forefront of our booth, angled to be the first piece seen—and the one that initiated the most stops and conversation—was the alphabet guide for reading and writing in baybayin.

Prior to the show, we focused on being as humble as possible to minimize the blow—we told ourselves that if we can sell six pieces, it will have been the best market we’ve participated in. Thank God that the reaction from attendees was more supportive, uplifting, and empowering than anything we could have ever imagined! I wish there was a way to express in words the elation we felt as each person stopped by the booth to compliment, praise, and adore our pieces. The people that came into our booth were blown away with the level of creativity, detail, and uniqueness of the pieces.

We met so many diverse and curious people that asked questions about Philippine indigenous culture—a topic so overshadowed by Spanish colonization that most Filipinos don’t even know of its existence; men and women with tribal symbols and baybayin tattooed to their bodies; Fil-Ams excited to finally see art that told their stories and connected them to their homeland; non-Filipinos who bought pieces because they felt connected to the themes; and—as an ego boost—praises on our artistic skills and ability to tell such complex ideas through beautiful products. And in case you were curious: yes, we ended up selling way more than six pieces!

When the evening finally ended well into the night, we were swollen with appreciation and satisfaction to have landed on the net that we so hoped would appear. We realized, as we had time and time again, that taking the risk was worthwhile as it open doors and opportunities that we would have never come across. We truly learned an important lesson that evening: as the renowned artist Marina Abramović stated, “An artist should look deep inside himself for inspiration; the deeper he looks inside himself, the more universal he becomes.”

  1. Filipino Tattoos: Ancient to Modern by Lane Wilcken

  2. An Introduction to Baybayin by Kristian Kabuay

Leap and the Net Will Appear [Part Isa {1}: The New Filipino Kitchen]

 Contributors at  The New Filipino Kitchens  book launch, September 2018

Contributors at The New Filipino Kitchens book launch, September 2018

The journey of Timpla has been a series of immense leaps taken—with the hope that nets will appear with each plunge. Thankfully, we have landed on nets in so many more ways than we could have ever imagined. From our first supper club held on October 20, 2015 to the book launch of an anthology we contributed to on September 27, 2018—we have been lucky and blessed for all the times the oceans have parted and allowed us to cross its mystical and uncertain waters.

Our first official leap was a “soft launch” of the supper club back in June 2015—a trial run for our friends of what we hoped Timpla would be. We conducted this dinner about 5 months after sitting together on a cold Saturday morning in a Safeway food court to write down our mission and vision for Timpla (read about our beginnings in our first blog). This soft launch became the basis for how we would continue to execute our future supper clubs. Dozens of unknown questions sped through our minds as we planned the event: how do we do the introduction; what should our pricing be; how much time will each course take; in what order do we want to present the dishes; what kind of music should we play; how should we dress? To our immense relief, we didn’t have to worry as much as we thought—both Filipino and non-Filipino friends LOVED the soft launch! The reactions we received assured us that our vision was clear, executed well, and we were encouraged to just be ourselves. Their positive feedback and constructive criticism helped us realize that maybe we can actually do this.

A few months later, we became involved with a Filipino-based event called NextDayBetter. As part of the planning committee, we worked with an amazing group to curate a speaker event featuring notable leaders in various industries. And of course, we were in charge of the food and beverage portion. We used this perfect opportunity to premiere Timpla to the public. Although we had never done a "real" event and were not confident in our abilities to cater for hundreds of people, we curiously took the leap to see if a net would appear. Our debut occurred during the opening session as guests entered. We presented a dish that highlighted our culinary style: squid ink qwek qwek with guajillo aioli and atchara—a modern take on classic Filipino street food. To our surprise and amazement, guests loved the dish—from the unique presentation of a hard-boiled egg encased in black squid ink batter to the playful combination of various flavors. They asked about our inspiration behind the dish, and we shared our story and what we do—or at least planned to do—with our supper clubs. We left the event with lots of connections and requests to “sign me up for the next one!” Little did they know, the next one was actually going to be first one.

With excitement rolled over from the NextDayBetter event, we felt like we were finally ready for our first official supper club. We executed a dinner for eight guests by corralling some attendees from the event as well as some who learned about us through social media. Although we were filled with nerves with the looming thought, “People actually paid for this!”—we tried to stay calm and remember the advice our friends had given us: you have an amazing product and a solid plan to execute this dinner; just be yourselves, tell your story, and the rest will be fine. As the doorbell began to ring and new faces appeared, we started by shakily introducing ourselves, presenting wine, and allowing the evening to flow as naturally as possible. The nerves soon faded away as enticing and genuine conversations took place. Little did we know, a small but steadily increasing group of folks were rooting for us to succeed and anxious to be part of future events!

After the success of the first one, we continued doing supper clubs monthly, each time getting better at timing, communication, presentation, and comfort level. It transitioned from being a nervous ordeal to just hosting a really fun party with great food, drinks, and company. That’s when the net showed its full appearance. We began meeting and connecting with Filipino foodies, artists, and community leaders all over the country; becoming friends with our guests and sharing other events and dining experiences with them; getting asked to speak in panels and doing interviews for media articles; and getting asked to do weddings and private parties. One of the best opportunities during that crazy, exciting, adrenaline-filled two years was an opportunity to contribute a recipe and story for a cookbook.

 Cookbooks ready for sale!

Cookbooks ready for sale!

Jackie Chio Lauri first reached out to us in 2016 with a mission to create a food anthology of Filipinos living throughout the world. She learned about Timpla from other contributors, read through our website, and appreciated the way we wove together food and culture. Having no clue what to expect or even if this project would come to fruition, we boldly agreed to contribute. We recycled the cassava cake recipe from our first supper club and took about three hours the day before the deadline to write the story (sorry Jackie!). We wrote a simple prompt about growing up with family parties almost every weekend. Similar to doubts during our first supper club, we hadn’t yet understood our potential in writing and storytelling.

Several weeks later we received feedback from Jackie: our story was good but not cohesive with the recipe and did not have a capturing flow or organized prose. Initially we were frustrated because the writing style was similar to that of our blogs which we thought were written with our best abilities; therefore, we were confused as to what was missing. However, several correspondences with Jackie taught us that our story was in fact one note and overly simple—it wasn’t taking the reader on a journey. With this advice, we flipped the narrative. Instead of setting the scene at our aunt’s house, we began in our Petworth rowhouse and weaved together our supper clubs with those childhood parties—showing that whether traditional or modern, Filipino food has been and will always be the connector of people, family, and friends.

Working with Jackie to revise the story and perfect the recipe showed us what a talented writer and excellent leader she really was—she encouraged us to push past our comfort level and create work better than we ever thought we could make. She brought together thirty very different contributors for a memoir that encapsulated the uniqueness of Filipino identity as a whole. As the project evolved and the book began to take real form, Jackie created a Facebook group where we constantly received updates: from getting White House Chef Cris Comerford to be a contributor, to obtaining an agent and publisher, to sharing a release date, to winning awards and obtaining noteworthy reviews, to showing us photos of the book days before it’s release. Alas, the net had appeared for not just our hard work, but the hard work of 29 other contributors and one amazing leader—The New Filipino Kitchen: Stories and Recipes From Around the Globe was released on September 18th, 2018, nearly two years after its conception.

 Kristina reading an excerpt from our story  Anatomy of a Filipino Party

Kristina reading an excerpt from our story Anatomy of a Filipino Party

A book launch for The New Filipino Kitchen was held on September 27th at Kramberbooks in Dupont Circle, an evening brought to life by the Philippine Embassy. Six contributors from throughout the country—Paolo Espanola from New York City; Alexa Alfaro from Milwaukee, WI; Vanessa Lorenzo from Richmond, VA; Dalena Benavente from Tennessee and California; and Cristina Quackenbush from New Orleans, LA; as well as the four of us from Timpla representing DC—read passages, signed books, and met some great people. We learned that despite everyone’s diverse experiences throughout various parts of the world, time periods, childhoods, adulthoods, and careers—we all have one crucial common denominator: the important connection between memories, family, and Filipino food. The evening was filled with beautiful energy, great conversation, and people of all backgrounds and generations coming together to celebrate this milestone. Filipino food representation and acknowledgement has truly come a long way in the past few years, and we were so proud to be there that night among colleagues—or rather, soulmates—who had the same passion to share their experiences of Filipino American identity. A post-event celebration took place at DC’s quintessential restaurant Old Ebbitt Grill. Being the Filipino Fat Asses we all were, we stayed to drink, dine, and wait for the half-off oyster bar special into the wee hours of the night. We ended the evening by promising to visit each other’s restaurants, pop-ups, and food trucks, and hoping to meet again for future book launches.

Being part of such an uplifting experience filled our hearts. Knowing that you can share a part of yourself that is so deeply personal to you and receive overwhelming support is truly a grand net appearing after a shaky, unbalanced plunge. We are so proud of how the book turned out: from the gorgeous photographs, to the heartfelt forwards and introductions, to each contributor’s thoughtful stories, to the delicious recipes that we are just dying to try. This has been one for the books (haha, like the pun?!) and fuels our sentiments for more writing in the future. As we expand our repertoire to art and storytelling alongside food, we are motivated with the same—if not more—great energy to see how far Timpla can really go.


*The New Filipino Kitchen can be purchased on Amazon:
https://www.amazon.com/New-Filipino-Kitchen-Stories-Recipes/dp/157284258X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1540523402&sr=8-1&keywords=the+new+filipino+kitchen&dpID=51D4YcBIWrL&preST=_SX218_BO1,204,203,200_QL40_&dpSrc=srch

*TFC segment summarizing the event:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H3YEZu5I7Ts&fbclid=IwAR05Wa18JGr6G_i-eHCB3sBgIFULLqw2XksipeK8pMTWmVIO6gbyU0rmVUU

*Inquirer.net recap of the event:
https://usa.inquirer.net/15755/new-book-filipino-cuisine-launched-washington/amp?fbclid=IwAR3ACNlwOgctmOFSX6xCKFrI0hFydO2PkZdc5_ka-N6upA4gALSFtqdoW88

*Photos from the event:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/philippinesusa/sets/72157701595663964