Stories

Confessions of a Woman in the Industry

At Timpla we are very open about our love of food and being part of the restaurant industry. It's a rewarding field where co-workers are your closest friends, you pretty much get paid to have fun, and you become part of incredibly memorable experiences. However, there is an important and relevant issue that does not get enough attention: the negative "gentlemen's club" culture of the restaurant industry.  

As a woman working in the industry for many years, I became accustomed to the negative culture of harassment, cat calls, and gossip of this male-dominant field, and even grew to think “It is what it is; everyone has aspects to their jobs that they don’t like.” Only recently did I reach an epiphany that my obstacles must represent just one of the hundreds or thousands of stories that women in the industry experience.

The restaurant industry is known for being male-dominant, both in the kitchen as chefs, prep cooks, line cooks, food runners and dishwashers and in the front-of-the-house as servers, bartenders, managers, and sommeliers. Although there has been a great increase in female chefs and overall female representation, there is still a huge gap. In addition to—or as a result of—this male-dominance, it is a very explicit culture with no human resources department—or any outlet really—to help filter behavior and mannerisms. As a woman, this has been one of the biggest problems I have had to face.

For almost 10 years, I have worked in a range of restaurants from diners to casual to fine dining, from traditional to modern. Throughout these 10 years and within all the different restaurants, one thing has remained constant: the inappropriate behavior and harassment from some men.  It is definitely not all men—in fact, many of my past and current male co-workers have been good friends and some even more than friends. However, there is that remaining constant where I’ve had to face uncomfortable situations and not known who I could turn to in order to solve the issue.

There are a whole slew of harassments I’ve dealt with over the years: from being cat-called “beautiful” or “cutie” every time I walk by a particular person; to trying to ignore all the eyes and hard gazes when I walk through the kitchen; to hearing snide remarks about me in a different language and simply pretending I don’t understand; to knowing a code name exists for women who are considered attractive at work. These are realities that I’ve faced many times over, and have just told myself to ignore them and be the bigger person.  

Unfortunately, my story is not unique. I’ve had female co-workers adjust their work schedule or quit because of the tension between them and a male co-worker. I had a manager who never fired an employee despite multiple sexual harassment claims against him because that employee was his best friend. I’ve heard the guys in the kitchen constantly give snide and crude remarks to the person I was dating about me, trying to push his buttons. I’ve even seen one of my female co-workers punch a manager in the stomach because she was so fed up hearing the kitchen guys jokingly telling her to take her clothes off, while the manager only further provoked them instead of trying to stop it. Furthermore, we’ve all experienced trying to discuss our problems with managers to no real result, conclusion, or change. To my personal dismay, it has become something I have accepted as just part of the job—something I just need to toughen up and accept.

In order to continue moving forward, a real effort has to be made towards improving the treatment of women and to making them feel comfortable about addressing a problem. I personally think the first steps to making a permanent change is for the leaders to truly set an example. The male managers, especially executive and sous chefs, need to set an example instead of falling prey to the gossip and inappropriate behaviors that are constantly going on around them. To say they are not aware of this is an insult. It simply means you are not paying attention or don’t care. The staff of any well-respected restaurant will look up to, admire, and replicate the leader’s behaviors. It will truly make a difference if these leaders set the example to respect all employees as if they were family. One person standing up in one instance for equal treatment will make all the difference to create a better work environment for the future. I strongly believe there are plenty of good men who will gladly stand up when they see or hear someone being treated inappropriately.    

I know the industry. I know some people may read this and think I am just complaining; or if I can’t take the heat get out of the kitchen. But it’s not about “toughness”—it’s about allowing a person to excel in his or her job without feeling threatened, insecure, or uncomfortable. It’s about creating a positive work environment for an industry that future generations will want to be a part of. It’s about letting people who have good things to contribute actually contribute them. And it’s about calling out the people who have behaved inappropriately to no consequence.  

Hopefully, if I am able to change the perspective of just one male manager or chef, or help prevent at least one more inappropriate situation towards a female in the restaurant industry, then F*it—let the haters talk because my mission will be fulfilled.

Filipino Food as a Trend

We’re kind of mad.  No, actually, we’re really mad.  Filipino food has been considered the “cool new thing.”  Haven’t heard about it?  Well here you go:

“Every Single Food Trend That's Been Predicted for 2017: No. 28 Filipino Food” - Eater

“Have you heard that Filipino food is a big trend this year?  2017 seems poised to be the year you can bet on Filipino food.” - Bloomberg

“Food Network Kitchen Foretells the Trends to Look For in 2017: It’s all about adobo. Don’t know much about lumpia, longganisa, calamansi or kinilaw? In 2017, you may learn.” - Food Network

“Trend Watch: Filipino Food Heats Up: Long overshadowed by other Southeast Asian cuisines, Filipino food finally moves to the forefront.” - National Geographic

“Celebrity chef and TV host Anthony Bourdain has a soft spot for pork sisig, which he believes will lead the charge in Filipino cuisine's rising international recognition.” - CNN

Surely the recognition Filipino food has been receiving is great—why does this make us mad? Because a cuisine that has been developing for centuries, rich in indigenous ingredients and other cultural influences, and eaten by millions of people everyday should not be considered a trend, or the hot new thing.  

A trend usually refers to a spike in popularity for a period of time, but does not have longevity.  This terminology is the wrong description for what is really going on. For decades, Filipino American families have been cooking Filipino food, opening local restaurants and small stores, and sharing the cuisine with non-Filipino friends. Ask anyone who has a close Filipino friend about their knowledge of the cuisine, and chances are you'll hear many stories about lumpia presented in school during international days and pancit brought to potlucks.  Just because the cuisine only recently became noticed by mainstream food critics, media, and celebrity chefs does not make it more valuable compared to last year, or the year before, or the decades before when immigrants first introduced Filipino cuisine to this country.  

To consider our cuisine a “trend of 2017” is like placing it among the ranks of the Atkins or Paleo diet, low-carb, juice cleanses, wheatgrass shots, cronuts, unicorn frappuccinos, and other food crazes.  We are grateful that food writers, the media, and celebrity chefs are beginning to notice the wonders of Filipino flavors and the pioneers who pushed our cuisine to the forefront, but please keep the trendy vibe out of it.  To consider that Filipino cuisine—or any ethnic cuisine for that matter—is only cool now is disrespectful.

Filipino cuisine is hundreds of years old, influenced and developed over time by the many peoples that have landed in its soils and by the bountiful ingredients that grow there.  Every dish in our cuisine comes with a story about the region it's from, the cultures it's influenced by, the climates, plants, and animals that grow and live there, and an understanding of the importance of food bringing people together.  

For example, the Spanish rule over Philippines from the 1500s to late 1800s inspired many tomato-based dishes such as kaldereta, menudo, and afritada. Tomatoes, having originally come from the new world, was introduced to the Philippines by the Spanish(1). Filipinos also created their own versions of classic Spanish dishes, such as empanada and paella. Furthermore, many of our dishes are influenced by the Chinese because they settled in and traded with the Philippines as part of their trade routes, planting deep roots in culture, lifestyle, and cuisine long before the Spanish even arrived(2). As a result, we learned and developed noodle-based dishes and hearty soups such as palabok, pancit, la paz batchoy, molo and mami. We also borrowed steamed buns (siopao), egg rolls (lumpia), and dumplings (siomai) from the Chinese.One of the best examples of cultural melding in our cuisine is a dish from the Chinese but with a Spanish name: Arroz caldo.This rice porridge with chicken, ginger, and fish sauce—sometimes called lugaw—is an exact replica of congee but was given a Spanish name to lure the colonizers into local restaurants called panciterias(3). Though Spanish and Chinese have the biggest influences on Filipino cuisine, we also borrowed dishes and techniques from Mexican, Arabic, Vietnamese and Thai, Malaysian and Polynesian, and American(4). It is truly a melting pot cuisine that continues to develop and adapt to suit the needs of its people—that is another reason it is so incredibly delicious and unique!

Other aspects that influence Filipino cuisine is the country's humid climate and island environment.  Our cuisine’s love of vinegar and soy sauce originated from the need to preserve dishes in the very hot climate.  These two ingredients not only add tons of flavor to meats and vegetables, they also hold important preserving qualities that help food last longer.  Congruently, Filipino cuisine portrays many methods for food preservation—especially for fish and seafoods such as dried and smoked fish (tinapa), dried squid (pusit), fermented fish and shrimp pastes (bagoong), and small fishes preserved in oil (tuyo).  Moreover, our use of coconut milk in many dishes is not meant to satisfy the dairy-free, lactose-intolerant, or vegan eaters in America.  It is used because coconut trees are rich in the tropical climate.  Coconut, along with rice, is one of the most abundant ingredients in the Philippines, which is why Filipinos use them for both savory and sweet dishes.  Because climate and environment play a large role in the cuisine, Filipino food has changed much over the years.  Dishes have significantly developed from the days when our ancestors didn't have refrigeration to present day when we are finding new ways to combine local with international ingredients.

Another misconception of Filipino dining is kamayan, which has become very popular in America—dare I say even a trend. This term translates to "eating with your hands,” which is a common practice among Filipinos. In contrast, the dining tradition of laying out meats, fish, vegetables, and rice on long communal tables covered with banana leaves is actually called boodle fight. This style of eating was first introduced in the Philippine Military Academy then gradually spread to communities throughout the Philippines(5). It’s a dining style that is important in Filipino culture because it exemplifies how Filipinos use food as a means to bring together families, friends, neighbors, and communities. Boodle fight takes hours to prepare and needs the help of many hands. Both kamayan and boodle fights illustrate the significance of food-related rituals in daily and celebratory Filipino life.

Having just come from a visit to the Philippines, I can finally say that I now truly understand the origins and purpose of this delicious cuisine. The trip has forever changed my perspective on truly authentic Filipino cuisine versus how it's being portrayed in America and other Western countries. It was so important to experience where we came from and the origins of our cuisine because it ensued a deep understanding and appreciation of my identity, and left me with a yearning to learn more. To the Filipino chefs: we urge you to do the same. Visit your homeland and truly explore the flavors in their natural state. Don’t just make Filipino food based off the latest American trends, or create dishes because other chefs are making them. Learn how dishes vary based on regions and climate. Cook with and eat from street vendors, local restaurateurs, and innovative chefs living in the Philippines. How can we best share this rich culture with the world if we are not truly immersed in it ourselves?

We need to understand that the cuisine will be appreciated in its native form.  Don't feel mahinhin [shy] to use traditional ingredients, spices and flavors as they were created by our families and ancestors.  Use proper names and correct terminology. Share the dishes with pride. Do it right and well.  Let’s take advantage of this newly received attention to prove that Filipino food isn't just a trend—it's here to stay.

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On the plus side, a trend is also defined as “a general direction in which something is developing or changing.” Filipino food has definitely taken a new direction for the better. This in large part is due to two major shifts in society: the growth of globalization, diversity, and travel; and the increasing number of young Filipino chefs with professional culinary experiences willing to take risks and become entrepreneurs. This growing change is not only in context to Filipino food—many ethnic foods are becoming more frequently enjoyed and recognized all over the world for the same reasons. This impact in growing cultural tolerance and diversity is an homage to the millions of immigrants in this country that are unashamed to share their culture with the world. I only wish that writers and media influences refrained from calling this growing change in the food culture a trend and instead focus on truly understanding the dishes and how culture shapes these ethnic cuisines.  


How to Transform Filipino Cuisine

What picture forms in your mind when you think of sinigang?  A big pot of soup filled with pork and seafood, radish, okra, and long beans?  Of course it’s what you’re thinking—because that is exactly what sinigang is.  We too think of sinigang as a sour and spicy soup containing meat and Filipino vegetables.  But instead of making a broth we make a veloute, instead of pork we use snow crabs, and instead of serving the dish in one big pot we present it as individual plates for the third course of a tasting menu.  This is how we are transforming Filipino Cuisine—by keeping the heart, traditions, and flavors of the dish then modernizing the techniques and choosing seasonal, more luxurious ingredients.

Like sinigang, many Filipino dishes are “one-pot-wonders”: unique combinations of vegetables, sauces, and meats thrown into a pot to slow cook for several hours. This technique makes it easier for busy families to prepare meals at low cost. Ingredients vary based on region, but the staples are the same—tamarind for sinigang, tomato sauce for caldereta, vinegar and soy sauce for adobo. Additionally, many of these dishes can easily be found at a Filipino potluck party where large chafing dishes filled with these stews are left out for guests to literally eat all night.  We grew to love these dishes and associate them with family, music, and lots and lots of eating.  We still want to preserve that nostalgic feeling of a vibrant Filipino family party in our dinners, but with a twist on the ambience and presentation. So what happens when you step outside the realm of the daily family dynamic? What if you have the time, energy, budget, and skills to take these dishes and push them the way classic French Coq au Vin and Italian Spaghetti alla Bolognese were pushed from one-pot-wonders to fine dining cuisine? We create a new type of party through our supper clubs and tasting menus.

Knowing that Filipino food is usually served in a big pot with all the ingredients mixed in and a large glop of rice on the side, devising the menu took much brainstorming in the beginning.  We thought, “How can we convince people to journey through a multi-course Filipino menu when most have only experienced potlucks?”  Then we decided that this is where our experience and inspiration of French and American culinary techniques must come into play. We reimagine each dish by thinking about ingredients traditionally used, then coming up with ways to highlight that ingredient in order to enhance the flavors and presentation. Similar to a movie, we use a 5-course tasting menu to carry our guests’ senses through a culinary journey—an introduction, rising action, climax, falling action, and conclusion of Filipino cuisine—teaching them about the ingredients, culture, and background stories behind each dish.

Our goal is to incorporate a variety of textures, introduce seasonal ingredients, inspire healthier alternatives, and challenge the status quo without affecting the tradition and heart of these beloved dishes.  We’ll start a menu off with a sorbet made from tropical fruits like kalamansi or rambutan to cleanse the palate.  Then we move into small bites to get the guests excited, presenting squid-ink kwek-kwek or balut made with duck skin and potato espuma (replicating the taste and textures without using actual fertilized eggs).  Our vegetable courses will use monggo with mixed seasonal greens or vegan palabok made with enoki mushrooms as noodles.  Seafood is usually next, where we’ll present one of a million Filipino seafood dishes: snapper sinigang with tamarind veloute, scallop kinilaw with coconut vinegar, ginataang alimasag using soft-shell crabs.  Our final savory course tends to be the most traditional, consisting of a meat-based dish minus the rice and heavy sauces, plus the seasonal ingredients—dinuguan paella with pork belly and sauteed ramps, kare-kare with oxtail roulade and eggplant two ways.  An array of Filipino desserts with classic flavor combinations concludes the dinner, such as champorado with banana mousse and toasted hazelnut or cassava cake with vanilla poached apples and candied pecans.  At the conclusion of our supper club, guests leave with the notion that traditional cuisine can be given a facelift without striping off its heart and soul.  

Is Filipino food ready for this change?  ABSOLUTELY!  For those who believe Filipino food is “not Filipino food unless it is served in the traditional way,” we challenge you to step outside the box and join this journey with us.  At the end of the day, no matter how Filipino food is presented, it is and will always be made with love and represent the importance of family, memories, and celebrating life.

Trailblazing a Movement

#FilipinoFoodMovement. If you go on Instagram or Facebook, you will notice that this hashtag is quickly becoming the go-to visual library of authentic and reinvented Filipino dishes. Why is this important? Why does the Filipino community feel a need to create a movement for their food?

Filipinos are the fourth largest immigrant group in the United States after Hispanic, Chinese, and Indian. As the leading immigrant group, there's no denying the Latino and Hispanic influences on American culture, as well as the impact Chinese and Indian Americans have made in business, science, technology and food. However, ubiquitous as we are in the US, the Filipino community has not made similar strides. Being from the Washington, DC area, we did not know many Filipinos outside of our family. Moreover, unlike our west coast colleagues, we barely had any oriental stores, Filipino chain restaurants, or mom and pop shops growing up. Unfortunately for us, Jollibee was only a treat to be enjoyed when we visited the Philippines! As adults, we realize that this was not only the result of a small Filipino population in DC, but also from a lack of Filipino leadership overall. 

From a young age, Filipinos are taught to be complacent with the status quo. Our parents emphasized the importance of job security and financial stability at the expense of creativity and entrepreneurship. This is not bad advice. Truly, it is great advice for those who came to a new country and tried their best to raise children in an unfamiliar environment. However, little did they know that part of growing up with the American mindset—moreover being a Millennial—is to push the boundaries and think outside the box. As first-generation Filipino Americans we are blessed with the opportunities at higher education, leadership, and entrepreneurship. The Filipino Food Movement is a collection of brave first- and second-generation Filipinos who love their culture and have the resources and knowledge to bring it into the mainstream. Since our predecessors had not exposed our cuisine to the American mainstream, it is up to our generation to step it up and use food as a means to showcase and bring awareness to the very present Filipino American community.

The hospitality and restaurant industries are one of the toughest, non-secure and riskiest industries out there. However, being part of it pushes many boundaries that we gutsy, foolish, millennial Filipino Americans are excited to tackle through. At Timpla, we try our best to cross boundaries while still respecting tradition and culture. Our tasting menus adhere to the recipes and flavors of traditional Filipino cuisine yet take risks in technique, execution, and plating to present the dishes in a new way. Our dream is to push Filipino cuisine from local family style to well-respected fine dining. Cheers to the new Filipino American experience.

What's in a Name?

We call ourselves Timpla—the Tagalog word meaning to blend or mix ingredients together to make the perfect dish. We chose this word because of its obvious ties to cooking; but on a deeper level because it is our identity. We are a blended culture—Filipino and American. Throughout our childhood we’d follow the slang, pop music and mannerisms of our American friends, and then went home to our parents speaking Tagalog, cooking dinner in big pots and constantly hearing The Filipino Channel in the background. As children, we didn’t realize that we were experiencing two different cultures. Now as adults, we understand the significant roles each culture played in defining who we are.  This is why we chose to share our story of growing up multicultural through food.  That, dear readers, is why we’re Timpla.

Our name is not the only factor that represents our blended culture—equally representative is our logo. When creating the logo for Timpla, our goal was to visualize what Filipino/Modern American meant through design. We wanted a very sleek and modern design because of the exquisite presentation of our dishes, but it was also important for us to incorporate traditional elements to represent our Filipino culture and history.

We started off the way all branding projects do—lots of research. We read about Baybayin, the tribal writing used in pre-Spanish Philippines. We also bought a book on Philippine tribal tattoos, a lifestyle custom that pre-Spanish Filipinos used to represent their families, ancestry, occupations, location, coming of age, and other aspects of life. We discovered that both Baybayin and tribal patterns were highly developed and seen as symbols of respect and honor in the Indo-Polynesian society. Unfortunately, when the Spanish invaded Philippines, they denounced these practices as slanderous and demeaning. As the Spanish gained more prominence in Philippines, these traditions inevitably died out.

Today, there is a movement of Filipinos on a mission to reconnect with pre-Spanish Philippines and revive the forgotten practices of Baybayin writing and tribal patterns. These practices represent the true identity of our ancestors and artisans are coming together to record the lost symbols as well as create modern interpretations of them. Filipino-Americans and similar groups are particularly interested in this revival because of its powerful connection to our homeland. As such, we knew incorporating Baybayin and tribal patterns into the Timpla logo would be the best way to visually pay homage to our Filipino culture.

Embedded in the logo are several symbols that relate back to our mission of integrating modern trends with traditional elements. First, we wrote out timpla using Baybayin syllables and came up with this:

We played around with these symbols looking for ways to incorporate them into the word Timpla, deciding on turning “ti” sideways and make it the top of the T. Next, we used tribal patterns including diamonds to represent the strong and deep connection with family, and circles to represent eyes of ancestors watching over us, as well as the connection between past, present, and future of Filipino culture.

After several rounds of sketches and edits, we came up with a design that we properly suited everything we stood for.