San Diego chefs to showcase Filipino cuisine at screening of ‘Ulam: Main Dish’ documentary


As Filipino food continues to bask in the glory of a growing appreciation for the cuisine, now comes a documentary that charts the course of how the movement has captured a nation.

“Ulam: Main Dish,” by filmmakers Alexandra and Rey Cuerdo, made its world premiere earlier this month at the San Francisco International Film Festival. And on Monday, April 23, and Tuesday, April 24, it’s coming to San Diego as part of the eighth annual San Diego Asian Film Festival (SDAFF) Spring Showcase, presented by Pacific Arts Movement (Pac-Arts).

After the screening and Q&A with filmmakers on April 23, 15 local Filipino-American culinary talents — including chefs and bartenders — are banding together to cook a kamayan-style feast for 300 diners at the San Diego Natural History Museum (the event is sold out). Traditionally, having a meal kamayan-style means eating food, everything from pork to seafood, by hand at a communal table covered in banana leaves. The screening on April 24 will be held, without a meal, at UltraStar in Mission Valley.

We asked some of the local participants to tell us why they think Filipino cuisine is finally having its moment.

Mike Arquines

Owner, The LAB Dining Sessions and Mostra Coffee

“Filipino food is finally having its moment in part due to the rise of chefs wanting to push a normally humble cuisine to new levels of refinement and creativity compared to previous generations. It could also be due to ‘influencers’ in mainstream TV, magazines and entertainment saying that Filipino food is the ‘next best thing’ or ‘food trend’. But to us cooks and chefs that grew up in and around Filipino culture have it already embedded in our soul since the day we were born, we know that it has always been here and is here to stay.”

Evan Cruz

Executive chef, Arterra Del Mar

“Filipino food has been slowly, but surely, spreading all over the world from Filipino expats in China, Dubai and the United States. Second- and third-generation Filipino-Americans have grown up much more integrated into local communities than our parents. Yet, we still long for the tastes that we all grew up with. While it’s scary thinking about how the Filipino cuisine will adapt and change in the future generations after us, hopefully the cuisine will change and improve for the better, as it reaches more communities and different communities than before, and become a specified cuisine.”

Philip Esteban

Research & Development chef, Consortium Holdings

“Filipino cuisine is finding a home in American mainstream for a few reasons. Exposure in the digital and social media world is sharing our cuisine to society, but more importantly, formally trained, first-generation Filipino-Americans are now experienced, well-seasoned cooks and chefs. We are taking those lessons and techniques, and applying them to Filipino food, making it more approachable to American palate. Now there is a larger platform to showcase our culture’s cuisine.”

Craig Jimenez

Co-owner, Nom Nom Bento and Supernatural Sandwiches

“I believe a growing appreciation in the world for pork and our ability to utilize every part of the animal has helped shine a light on Filipino cuisine. Filipino Food has a pork-centric cuisine, one dish in particular is the legendary lechon — a whole roasted young pig with perfectly crispy skin and unctuous roasted meat over an open fire. It was only a matter of time for people to be introduced to our other masterful creations of local seafood, exotic fruits, all balancing savory, sour, sweet and spicy.”

Tara Monsod

Sous chef, Tender Greens

“I think the new generation of Filipinos is not afraid to go against the grain. Nowadays, we’re lucky to be able to share things via social media, whether it’s exploring exciting cuisines or educating ourselves about food. It’s OK to not be a nurse, engineer or doctor — we can be artists and chefs, too! And in this generation, there is a wave of young Filipino chefs that want to take the cuisine we love and grew up on to the next level and share our culture through food. I think it was just a matter of time before we got our shine.”

Jayrell Ringpis


“I think it’s probably taken some time because Filipinos are proud. Other cuisines have been adopted into the ‘mainstream’ because of assimilation. A lot of the staple foods in these cuisines are not entirely authentic to these cultures. However, what you see with the Filipino food movement is a mirror-image of how versatile and adaptable Filipinos have been. We are influenced by many cultures and are so diverse already, we’ve stuck to our many roots and have not allowed our cuisine to be Westernized in order to be accepted. Filipino food is making it on its own, and I think our persistence and pride are only starting to pay off.”

Marlaw Seraspi

Executive chef, Open House Asian Kitchen

“Thanks to Anthony Bourdain, Andrew Zimmerman and chef entrepreneurs like Nicole Ponseca, who’s been doing it for so long, as well as social media, Filipino cuisine is finally having its moment. Talented chefs from the Philippines and all over the world are being discovered for their work in elevating the cuisine and keeping the flavors authentic. The Filipino culture and cuisine is unique and the flavor combinations are still fresh. It’s a very exciting time to be a Filipino chef, like myself!”

DJ Tangalin

Executive chef, Bivouac Ciderworks

“Filipino cuisine is having its moment because timing is everything. The kids that grew up here are now finding themselves inspired to create a connection with their homeland’s food. When you grow up in another country, one of the links you have with your parents and grandparents is food. The memories of the food of our parents and grandparents are then passed down through us to share with our children and our friends. Though the ingredients and recipes used may not be ‘authentic’ or ‘traditional,’ the people who taste it can feel that it’s cooking that is coming from the heart.”

Marcus Twilegar

Executive chef, PARQ SD

“Up until recently, Filipino food was considered traditionally to be home cooking. However, with new cuisines constantly being explored and forever-evolving, as well as the large population of Filipinos in America, our food is now exposed more than ever. Current Filipino chefs are implementing modern techniques to express our food in more approachable ways. Given that we hold our food close to our hearts — because more than anything, it’s part of our culture and traditions — it’s exciting to see Filipino food finally making its mark in the culinary world.”

“Ulam: Main Dish”

When: 8:40 p.m. Tuesday, April 24 (meal event on Monday, April 23, is sold out)

Where: UltraStar Mission Valley, 7510 Hazard Center Drive, San Diego.

Tickets: $12


Twitter: @outdoorlivingsd