MAAARI Highlights Fil-Am Chefs for AAPI Heritage Month 2023

For AAPI Heritage Month, we interviewed a handful of amazing Fil-Am chefs, restaurateurs, and home cooks. They warmly welcomed us into their world as they whipped up some Filipino deliciousness with our Mini Palayok.



Abi Balingit is a Filipino American home baker and author based in Brooklyn. Her debut cookbook, MAYUMU: Filipino American Desserts Remixed was released on February 28, 2023. When she’s not working full-time at a live music company, she is running a baking blog called The Dusky Kitchen. Her #PASALUBONG treat box series helps to raise money for mutual aid organizations. She has been featured in Bon Appétit, Food & Wine, Eater, Thrillist, Food52, and more.


Where do you draw inspiration from?

I draw inspiration from everywhere! While having a delicious dessert at a restaurant can inspire me to make something at home, I also feel like baking is such a creative outlet that food doesn’t always have to be the only driver in what I make. Memories of smells, places, and even the right song can lead me back to the kitchen with these influences in tow. 

How has your Filipino heritage influenced your approach to baking?

Since I started my blog The Dusky Kitchen in the summer of 2020, my Filipino heritage has been a pivotal part of my approach to baking. It wasn’t until I began incorporating Filipino flavors and concepts into my desserts that I felt a connection from my past to the present. I love how my favorite dishes growing up are the foundation of the food I make today. 

What role does sustainability play in your work?

In my work, I try my best to eliminate as much food waste as possible. Whenever I whip up desserts, I love to share them with friends and neighbors to make sure they all get eaten. When I bake some of my favorites like bibingka and cassava cake, I use banana leaves rather than parchment paper to line the pan. Using banana leaves also imparts a lot more flavor to the finished bakes.

What does it mean to you to be Filipino-American in the food and/or restaurant space?

It’s very special to be Filipino American in the food space because it’s allowed me to find an amazing community. I am honored to be part of a chorus of voices advocating for and celebrating Filipino food. 

What is something special you are doing to celebrate AAPI month?

For AAPI month, I’m hosting an adobo chocolate chip cookie demo at the Platform by the James Beard Foundation space on May 21st. I’ll also be in conversation with my friend and food writer Bettina Makalintal. I’m so excited to show people how to make this special recipe from Mayumu at Pier 57 this month!


Woldy Reyes is a Chef and Founder of the boutique catering company, Woldy Kusina, based in Brooklyn, New York. Woldy Kusina’s cuisine is centered around a simple philosophy — to provide good food and good experiences, with sustainability and culture at the heart of it all. As a first-generation Filipino American, Reyes effortlessly infuses contemporary dishes with vibrant flavors and colors that are inspired by his roots. Using only seasonal and locally sourced ingredients, his menus are best described as fresh, natural and fulfilling.

Woldy Kusina is recognized as one of New York’s top caterers and has been featured in goop and New York Magazine, with a noteworthy clientele that includes brands like 3.1 Phillip Lim, West Elm, Kosas, and Well+Good. His cooking has been highlighted on the TODAY Show and deemed by New York Times as an invigorating culinary experience that is “more about passion than precision.” His newest event series, Kamayan, aims to continue sharing admiration and respect for his Filipino heritage with a community of open minded and curious food lovers.


Where do you draw inspiration from?

When it comes to cooking, I have two strong memories from my childhood living in Walnut, a suburban neighborhood east of Los Angeles. First there’s me and my twin brother accompanying our father on a trip to a local farm for a grim errand — picking out a goat that would go on to be butchered and handed back to us in a neatly wrapped package. Later, it would be simmered for hours in a big pot out in the backyard with sautéed onions and a lot of garlic, and I remember this robust smell perfuming the air. My family were unapologetically Filipino, I smile to think about it. The reward would come as we sat together, feasting on this decadent meal, the Filipino speciality Kalderetang Kambing, or Celebratory Goat Stew. This deep and rich terra cotta color stew had warming spice that’s served over rice that I found so comforting as a child.

My other memory, by contrast, is spending time in the garden that belonged to my Lola, my grandmother. She was so proud of her garden. She’d go snip things and start cooking with it. Watching food go from ground to stove to plate left a powerful impression on me, and I see echoes of it today in my own home garden. It’s these two recollections that have fueled so much of my career as a chef, and led me to where I am today and how I cook my version of Filipino-American food. With it, I hope I can educate people to cook through the seasons and incorporate Filipino flavors.

How has your Filipino heritage influenced your approach to cooking?

I’m a first generation Filipino-American, who straddled two cultures as I grew up: I am a queer, deaf person and, as such, often felt like an outsider as a child. As a teenager with weight issues, I taught myself to use cooking as a tool to heal my thorny relationship with food as a form of comfort and wellness — cooking is still a practice I use for finding balance and contentment in my own body. My story informs the way I cook and eat today. I approach classic Filipino dishes and update them for a modern palate, rendering them lighter, fresher, more vegetable forward dishes, with an emphasis on feeling nourished and wholesome.

What role does sustainability play in your work?

As people have grown more mindful about eating less meat, we’re seeing a shift toward plant-based menus. I cook with a mindset of eating more whole foods and cook seasonally that are centered around produce. I’m taking traditional recipes and swapping the ratios, so the meat is maybe treated as the side and vegetables and produce are more central.

What does it mean to you to be Filipino-American in the food and/or restaurant space?

Filipinos are having a moment! We’re making a cultural impact. It’s true — the zeitgeist is finally catching up and giving Filipinos their fair due, from the pop star Olivia Rodrigo, to the new creative director of luxury brand Bally, Rhuigi Villasenor, to the Michelin starred restaurant Kasama in Chicago to a Jollibee opening in Times Square, Filipino culture is suddenly everywhere. We’re not just being seen as domestic workers. We’re creatives too. Food is political, and food is extremely personal. Filipino food, for instance, is so unique because it is a blend of many different cultures. What I’m able to do today is to educate and connect people about my heritage and, in turn, walk away with a deeper understanding of it, an act of cultural exchange

What is something special you are doing to celebrate AAPI month?

To celebrate AAPI month, I’m creating a modern approach to Kamayan feast with fellow Filipina-Aussie Neada Deters, founder of skincare brand Lesse. Together, we are sharing our cultural eating experience with our communities.


Angela Dimayuga is a curious New York City based chef, author, and multidisciplinary artist. She is an associate artist at Performance Space New York, culinary curator at Lower East Side Girls Club, and contributing writer to New York Times, Food & Cooking. She was the Creative Director of Food & Culture of The Standard Hotels International, and former executive chef at Mission Chinese Food New York. She has worked collaboratively with flavor chemist Arielle Johnson, designer Humberto Leon, artists Anika Yi, Wu Tsang, and Smallhold Farms. Her debut cookbook, releasing November 2, 2021, Filipinx: Heritages Recipes from the Diaspora is a design and photography driven cookbook sharing 100 recipes, narrative storytelling, and is celebration of her ancestral cuisine from her point of view as a professional chef.


Where do you draw inspiration from? What role does sustainability play in your work?

Last week I did a deep dive research trip to learn about regenerative farming, and had explosive inspiration with an urgent desire to integrate the practice into my work. Otherwise I like to think about self sustainability too, and have been finally allowing myself to stack on the classes, hobbies, and wellness activities as an eternal student :)

How has your Filipino heritage influenced your approach to cooking? What does it mean to you to be Filipino-American in the food and/or restaurant space?

We are really good at seasoning!!! 

What is something special you are doing to celebrate AAPI month?

Getting a big table of LA gaysians together to eat sundubu for giggle fits followed by a stroll to get boba afterwards! We also have mahjong plans :)


Kimberly Mendoza Camara is the chef and co-owner of Kora. She is an alumna of the Culinary Institute of America, with pastry & savory NYC restaurant experience for teams like USHG and Make it Nice. Most importantly, she is a proud FIlipino Queens-native.


Where do you draw inspiration from?

Food memories are where I draw most of my inspiration from—I think memories I had growing up surrounding food pull on my heartstrings the most. When people think of comfort food—food that doesn’t just satisfy the stomach but also the soul—we often think to memories where we felt the most safe, loved and connected. These feelings reflect in the food.

How has your Filipino heritage influenced your approach to cooking?

I was raised in a Filipino household, so most of the foods I ate growing up were traditional Filipino dishes. Though we were raised in the US, my parents seldomly brought us to non-Asian restaurants or cooked anything other than Filipino food at home, and so a lot of the flavors I like to work with and blend into my food now are inspired by these ingredients.

What role does sustainability play in your work?

My grandma hated wasting any food whatsoever, and so does my mom. My mom and my grandma both grew up in rural areas of the Philippines where every part of an animal or plant would be put to use, every resource was to be used to its full potential. The strong mentality of survival was carried with them when they came to the US. Though we lived comfortably and had an abundance of food, throwing out excess or perfectly still edible food was the absolute last resort. It would either be repurposed, frozen, or composted. So I actually had a lot of fun working with leftover foods and experimenting with them and how they could be reused in a way that was still delicious. At Kora we repurpose trimmings in some of our flavors to be used in the pastry in a different way or in another recipe. For example, we cut small circles out of our trays of flan and the scraps get blended into a cream that gets piped into the doughnut along with the flan.

What does it mean to you to be Filipino-Anerican in the food and/or restaurant space? 

It’s a really exciting time to be Filipino, I think. I feel like the awareness of our food is more than its ever been. The last decade really made room for Filipino Americans to reimagine and express it in ways that are relatable to them, and make it a point of connection for other Fil-Ams. I feel really proud to assist in paving the way for our culture through cooking.

What is something special you are doing to celebrate AAPI month?

Likely will be partnering with local AAPI bakers for a Baker’s Box.



Melissa Miranda is a Filipina-American community leader and organizer. She thinks of herself as a healer. Many people refer to her as a chef, but she finds that label limiting to who she strives to be. What she does feels so much more grounded in community and caretaking than what the idea of a “chef” has traditionally communicated. In her daily life, she owns and cooks at Musang in Seattle’s historic Beacon Hill neighborhood.


Where do you draw inspiration from?

From my childhood memories - cooking with my dad and mom, my lola and the memories of eating at the table with my family. I also draw inspiration from my time living in Italy and traveling. So much is learned and experienced through different cultures and different lenses. 

How has your Filipino heritage influenced your approach to cooking?

It's the heart of what I do. Growing up - the way we knew and learned about our culture was through food. So much is shared through Filipino food - stories, history, memories and culture. That is the biggest influence for me. I want people to feel like they're at my own table at home - feeling that warmth and hospitality. 

What role does sustainability play in your work?

I believe that in order for us to continue the work we do, we need to make sure that we are creating environments and work spaces that think about the future of our employees, families and business. Making sure that we are creating wealth for the next generation to help them with their dreams. We do our best to source locally and work with farmers - especially BIPOC) and apply techniques we've learned through our experiences. We do our best to create menus that are seasonal and that use up the product in the most sustainable ways possible.

What does it mean to you to be Filipino-American in the food and/or restaurant space?

I think being Filipino-American in the food / restaurant space is something that i am very very proud to be part of and also be part of this wave of representation for us that is so important. So many of us have been in this industry for years, working for other people, without ever having the platform to share who we are and also having faces that looked like us. We have so much to share, so much to show and being able to do so - is what our families' sacrifices have given us - the opportunity to make our dreams come true - and in return - pride for them to be Filipino. 

What is something special you are doing to celebrate AAPI month?

Doing my best to support and spotlight as many AAPI owned businesses as I can. 


Nico is a second generation Filipino-American chef and native Angeleno. With his projects Lasita and Tito Rudy’s, Nico’s authentic approach combines the flavors and culture of the Philippines filtered through his Southern California influence.


Where do you draw inspiration from?

I draw inspiration from nostalgia and from whatever is in season. Nostalgia carries such a heavy weight, of all the emotions. I often catch myself longing for those happy moments from my childhood then replicating or chasing that feeling, and most of those moments happen to involve eating. Growing up in the “valley,” which is the epitome of the suburbs, fast food was everywhere. Mix that with the food my mom was making back home, the Mexican food I’d eat from my best friend’s houses, the OG Americana spots strewn into the fabric that is the valley’s food culture, and everywhere in between, my nostalgia is a very powerful tool. 

How has your Filipino heritage influenced your approach to cooking?

My Filipino heritage has played such an important role in where my career is today. Before I started my focus in Filipino-American food a decade ago, I was just a young cook that had no real direction. It was when I realized that I knew so little about Filipino food and culture that I got really excited to explore it-  it felt like I was both learning and making things up as I went. With this food and culture, I have first hand references and things come intuitively to me, I consider that my upper hand compared to when I was cooking the food I was trained to cook.

What role does sustainability play in your work?

Sustainability, in more than one meaning, plays a huge role in what we do at Lasita. We consciously source from local farms, purveyors, and winemakers who use sustainable practices. Aside from ecological sustainability, we try to practice human sustainability as well. We try to prioritize the wellbeing of our staff, and owners alike.

What does it mean to you to be Filipino-American in the food and/or restaurant space?

It is an incredible privilege and an honor to do what we do and to provide the space we do for Filipinos/Filipino-Americans. For a long time I felt conflicted representing our culture but not following tradition, instead embracing authenticity to my life and upbringing. It’s such an incredible feeling when our guests stop us to let us know that they “get it.” There are a lot of people that see what we do and feel a deep representation - we pride ourselves on being an inclusive space and place of work and being Filipino we hold that sentiment closely.

What is something special you are doing to celebrate AAPI month?

My wife and I are new parents, and we’re so happy that there is such an incredible representation for Filipino culture in children’s things nowadays. There are children's books with titles like “When Lola Speaks,” “A is for Adobo,” “When Lola Visits,” or “Eyes That Speak of the Stars” amongst so many others. We’ve been reading those books to our daughter, Sola, and often bring up her ancestors who aren’t around anymore to let her know where she comes from. 


Nicole Ponseca is New York City-based restaurateur of two groundbreaking Filipino establishments—Maharlika and Jeepney. The Washington Post commends, “The influence these two restaurants have had on Filipino-American restaurants is immeasurable.” Her combined marketing and hospitality background has truly ignited a dormant conversation on Philippine culture and cuisine.

Celebrated as cookbook of the year by The New Yorker, NY Times, LA Times, Saveur, Food and Wine, and Chicago Tribune, Nicole’s first cookbook “I Am A Filipino”, was also recognized by The James Beard Foundation as a finalist for International Cookbook of the Year.

During her time working in marketing and advertising, Nicole learned the power of engaging women and promoting self-esteem at any age, to which she credits her mentors and former bosses.


Where do you draw inspiration from?

My biggest inspiration is fashion, academia and pop music. The layers of creativity, strife, history, business and expression are influential to me in how I interpret the flavor, presentation and politics of food.  

How has your Filipino heritage influenced your approach to cooking?

My approach to hospitality is influenced greater than my approach to cooking. True, patis has found its way in my cesar dressings, chilis and marinara sauces, but the greater effect my culture has– by volume–is my approach to the front-of-house, training, company culture and guests relations. I feel a great sense of accomplishment that through the years, we employed so many non-filipinos in the restaurants and they came away with a greater knowledge and appreciation of the food, culture and language. That family-orientation and kapwa integrated itself amongst the diverse staff in a way that is inexplicable and unlike any other restaurant I have ever worked with. The experiences ranged from understanding titas, lolas and lolos and interpreting language, to American born Filipinos deepening their connection to their heritage through the craft of Filipino hospitality and food, to name a few. It felt groundbreaking. I think what we created was a safe environment of expression, personalized authenticity and visibility for filipinos, the LGBTQIA community, BLM movement, Hispanics and our Asian brethren via the communal factor of food.  it was our party and everyone was invited, so long as you knew the houserules—meaning balut would be served and you might eat with your hands.  

What role does sustainability play in your work?

When I think about sustainability, many definitions come to mind. Of course, climate responsibility is a concern of mine, but many other restaurants do and exemplify a far advanced approach in integrating this aspect to their business, so I look to them for inspiration.  

For me, sustainability in business also pertains to the longevity, health, impact and growth of the business from the bottom up.  In other words, what are the systems and personnel required to run a business optimally and profitably? How do we create a business void of burnout?

I've heard of restaurants suggesting schedule limitations. For instance, I think there is a restaurant in Seattle that limits shifts to 3 per person, so that the employee can rest and avoid burnout. To me, that is an incomplete argument, as the compensation earned in 3 days may not be enough for that employee's sustainability forcing them to get a second or third job. So, there are holes in that argument. On top of that, in a limited job market, how does that restaurant maintain shifts and continuity of service and execution. I don't know. Many lofty goals seem good at the time, but how feasible are they, unless you own the building or pay little rent. How scalable is that as a business model?   

This is an example of what I contemplate when I think about a sustainable business from an operations and longevity standpoint. I am considering my team, my operations, my profitability and my scalability when I think about sustainability. It’s a complex matrix of decisions and factors–juggling all of this in step with a customer’s experience and food quality.  

This is why hospitality is one of the toughest industries especially if you have a conscience.  

What does it mean to you to be Filipino-American in food or in your restaurant space?

In the beginning, I had very little competition in the modern Filipino food space. To be clear, I am defining modern as the UX and the food execution. In that sense, there weren’t that many players in the market and social media was barely an influence, so that we weren’t inundated with voices and points of view. In that sense, I felt a greater responsibility in my choices as a de facto spokesperson to our culture for Filipinos, to Filipinos and to the greater serviceable market and audience of foodies and New Yorkers. It meant I had a responsibility to expectations —grand or negligent—and how we represented flavors and service. I was also cognizant that for many, our restaurants could be the first if not only experience guests might have with Filipinos or Filipino culture.  

One thing was clear—it needed to be bold and it needed to be competitive with other cuisines with a standard of excellence. If we did it right, we would be raising the bar in our menu, cocktail program and service. I think we accomplished what I set out to do.  

That, of course, has changed.  

I don't feel that sense of pressure and obligation now that there are more voices and visuals out there representing us –not only in food – across so many mediums.  

I still feel an obligation –but the obligation is now to myself.  What do I want? What do I want to do?  What do I want to create?  It's no longer about just being Filipino, it’s what I want through the lens and intersections of many of my attributes, one of them being Filipino-American.  

What is something special you are doing to celebrate AAPI month?

I am celebrating the month by doing workshops, speeches and events highlighting others and our culture.  but i think the best thing i can do is normalize our greatness and contribution 12 months out of the year.  



Palayok is a traditional Filipino clay pot made from earthenware—a porous ceramic material—and is used to cook over hot charcoal, allowing food to slow cook for rich stews. Our Mini Palayok is an ode to this traditional cookware and meant for use as mise en place, spice cellars, or small serving bowls. 

The Mini Palayok set comes with two lidded mini pots, two mini saucers (one with a lip handle) and a mini cup. Note: these should not to be cooked as they are not heat or liquid-resistant.