A little over 3 years ago (woah!), I had the pleasure of meeting a very passionate and energetic young Filipina chef. Wait... this is not how this post should start, because honestly June 1, 2014, the day I met Chef Yana Gilbuena, was the day I changed all of my #lifegoals. She brought out an excitement in me that was dormant. She brought the ultimate Filipino Food experience to Boston. For one night only, Boston was given the opportunity to eat classic Filipino food, made by Chef Yana, and enjoyed Kamayan-style.
On June 1, 2014, Chef Yana was here in Boston for her 14th pop-up dinner. Massachusetts was the 14th state out of her 50 state Kamayan (Filipino for “eating with your hands”) tour, called the SALO Project. Her initial goal was to host 50 pop-up dinners in 50 states.
“Actually it ended up being more,” she told me during our recent phone interview. “I did all 50 states, plus DC, 8 provinces in Canada, 4 cities in Mexico, and 3 states in Colombia.” She said this project was inspired on impulse. “It was during a time in my life where I needed to figure some sh*t out...one of my friends said to me, ‘there’s 50 states and there’s 52 weeks...and I said, ‘well ok then!’ The concept seemed easy!”
Chef Yana wanted to create a community by “the act of sharing.” Salo in tagalog means “gathering” (side note, I looked up the word Salo, conveniently, in Slavic, salo is also a type of food.) “The SALO Project was initially going to be a documentary,” she said. She traveled to 26 states with a videographer but “...traveling [this much] isn’t for everyone.”
Chef traveled in accordance to the sun and the seasons. She cooked with local produce, and used online couch surfing platforms as well as Facebook and Craigslist to find places to stay, and host her pop-ups. “I met some good samaritans along the way,” she said. To her it was never about connecting directly with the Filipino community. Sometimes she’d be the only Filipino at her event. She would connect with someone in one city, and through that person she'd be introduced to a group of contacts in another city.
Her memories and experiences needed to be heard, or rather, read. If it weren’t for the community she created, this project would not have been successful. So she decided to write the book No Forks Given with the help of a team of talented Filipinos. The book is a compilation of 3 major parts: a map of her tour, recipes from some of the dinners she hosted, and a memoir. She dedicated this book to all that have helped, and who are still helping her. “I still keep in touch with some people I met during the SALO Project. I want to say thank you to the people who helped,” Yana said. “I want to tell the story. Sometimes I’ll be on a hike and suddenly laugh because I’m thinking of a memory [from the tour].”
In a way, this book couldn’t have been written at a better time. Through her travels she discovered that “this country is not all that bad. I’m a woman of color traveling alone, but I was fine!” With all that is happening on the news these days and all of the country’s uncertainties, this book will remind us, across ALL 50 states, there is still faith, love, kindness, and humanity. It’s not just about the food. It’s not just about being Filipino. It’s about community. It’s about SALO.
It’s the last day to help her get her book ON the shelves by going to her KICKSTARTER page here!
If you want to learn more about her book and the SALO Project, check out the video below and head to her website at saloseries.com.