On Tuesday, the Yale Sustainable Food Program hosted a screening of “ULAM: Main Dish,” a documentary directed by Alexandra Cuerdo, in the Whitney Humanities Center.
“ULAM,” which was released last April, was the closing night film for the 2018 Asian American International Film Festival in New York City. Ranked by MSN as one of the “Top 5 food documentaries to watch,” the documentary follows several Filipino restaurateurs as they discuss both their own success and the rising prominence of Filipino restaurants in America.The film screening was part of the Yale Sustainable Food Program’s “Chewing the Fat” event series, which invites policymakers, chefs and other guests to Yale to talk about food.
“This was definitely a film that talks about a number of important issues, not just as it pertains to the rise of Filipino cuisine, but how does a cuisine develop in a place like the U.S.,” said Erwin Li, the program’s Lazarus Fellow in Food and Agriculture and organizer of the event series. “I believe it is a story that is far more universal than we might initially think.”
The documentary features in-depth interviews with restaurateurs like Alvin Cailan, owner of Amboy; Nicole Ponseca, owner of Jeepney; and Chad and Chase Valencia, owners of LASA. They each discuss topics pertaining to their individual experiences starting and running a restaurant, but they all express a shared belief that Filipino food should be eaten and appreciated for its variety.
Cuerdo, in part, assigns the variety in cuisine to geography.
“The Philippines is an archipelago of over 7,000 islands … so that means there are many different ways to cook. Filipino food is not one thing,” she said at the event.
After the screening, Mary Lui, head of Timothy Dwight College, interviewed Cuerdo and moderated a Q&A session.
When Lui asked why the documentary focused on Los Angeles and New York City, Cuerdo explained that these were the cheapest and easiest cities for her to film. In particular, she noted that she is from Los Angeles and met her cinematographer John Floresca, who is also Filipino, in New York City.
Cuerdo, who is currently a content producer and editor at BuzzFeed, also announced during the interview that she is currently developing a TV series. Working with Floresca, she plans to highlight the chefs she has already met and bring them back to the Philippines to reconnect with their roots.
Amy Zhang ’21, who attended the event, said that she appreciated how the restaurateurs embraced their Filipino identity.
“It was interesting to hear how these chefs consciously think about their Filipino identity when making food, and how they wanted to convey messages about Filipino success and excellence in their restaurants,” Zhang said.
Cuerdo said that she hopes her time at Yale has left the New Haven community with an impression of the Filipino food movement. There are no Filipino restaurants in New Haven, she noted.
“It was a revelation for me to see the food I grew up with represented — that was awesome,” Cuerdo said. “I hope the film shows a little bit of what is happening outside of Connecticut. It is a real movement, that has been in fruition for many years now.”
After the Q&A session ended, Liu invited the audience outside to eat some Filipino noodles. The food was served by Kevin McGuire, the current shop manager at the restaurant Olmo, and his husband Seth Wallace. The couple plans to soon open up a Filipino barbecue restaurant in New Haven.
KASAMA: The Filipino Cub at Yale, the Asian American Cultural Center and the Yale Center for the Study of Race, Indigeneity, and Transnational Migration co-hosted the event.
Kofi Ansong | email@example.com and