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Meat me in St. Louis

I sold out all my food at the Kultura Festival in Chicago and was looking forward to doing the same in St. Louis, at Guerilla Street Food’s 2nd Annual Filipino Night Market.

I thought I was going to die. No, I was sure of it.

It was only a two-hour flight from Chicago to St. Louis, but we were in the midst of 15 minutes of sustained violent turbulence, including a tremendously large dip that had more than a few people react verbally. I looked to my right and two seats away, Natalia Roxas of Filipino Kitchen had her eyes closed. She had turned surprisingly religious, I joked.

I wasn’t ready to go. I mean, I had just sold out all my food at the Kultura Festival in Chicago and I was looking forward to doing the same in St. Louis, at the 2nd Annual Filipino Night Market produced by Guerilla Street Food (GSF). No, I needed this flight to land in a nice, comfortable and safe way.

Once we landed (kudos to the pilot for a near-perfect landing), though, it was all good. Joel Crespo, one half of the dynamic duo behind GSF, was gracious enough to pick us up and let us stay in his home. Meanwhile, Brian Hardesty, the other half of the GSF brain trust, was taking care of procuring all the ingredients and materials we would need.

With these guys firmly in charge, I knew it was going to be a wonderful situation, just like last year. We could relax, which was definitely most welcome, as my stomach was still turning from that most interesting of flights. Joel felt what we needed was a good meal to calm us down. I liked where his head was. This was a guy who knew us well. We dropped our bags at Joel’s place and headed out for a barbecue lunch.

Guerilla Street Food’s version of biko

Having calmed down and eaten our weight in smoked meats, we hatched our game plan. We would be given space in the GSF restaurant kitchen to prep our food, and would be sharing the space with our old friends, Jake Williams and Dorothy Hernandez, the husband-and-wife duo doing Sarap Detroit, a Filipino food popup company. My plan was to make the prep as smooth as possible, so I made sure to prep as much of my food as I could before Sarap Detroit’s arrival.

As with the previous year’s market, I was combining with Filipino Kitchen and we decided on two dishes for our stall. Seeing its popularity in the Kultura Festival, my Cereal Milk Maja Mais with Crisp Bacon and Crushed Ube Otap was the natural first choice.

For our second dish, I wanted to give a wink to both my Chinese-Filipino heritage and my current surroundings (the American Midwest), so we made Humba Sloppy Joes with Atcharang Repolyo. I would take ground pork, shredded carrots and diced mushrooms, and stew them just like a humba. Then, I would serve that on a toasted bun and top it with the atchara. I wanted it to become a Chinoy Midwest classic.

Two days before the night market, we began our work. I started chopping vegetables for the humba, while Natalia set her sights on crisping up the bacon for the maja. Midway through the cooking, I began to worry. I was stirring a huge pot and in it was 30 pounds of meat and vegetables simmering away in soy sauce and star anise. Did I make too much? How much humba could we really sell in St. Louis?

Guerilla Street Food’s mechado

Before I could stew (pun intended) on these thoughts any further, I was also reminded to set aside some ingredients for a demo. The following day, Joel and I would be appearing on the morning show of the St. Louis Fox Channel affiliate to promote the night market and I would be cooking. I had to love the confidence of Joel and Natalia when they said it was no big deal since I appear on TV in the Philippines all the time, but deep down, I was a tad nervous. This was, after all, my first time to appear on an American TV show!

Waking up early the next day, Joel, Natalia and I headed to the TV station to do the promotion. Immediately my nerves gave way to ease as the set looked just like the one on morning shows here in Manila and I set about preparing for the demo. Once the TV segment started, it was all fun. The host was gracious and professional, Joel was a real pro at promoting and I didn’t blow up the station. Everyone did their jobs!

After the TV segment, we headed back to GSF and soon, Dorothy and Jake joined us there. We all got caught up (gosh, I missed all these guys), and then we set out to prep. Since Natalia and I only had the maja left to do, it was smooth sailing in the kitchen the rest of the way.

Joel Crespo and author Sharwin Tee on St. Louis TV promoting the Filipino Night Market

Joel was doing biko, while Brian and his team had mechado and adobo, as well as a host of other GSF favorites cooking. Jake and Dorothy were making Bicol Express and Sisig Tacos and I summoned every ounce of my willpower not to eat any of their dishes. At the end of the night, over beers and, later on, whiskey, we were all excited because we were ready. We were just not sure what the turnout would be.

What a turnout it was! As we set up our stations to prepare for the 4 p.m. opening, we realized a crowd had gathered by the entrance. Once we opened at 4, however, what we didn’t realize was how big that crowd would swell into. I started dishing out dishes and didn’t really stop. When Natalia handed me a glass of water, I realized that we were almost sold out, and it was just 5:30 p.m. We looked at our supplies and I realized I should have made 60 pounds of humba instead of 30!

When we sold the last of our maja at 6 p.m., I leaned against a post, amazed at what had just transpired. Because of our success in 2017, we decided to make double the amount of food this year and we still sold out. What an amazing sequel!

Now this just means we have to make it a trilogy, yes?

* * *

Sharwin’s new book, So, You Want to be a Chef? is now available at National Book Store and soon, Powerbooks. Follow Sharwin’s food adventures on Instagram @chefsharwin and for questions, reactions, recipe and column suggestions, you can contact him at www.sharwintee.com.

Credits belong to : www.philstar.com


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