“Could it be that Filipino food, the underdog of Asian cuisines, is having its moment at last?” — THE NEW YORK TIMES
In this delicious new documentary, Filipino-American filmmaker Alexandra Cuerdo answers this question — and follows the rise of Filipino food via the award-winning chefs crossing over to the center of the American table.
Vancouver Premiere. In this delicious new documentary, Filipino-American filmmaker Alexandra Cuerdo follows the rise of Filipino food via the award-winning chefs crossing over to the center of the American table. ULAM: Main Dish stages this new culinary movement as not only a remarkable achievement for American restaurateurs, but also as a validation of Filipino culture. The film confronts issues inherent in representing both Filipino and American identity, and challenges from both the Filipino community and the world at large. Ultimately, ULAM is a celebration – and confirmation – that Filipino food, and Filipinos, are here to stay.
Diners enjoy an eat with your hands, kamayan-style feast at Jeepney in ULAM: Main Dish. Photo courtesy of Kidlat Entertainment.
DIRECTOR’S STATEMENT — ALEXANDRA CUERDO
“Ulam” means main dish in tagalog, the national language of the Philippines. And this film truly strives to examine the “main dish” — not only by highlighting the hallmarks of modern Filipino cuisine, but also by telling the stories of those that create it. Through pioneering Filipino-American chefs and restaurateurs, we discuss the issues inherent in the Fil-Am crossover; also, we celebrate the newfound success of the thriving culinary community that is the Filipino food movement.
The chefs behind ULAM: Main Dish come from all walks of life — from Michelin-starred line cooks to high school dropouts, successful restaurateurs to first time shop owners. All are highly acclaimed by critics and customers alike, all trailblazers in the Filipino food movement. Through a series of one-on-one interviews, we delve into their histories. We ask about their families, where they’re from, who they are, what made them. We look at their stories, their sacrifices and what it takes to run a successful restaurant in two of the most competitive markets in the world: New York and Los Angeles. Lastly, we ask what inspired them to pursue Filipino food, and why. For only through these personal histories, and private goals, can we determine the narrative of modern Filipino cuisine.
We seek to validate the cultural capital of Filipino food, and of Filipinos in America as a whole. Many interviews tread on deeper topics than food alone — we discuss crab mentality, the effects of colonialism, the need for support from the Filipino community. We talk about the struggles chefs have with crossing over a cuisine from a country that is largely still considered “third world.” Lastly, we watch our subjects do what they do best — create and eat incredible, delicious, beautiful food.
Ultimately, we strive to document personal stories, which inform the way we think about food in the context of our own lives. In ULAM, our subjects and our food are vehicles for further discussion. Food is our history, and the history of the Filipino people is complex. Filipino food and its ability to succeed is also a window into our future — and we must discuss what divides us, to find what unites us. If we are to celebrate Filipino food, and be respected as a people, we must dig deep into what makes us, and examine the future we want to create.
Alexandra Cuerdo is a Filipino-American director, producer and editor, recently named one of the 100 Most Influential Filipina Women In the World by the Filipina Women’s Network. MSN ranks her feature directorial debut, ULAM: Main Dish as one of the “Top 5 Food Documentaries to Watch” now.As a content producer and editor, Alexandra’s videos for BuzzFeed have achieved over 200 million views and over 1.5 million shares on Facebook. She is based in Los Angeles and New York. ULAM: Main Dish is Cuerdo’s first feature length documentary.
Program 8: Centrepiece Spotlight: Ulam: Main Dish