In Tagalog, the word kusinera means ‘female cook’.
In Toronto, it’s also the name of a pop-up that pays homage to the resilience of Filipinas with dishes like kare kare and kaldereta that are well worth waiting a month for.
There’s no female chef behind Kusinera: The owner of the new Toronto pop-up is 23-year-old Keanu Francisco, who is in fact a kusinero.
Since October, Francisco has been running his pop-up out of the Portland Street restaurant Sara, where he works as a Junior Sous Chef.
Kusinera’s Instagram feed is how followers can keep abreast of upcoming pop-ups and all the tantalizing dishes, around $16 each, that Francisco is pumping out: tocino glazed chicken wings, wagyu beef burger steaks (a tribute to the Jollibee meal), and XOXO sauce ginataang hipon.
The Instagram feed is also a glimpse into a kusinero’s reconnection with his Filipino culture. Francisco was born in Quezon City, but was raised predominantly in Canada, and says he neglected his heritage for years because of it.
“I started doing my research, discovered this legendary Filipina war heroine, Maria Orosa, and was inspired by all the work she has done for Filipino culture,” says Francisco.
“Needless to say I was inspired, and I realized how important Filipina women are to Filipino culture and the culinary scene…Feminine energy is such a vital aspect of Filipino culture. Literally every Filipino will have a story about how hospitable a Filipino mom or aunt or family friend is when you get invited over or have dinner with them.”
Kusinera partners with Shannon Nocos, a Toronto-based Filipina baker who makes cakes nearly too pretty to eat under Make Kwento. He hopes to make the pop-ups bi-weekly, but is enjoying the low-pressure pace of orders for now.
“I’m really comfortable doing a month to month thing for the moment. I find that it keeps it relaxed, and I’m able to be free with the food and change things up instead of staying stagnant,” he says.
Kusinera’s first pop-up was based on the food Francisco’s parents cooked for him growing up, and the second was inspired by foods he wished he’d had. This upcoming round will pull from another aspect of his life, but we’ll have to wait until late February for that one.