Sitting in on the meeting Carlo Buenaventura is having with Joe O'Connell and James Prendergast, respectively the head chef and restaurant manager at Ozone Coffee Roasters, Grey Lynn the enthusiasm for local, sustainable ingredients is palpable: “Rhubarb is in season”, “pickled chillies?”, “we could get banana leaves from Kelmarna gardens”, “Celery: winter!”
They’ve been thinking about it for a while - brainstorming and putting together courses for a pop up dinner now that big gatherings are starting to feel like a good idea again in practice, not just in theory.
You might know ‘pop-up king’ and Filipino immigrant Carlo from The Cult Project, a pop-up restaurant he set up with Will Cook, Irina Lylova and Sheree Pifeleti in 2016. Since then, he's set up 50-odd pop-up dinners around New Zealand, both with The Cult Project and on his own. They're in Auckland and Wellington in particular: At Annabelles, Gemmayze Street and Culprit among other places. In fact, it was Culprit chef and co-founder Kyle Street who encouraged Carlo to embrace his Filipino roots in his cooking.
Carlo Buenaventura and Joe O'Connell, Head Chef at Ozone Coffee Roasters
Since then, the Filipino-born chef has showcased South Filipino SuTuKil cooking at his pop ups. Diners have seen glimpses and touches of it at some of the pop ups, and seen it exuberantly celebrated at others.
SuTuKil is a portmantaue of Suba: grill (usually over coals), Tuwa: boil (including braises, broths and sauces) and Kilaw: marinate or acidulate. That last one, Kilaw, includes the Filipino equivalent of ceviche, done not with citrus but with other sour fruits.
The word SuTuKil is taken from those three cooking methods that Southern Filipino cuisine uses a lot - and you’ll see them at this dinner, but Carlo emphasises that they are the norm for Filipino people, most of whom only see the rich, meaty dishes we usually see in Filipino cuisine (like sisig and crispy pata) at feasts and celebrations. Instead, in the cuisine Carlo says most Filipinos eat, meat is used as a garnish for flavour, especially dried fish and beef, in very small amounts.
At the upcoming dinner you’ll see the way those Filipino influences mix with his Kiwi training and ingredients. Carlo isn’t looking to centre the Filipino cooking style at this pop up, instead using it to showcase the fresh, local, seasonal cuisine that the little team is so excited about. Besides, he adds, even if you were to make the same dishes as he remembers from the Philippines with the same recipe, our produce is so different that you'd get entirely different results: even the tomatoes are different.
This feast will focus on local, seasonal food with Filipino twists - and he does stress that he wants the dinner to be set out like a feast or a celebration. Diners will be seated amongst each other, rather than in separate tables and the food will be brought on communal plates for sharing. Some of the courses are to be eaten with your hands, much like how Carlo remembers feasts from back in the Philippines.
Because over lockdown, he realised, and he thinks everyone realised, the importance of those little conversation with strangers - even just saying “Hello,” “How are you”, or “Goodbye” in a cafe have an impact on us. So he’s throwing a feast that puts you in the heart of a community, among food-loving strangers to celebrate those moments and have conversations with people.
Though it's clear he gets along really well with the team at Ozone, and the collaboration is a product of friendship, after the interview, Carlo goes over to the kitchen where shelves of preserves are lined up. "This is why I chose to work with Ozone," he says, gesturing to the jars of pickled chilli, vinegared persimmon, fermented chilli sauce, preserved lemon and ume boshi. "They don't make a big thing about it, but they put a lot of effort into sustainability and reducing waste. They use what they have."
That ethos fits with Carlo's own - using local ingredients and focusing on reducing waste while creating food that brings people together. He's a chef, but he's also a curator of social experiences. And it seems this collaboration, between him and Ozone, is the perfect for a feast to celebrate eating local food with friends and strangers. And especially now, while the rest of the world still can't do that safely, it really is something precious.
* Carlo stresses that the dish isn't a version of ceviche, because it has been around long before the people of the Philippines came into contact with Europeans: it's similarity to ceviche is simply a case of two different cultures developing similar dishes independent of eachother.
For tickets and more information about the 25th of July Cult Project x Ozone event, click here.
Keep an eye out for Carlo's other upcoming events:
- Wellington Atlas restaurant with Unkel wines 1st September
- Waipara Black Estate winery Pet Nat release and spring equinox party on the 3rd of October