From the street-side vendors of Manila to the local carinderias, Filipino cuisine is a rich tapestry of flavors that has captured the hearts and palates of food lovers around the globe. With a myriad of influences from Spanish, Chinese, Malay, and even American cuisines, Filipino dishes are a testament to the country’s diverse history and its culinary ingenuity.
Now, this multifaceted cuisine has finally achieved global recognition with the advent of Kasama, the world’s first MICHELIN-starred Filipino restaurant.
In Tagalog, one of the major languages in the Philippines, Kasama translates to “together”, reflecting the central role food plays in Filipino culture. A symbol of togetherness, a gathering of sorts. A meal is more than just sustenance; it’s an event, a celebration, a symbol of hospitality, and most importantly, a shared experience.
The brilliance behind Kasama is the culinary partnership of husband-and-wife duo, Tim Flores and Genie Kwon. Flores, with his Filipino heritage and Chicago upbringing, and Kwon, with her Korean origins and New Orleans birthplace, blend their diverse backgrounds and culinary experiences to create an ambrosial union of flavors that is undeniably Kasama.
From Flores’ mother’s Pancit and Lumpia that bring nostalgic memories of Kwon’s childhood, to the much-loved Nilaga, a boiled beef stew that is akin to Korea’s galbi tang, Kasama effortlessly marries the familiar with the innovative. It goes beyond just the traditional Filipino fare and includes an array of French pastries, adding a global touch to the mix. Moreover, Kasama offers a 13-course tasting menu, which brought joy to diners, especially within the Filipino community, reflecting Flores’ intention of sharing the good food he grew up eating.
However, the road to earning a Michelin star was not without its challenges. Flores and Kwon opened Kasama in July 2020, amid the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Their original plan of a café with morning pastries baked by Kwon and a casual menu from Flores took an unexpected turn when they began serving a tasting menu as a way to sustain the restaurant through the hardships of the pandemic.
The result of this pivot is a culinary experience that not only brings together the traditional and contemporary, but also emphasizes the togetherness that food brings, akin to the Filipino culture of family and giving back to people. This earned them the coveted Michelin Star, placing Kasama amongst the high-quality cooking establishments worth a stop.
Kasama is a testament to the potential of Filipino cuisine on the global stage. It highlights the diverse, soulful, and robust flavors of the Philippines, while also proving that these flavors can resonate with a wider audience. It is a victory for Filipino food lovers worldwide and a beacon of inspiration for Filipino chefs looking to elevate and promote Filipino cuisine in their own unique ways.
In the end, Kasama is more than just a restaurant – it’s a celebration of Filipino culture, a tribute to its rich culinary heritage, and a home where everyone, regardless of their background, can come together to share and enjoy good food. The recognition by Michelin is just the icing on the cake for Flores and Kwon, who have done a remarkable job of bringing Filipino cuisine to the limelight, one delicious dish at a time.
Based on the latest updates, the prestigious James Beard Foundation Awards were held once again in Chicago this year. Spouses and chefs Tim Flores and Genie Kwon of Kasama, the world’s first Michelin-starred Filipino restaurant, won the Best Chef: Great Lakes award. This was a significant achievement for them as Kasama was a 2022 James Beard Foundation finalist for best new restaurant.