Seattle Filipino restaurants like Musang, Hood Famous, and Archipelago have risen to regional and national acclaim over the past few years. Archipelago, along with three other Seattle restaurants, recently made the New York Times’ 2021 Restaurant List, for example. But filmmaker Terrence Jeffrey Santos cautions Filipino food is not a trend — people are just paying more attention.
In 2018, Santos started filming the journeys of Seattle Filipino chefs for a documentary, Filipinx Food Seattle, which is still in the works. The purpose of the documentary is twofold: to provide an insider glimpse into the Seattle Filipino food scene, and be a source of pride for the Filipino community.
“We’re not a trend … we’re here to stay,” Santos said. “These artists, these chefs, stand on the shoulders of the previous generation, and [they’re] doing such excellent work that we just can’t ignore them anymore.”
Santos’ background is in film, having worked on documentaries The Otherside, about Seattle’s hip-hop scene, and directed Sam Choy’s Poke to the Max. He also owned and operated a restaurant in Kirkland with his wife Julianne from 2016 to 2020 before switching gears to focus on his growing family. In 2017, Santos reconnected with childhood friend chef Melissa Miranda of Musang after learning about a Noche Buena dinner event — an event that connected Filipino chefs in the Seattle area, with proceeds from the dinner benefiting a Filipino community center. Through the event, Santos was connected with other chefs, many of whom became friends. “I was able to see how everyone was working together and was so supportive of one another,” he said.
Santos started filming footage of the Filipino food scene shortly after, when Musang and Archipelago were just on the cusp of securing brick and mortar spaces. The documentary includes footage and interviews with Miranda, Geo Quibuyen of Hood Famous Bakeshop, Aaron Verzosa of Archipelago, and Leila Ross of Oriental Mart, as well as the Paraiso family of Kusina Filipina, owners of Kent food truck Big Boys Kainan, Jan Parker Cookery in Tacoma, and more.
Throughout the film, Santos ties the restaurants, pop-ups, or food trucks back to family recipes and traditions. Taking pandemic precautions, Santos filmed interviews in some of the chefs’ homes as they prepared meals with their family, such as Jan Parker and her mother making beef mechado together.
Some of Santos’ interviews reflect generational differences and complexities among Seattle’s Filipino American communities, connecting the effects of Spanish colonizers and, later, American capitalism, on Filipino immigrants. Because of those influences, some immigrants might have felt that their food wasn’t good enough, or they abandoned family traditions and recipes in order to assimilate. But today’s generation of Filipino chefs are bringing their whole histories with them.
“This generation is becoming more aware of the effects colonialism has had on people in general,” Santos said. “I think just that awareness has helped us kind of break through certain barriers and ceilings and we’re happy to say, ‘[Our] food is good.’ We have artists that can show in their own way just how good it is.”
Filipinx Food Seattle is still in the filming process, but Santos hopes to wrap up production by next year in order to submit to the Seattle International Film Festival and other festivals. Those interested can help support the documentary by contributing to the GoFundMe campaign, and follow along with @filipinxfoodseattle on Instagram for updates.