When Jollibee in Skokie opened its doors back in July, its rowdy reception was unexpected, at least to non-Filipinos. Customers far and wide are visiting the bustling chain and waiting hours (literally) for a taste of Filipino food in the form of sweet spaghetti, crispy chicken and halo-halo, a colorful shaved ice dessert. Who knew that fast food could fill such a niche?
On Wednesday, Jollibee will be joined by another high-profile company, Seafood City (5033 N. Elston Ave.). Cook County’s Pinoy population — as of 2014, numbering at 1 million-plus, the third largest in the U.S. after Los Angeles and Miami-Dade counties — is expected to clamor as excitedly for the mega-market and its fast-casual counters as it did for Jollibee.
These players may be the biggest names bringing their food to the masses, but they certainly weren’t the first, nor will they be the last, if Filipino Kitchen and their Kultura Festival have anything to do with it.
Headed up by Sarahlynn Pablo, Natalia Roxas-Alvarez and Caitlin Preminger, the one-day event Sunday, Oct. 2, is a celebration of Filipino food and art. But don’t expect the merely traditional at this year’s fete: After last year’s inaugural event, the trio decided to go bigger.
Jollibee opens first Midwest location in Chicago area
The popular Filipino fast food chain Jollibee opened its first Chicagoland outpost in Skokie with much fanfare. (Joseph Hernandez / Chicago Tribune)
“Other Filipino-American events have VIP spots, require people to wear traditional garb, sell mediocre food,” says Roxas-Alvarez. “Those festivals don’t speak to our generation. We wanted to do something different.”
Instead, the group set out to make Kultura more contemporary, showcasing not only chefs and food but also art, music and performances. Returning once again to Logan Square’s Emporium Arcade Bar (2363 N. Milwaukee Ave.), Kultura’s roster of chefs includes both national and local talent, like Kristine Subido of Pecking Order Catering; Bjorn DelaCruz of Manila Social Club (NYC); pop-up Sarap Detroit; AC Boral of Rice & Shine and Naks Tacos (Long Beach, CA); and Sharwin Tee of the TV show "Curiosity Got the Chef" (Manila, Philippines).
“It’s very casual — you don’t need to be Filipino to enjoy the food or culture,” says Pablo. “Come as you are. Come hungry. We want to tell our own stories, and we want to welcome everyone to enjoy our culture.”
In addition to chef-driven cuisine, Kultura has partnered with the Filipino American Network organization to host Adobofest, a home-cooking competition, and a balut-eating contest. (Balut is a fertilized duck egg — a popular, if polarizing, street food in the Philippines.)
Performances by DJs will punctuate the event, along with the U.S. debut of Filipino-Canadian contemporary dance company Hataw and modern Filipino tribal music crew Datu. Attendees can also catch workshops by San Francisco-based indigenous art group Katao Living Traditions on batok (tattoos), baybayin (ancient writing system), history and even Filipino martial arts. “There’s more to Filipino culture than lumpia and pancit,” says Roxas-Alvarez.
“We just want to spread the good word about Filipino food,” says Pablo. “We want to give our chefs room to shine and build up the community.”
Early-bird Kultura Festival general admission tickets are available through Sept. 15 for $15 and can be purchased here. After that date, general admission tickets will be $20.