In Love And On A Mission: Ven’z Kitchen Making Tourists Love Filipino Food
Ven, Venz and their daughter Caden. Photo courtesy of Allison Yates
By Allison Yates
Ven’z Kitchen is a small, ten-seater restaurant and private cooking school in the main tourist hub of Panagsama Beach, Moalboal, Cebu doing more than serving hungry tourists and teaching foreigners how to cook. With their love of each other and cooking, owners Venz and Ven are transforming the way foreigners understand Filipino food.
When Venz and Ven met on an online dating website in 2015, neither of them were working in the culinary industry. Neither considered herself a chef, but food had always been an important part of their lives. In fact, it was what drew them together.
Sitting in the kitchen next to shelves of spices and a halo-halo recipe scribbled on a sheet of notebook paper, Ven shared with me an early conversation between them. “She [Venz] asked me how I made my chicken adobo,” Venz stood in the doorway, smiling, listening. To Venz, the way a person cooks their chicken adobo is indicative of their personality.
Ven chats with participants as she peels peppers. Photo courtesy of Allison Yates
Ven told her with pineapple, an unlikely ingredient. “And she said, ‘Are you kidding me?!’” Venz’s mother used pineapple in her adobo, and she couldn’t believe there was someone else out there who enjoyed the combination as much she did. A love was forged and, soon after, a grand vision for sharing their passion for food with others.
Neither Venz nor Ven is from the area, but they deliberately chose to open the restaurant in a high tourism location. Venz had lived in abroad and realized that Chinese, Thai and Indian cuisine was popular all over the world, but not Filipino food. Targeting tourists would be the first step to make chicken adobo as common as chicken tikka masala.
The menu was easy: a combination of their own personal favorite dishes such as afritada, pork kaldereta, pork bistek tagalog and sisig, the most popular dish. The dishes represent over eleven regions of the Philippines, so tourists who don’t have time to visit each region can still get a taste.
Ven shows students how to make “arroz caldo”. Photo courtesy of Allison Yates
Cooking classes followed shortly after opening in May 2016. The classes were important in growing the business, as establishing as a restaurant in Moalboal isn’t easy. Much of Moalboal tourism is pre-purchased diving vacation packages with food included. Tourism companies have relationships with the established restaurants, which unfortunately in Panagsama Beach are international (“Pizzas and burgers,” said Ven). Opening Ven’z Kitchen meant being the first restaurant in the tourist hub serving entirely Filipino food.
Venz and Ven work together to make biko during a cooking class. Photo courtesy of Allison Yates
Ven puts the final touches on biko. Photo courtesy of Allison Yates
Even when encountering tourists who scoff at the idea of Filipino cooking classes, Ven simply explains their motto is “cooking is our passion and the secret is timing” and challenged them to try their hand at it. Locally owned businesses like Ven’z Kitchen are so important to educate tourists who otherwise might have left Panagsama beach without realizing the dedication it takes to craft food as rich, complex and diverse as Filipino food.
Venz shows a dish she made for a regular customer. Photo courtesy of Allison Yates
Over time, Ven and Venz have gained more respect from the local community with their concept taking off. After just a year of business, they’re already making plans to expand. It’s not just the delicious food that keeps customers coming back and referring their friends, but the genuine passion for Filipino food that Ven and Venz exude and the determination to spread it throughout the world.
A student looks at the food she made in a cooking class at Ven’z Kitchen. Photo courtesy of Allison Yates
As for Venz and Ven, the personal journey has been a wonderful experience. “It’s amazing when you work with your partner and you welcome each other’s ideas,” said Ven. Sometimes, they say, they grab a drink after a busy night of work and just relax, feeling grateful for each other. Running Ven’z Kitchen both nurtures their relationship and creates a space for more in-depth travel experiences. Each day Venz and Ven work together to help another foreigner learn about Filipino cuisine is another step closer to completing their mission. Next time you’re in Moalboal, pop into Ven’z Kitchen for delicious food made with a lot of love.
Ven, Venz and Caden, thrilled to be able to work together at Ven’z Kitchen. Photo courtesy of Allison Yates