July 2, 2020

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The art of elevating leftovers

Nowhere Kitchen chef makes meals from food brought by audience

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Guest Chef/Artist Pepê Dayaw chats prior to whipping up a meal of leftovers Tuesday.</p></p>

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Guest Chef/Artist Pepê Dayaw chats prior to whipping up a meal of leftovers Tuesday.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 1/2/2018 (881 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Spread out on the kitchen counter of a loft in the Ashdown Building is a motley assortment of food and condiments. Next to half a lemon, there’s a tin of wasabi-flavoured kelp caviar. A small bunch of fresh parsley lies beside a container of diced canned tomatoes. There’s a tub of Korean gochujang hot pepper paste, three Italian sausages, a rind of Parmesan, celery, a small potato, half a bag of dry lentils, a handful of spaghetti, a bowl of cooked rice.

A plastic container in the fridge holds a thick, pale green liquid. "What is it? Is it avocado?" asks Callie Lugosi, pausing from chopping onions and garlic to examine it.

Something is bubbling on the stove and there’s jittery electronic music on the stereo. A slight man with a swoosh of black hair and a lilting accent is talking expressively with his hands, explaining the concept of Nowhere Kitchen, a participatory performance for which attendees are asked to bring leftover food from their kitchens or pantries to be transformed into dinner.

'An adobo you leave in the fridge overnight becomes even more delicious' – chef Pepê Dayaw

The performance artist/chef is Pepê Dayaw, who has turned making meals from leftovers into a (delicious) statement about community, democracy and perception.

At Nowhere Kitchen, the menu can’t be planned and there are no recipes to follow.

The meal depends on the food that’s provided, an act of creativity, nimbleness and transformation. This isn’t reheating a bowl of stew or microwaving a slice of pizza; Dayaw deconstructs and reassembles what he’s given.

As Lugosi, a photographer and writer for the Uniter, and Winnipeg chef Allan Pineda, who are the de facto local sous chefs for this installation, work away with the ingredients on the counter, Dayaw talks about the ideas he’ll present at his Nowhere Kitchen performances at the experimental music and art festival Forthwith this weekend.

The chef, 36, talks about how leftovers in North America are an afterthought, almost akin to garbage, whereas in the Philippines, where he grew up, they are more like a gift.

"An adobo you leave in the fridge overnight becomes even more delicious," he says, mentioning the concept of "tadak," which is leaving something for someone — "an action word," he says — which transforms the idea of leftovers from something to be used up into something that has more to give.

Leftovers grace the counter as chef and artist Pepê Dayaw chats prior to whipping up a meal of leftovers Tuesday.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Leftovers grace the counter as chef and artist Pepê Dayaw chats prior to whipping up a meal of leftovers Tuesday.

"At home, we would make lots of rice, huge pots of food because we want there to be leftovers," he says, adding that he considers the act of cooking enough for others to enjoy later an act of artistic collaboration.

His collaborative philosophy extends to the guest list; Dayaw revels in conversations among strangers and the ways food brings people together. The dinner invitees include Dutch sound artist Wouter Jaspers (who performs in the duo Odd Narrative at Forthwith tonight at 7 p.m. with Berlin-based artist Hainbach) and Althea Guiboche, known to Winnipeggers as the Bannock Lady.

Dayaw is not an Instagram chef; no artfully composed top-down shots of the ingredients making up tonight’s dinner will turn up online. He lives in the moment — he says "serendipity" a lot — and strives to make the act of cooking a ritual rather than a routine.

He talks about cooking in terms of choreography, both in the way groups of unexpected diners come together and in the way a cook moves in a kitchen. It’s not surprising, since his first love and art practice was dance — he moves with innate elegance and dances frequently, once while singing a mournful traditional Filipino song, wearing a fur hat and waltzing a dress around the room.

A polyglot, he speaks seven languages — English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Tagalog and Bikol, the dialect of his mother.

Asked to name the quintessential Filipino food of his youth, Dayaw sighs and says, "Sinigang," referring to the sweet-and-sour pork stew flavoured with tamarind.

He’s been freshly reminded of it; it’s one of the leftovers he provided for Nowhere Kitchen, home-cooked for him by a relative he discovered lives in Winnipeg after he arrived here. She drove him to her home — "We went to a place called Sage Creek," he says — and made him a meal.

The immigrant’s tale is inextricably tied up in the Nowhere Kitchen concept.

Dayaw was born in Manila and currently lives in Berlin, but he’s also called Madrid and Amsterdam home. He lived briefly in Birmingham, England, and cooked all over Brazil. Filipino food is based on acceptance and absorption — its flavours reflect the cuisines of the conquering cultures that have come and gone in the islands — and now he’s the one taking his food around the globe.

By using only what he’s given, Dayaw must drop the orthodoxy of the flavour pairings we’ve come to expect in our food; as diners, we’re forced to approach dishes with fresh taste buds.

At our Nowhere Kitchen, the meal begins with a version of arancini, the fried, stuffed Italian rice ball. This one’s creamy filling has leftover kidney beans rather than peas; it’s served on a curry mayo and topped with a dollop of that alarmingly green kelp caviar.

The next dish is a savoury chickpea stew with diced potatoes — the celery and the leftover pork from the sinigang turn up in it. The Italian sausages are served sliced over leftover rice, with a sauce made from the gochujang, Bee Projects honey and pollen.

Some guests eat standing up at the counter or seated at the table; others sprawl on cushions on the floor. Conversation flows as freely as the wine and beer.

From the middle of the living room, a smiling Dayaw surveys his work, a fleeting moment, unrecorded for posterity.

"This is all unwritten history, because in the act of experiencing it, you hardly have time to write," he says. "You just remember later on — it manifests in the form of recipes, something that follows (the experience) — and therefore the unwritten histories are cooking."

jill.wilson@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @dedaumier

Jill Wilson

Jill Wilson
Senior copy editor

Jill Wilson writes about culture and the culinary arts for the Arts & Life section.

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