Primrose Madayag Knazan, a West End author, playwright, food blogger and mother, has released her first young adult novel, Lessons in Fusion.
The book follows Wolseley food blogger, Sarah, as she competes on a cooking show — virtually (Lessons in Fusion takes place during the pandemic). Issues arise when the judges pressure the 16-year-old chef to only focus on Filipino food, pushing aside the Jewish dishes she holds dear.
Throughout the book, Sarah goes on a journey of self-discovery in which she learns about heritage, fusion cuisine, and racism. The book pivots between the point of views of Sarah, the producer, and Sarah’s mom and aunt.
Madayag Knazan hopes Lessons in Fusion can lead readers to reflect on food and the role it plays in cultural identity.
Madayag Knazan is a Filipinx-Canadian, Jewish woman. She grew up Catholic and left the church when she was 19. After becoming engaged in her early twenties, Madayag Knazan converted to Judaism — her husband is an Ashkenazi Jew.
The pair have two school age boys. Madayag Knazan wants them to give them the space and language to understand and celebrate who they are.
"We’re raising them in both worlds," she said.
Madayag Knazan’s parents immigrated from the Philippines to the Weston neighbourhood of Winnipeg in 1974. Growing up, embracing her culture wasn’t always easy, particularly in school.
Teachers told her parents to stop speaking their first language, Ilocano, to their daughter at home.
Madayag Knazan shied away from bringing traditional Filipino lunches to school. Soon after, her parents began cooking two different meals for her, an earnest gesture to help her feel like she could blend in.
"I want to eat what my friends are eating; I want to eat fish sticks, and I want to eat sandwiches," she said.
When she got to high school, where there were more Philipinx students, Madayag Knazan found that, in a way, she still didn’t fit in — many of the teens ate traditional meals.
In the years that followed, Madayag Knazan’s parents enrolled her in traditional dance, and in the last decade or so, she started cooking Filipino food for her family.
Each of Lessons in Fusion’s chapters begins with a recipe the author dreamed up and dialed in to a science. Some recipes include furikake popcorn with sesame brown butter, sweet potato latkes, and an iced turmeric-based latte made with ginger, cinnamon, coconut milk, almond milk and pepper.
"Each recipe is incorporated into the story," she said. "Every recipe in this book is fusion. As you move your way through, they become more Filipino."
Madayag Knazan’s book came together rather quickly, even though the journey to rediscover her cultural heritage through food transpired over years.
She got to work on Lessons in Fusion during the spring and summer of 2020, as racial justice movements ramped up across North America and chefs of colour spoke out against racism in the industry and being pigeonholed into only cooking foods related to their ethnicity.
"The whole idea of Lessons and Fusion — and the idea of fusion — is that fusion is two cultures on a plate. But you can’t just throw two cultures on a plate, they have to compliment each other, and they have to intertwine, or else it’s not a real recipe," she said.
"Just like Sarah is two different cultures … They have to compliment each other and both sides have to flourish."
Madayag Knazan is active on her Instagram blog, pegonaplate, where she reviews and promotes local restaurants.
Lessons in Fusion is available for direct-purchase through Great Plains Publications at www.greatplains.mb.ca or online and in-person at McNally Robinson.
Katlyn Streilein is the reporter/photgrapher for The Metro.