I’m Karena. I love Toronto, was raised in Los Angeles, and am obsessed with California. I also like being Filipino, a lot. So much so that in 2008 I opened a restaurant in my Los Angeles neighborhood.
Butter Tart (delicious not nutritious) was an ode to both my Filipino and Canadian roots. We offered tasty treats with a Filipino/Canadian phlavor profile. The goodies included traditional butter tarts, b t’s with bacon, pastry dough empanadas and coconut milk cupcakes. We were very popular, but …the recession was not. After almost two years of acquiring the property, building out a kitchen/restaurant, opening and operating to a packed house every weekend, I had to make some hard decisions. To stay above water, I made the difficult choice to close shop and keep the property, thus becoming a landlady.
I was disappointed, to say the least, but the financial crisis was in full swing, so I was lucky I could make such a choice. I needed to put my passion and energy somewhere so, like many folks, in 2009 I started a blog. Pig Parts & Beer (that Filipino flava) was my creative outlet and a way to keep my energy and unapologetic pride for Filipino food and culture going. The name was fun and every community could relate to it (maybe not vegetarians). I also believe the climate was ripe for Filipino food, which at its heart is casual and homemade. I concentrated on stories about anything Filipino food, but I paid special attention to the photos, the descriptions and design. They were important. I wanted to depict Filipino food at its best. I even designed a PORK, The Filipino Way graphic tee which is still popular today. We, my little social media team, hosted MeetUPs and the first Filipino Food and Beer Pairing with Pleasure Palate blogger Abby Abanes, the Curbside Cravings Food Truck and Eagle Rock Brewing. Overall PP&B had such a great response, but it remained a passion project.
In 2014, I made a big move from Los Angeles to Palm Springs. It was my intention to open a small event space. Unfortunately, after 5 long months of escrow, the deal and my plans fell through. Luckily my new PS friends, who happened to be in the wedding a special event industry, had a suggestion. They reminded me of a project I had mentioned and put on the shelf a couple of years prior. I worked with Linda Snyder, a sculptor to develop cake toppers for my cousins wedding. Swirly Celebrations cake toppers were representations of her Filipino culture. We developed “Karla” and “Michael”. Both were dressed in traditional Filipino special occasion outfits. I had great affection for my creations and developed 16 more, highlighting many of the cultures I grew up with in Los Angeles. They were made and hand painted in Burbank, California, which made them very expensive to produce. Marketing of such a niche product proved to be expensive as well. To my sadness, I put them back on the shelf again, but timing is everything.
As demonstrated in biography so far, I have a passion for Filipino food and culture. The Phlavor Profiles Podcast project was a culmination of all of the above. In 2017 I decided to produce and host a podcast about the Filipino American experience through food. The first season featured EntrePinoys and EntrePinays in food and drink spaces. I really loved getting to know people and their stories. The podcast is one of my greatest achievements. It is so rich with possibilities, but most importantly, it’s a literal record of Filipino American life.