The Salo Story: Finding Your Passion in Unlikely Places

Written by: Shin Kitane/Saturday, Dec 10, 2016 07:29 AM

For Yana Gilbuena, Filipina chef and creator of SALO, doing pop-up dinners hasn't always been her number one priority. "When I moved to New York, I was still in the design industry" she shares, "[and I] started doing my Filipino pop-up dinners in Brooklyn kinda like as a side hobby."

In a twist of fate, however, Yana got laid off from her job just when she had started taking on her new hobby. "I just got laid off maybe like three pop-ups in," she recounts, "and it was like these crossroads--Do I get a new job or do I go with this pop-up thing that I recently just started?"


Yana turned to a friend for advice, and with a realization that she really wasn't too keen on working for anyone anymore, she decided to take her hobby seriously, starting with touring across all 50 states to do pop-up dinners.


Yana chose what she calls "the pop-up life" and has not yet stopped cooking Filipino food under what we now know as The Salo Series

Read: The Gypsy Chef's Top 10 Travel Essentials

When the idea first hit her, however, Yana was not too impressed by the challenge. "In my head, fifty was such a small number," she recalls. Looking back, she admits that she initially didn't know what she was getting herself into until she started actually doing the tours, and that's when she realized that it was really happening. 


Today, she has gotten so used to the idea of touring that she considers home to be the place where she is currently in. "Home is wherever my backpack lives," Yana says, and when asked about New York, which was where she used to live before going on her pop-up journey, she simply says that she's been away for too long to still consider it home. In the course of finding a new path to take, Yana has also found new homes, friends, and new ways to introduce Filipino food to the rest of the world.


Read: Five Ways to Navigate Through A New City with Yana Gilbuena

Cravings for Arroz Caldo

Yana traces Salo's roots back to a craving for Filipino soup one winter: "The idea to do Salo was actually borne out of my cravings for arroz caldo in the dead of winter in New York." At the time, there was no one in the city who made it, and she recounts how frustrated it made her feel--"This was New York city, and why can't I have my own comfort food?"


A question, no doubt, that we are thankful she asked. Years later, Salo has become a source of comfort and discovery for both Filipinos and foreigners looking for Filipino food. Yana's craving for arroz caldo became her personal cue to take it upon herself to showcase Filipino cuisine to the world and bring a little piece of home to Filipinos living in different parts of the U.S.

Get the recipe for Chef Yana Gilbuena's Kitchen Sink Fried Rice


Yana's journey doing Salo hasn't been free of its own concerns--she articulates that one of the problems that she constantly deals with as a pop-up chef was worrying whether or not enough people were going to come in for dinner. "Especially when I'm collaborating with other people, I want to make sure that they're covered, that I'm covered--that we're in a good place."


Most of the time though, her dinners are a success, as five-course meals bursting with Pinoy flavor and a unique dining experience tend to be. They sometimes do kamayan dinners at Salo, where guests eat on banana leaves with bare hands, a time-tested Filipino tradition for enjoying food.

Asked about the future, Yana admits that it's something she also worries about. "People have asked me--After you're done traveling all the seven continents, what do you want to do? And it's something that frightens me actually--being sedentary." 


While Yana's plan for Salo's future is still not set (she has casually mentioned the idea of starting a restaurant), she continues on to finish what she started a few years back--cooking Filipino food and bringing people together through her country's culture and heritage. "With these dinners, people come in as strangers and they leave as friends."

Quite frankly, we're excited with what's in store for Salo. Yana Gilbuena has undeniably started a wonderful thing, and with her heart in the right non-sedentary place, we're confident that good things will follow Salo wherever it goes. Since she's not too fond of being in just one place, maybe a moving restaurant--a food truck? a luxury ship? oh the possibilities!--would be a good idea, yes?


We'll see. In the meantime, catch her 24x24 on Lifestyle Network, where we follow her during one of her pop-up days. Call your cable provider to subscribe or visit for more information on Pinoy movies and shows.


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About Shin Kitane
Shin Kitane writes to remember and believes that words have the power to heal, inspire, and move others. She dreams of a world where men and women are treated equally, where race, gender, and religion are not measures of one's worth in society. She is also a book-hoarder and a firm believer in re-watching Mean Girls and Harry Potter multiple times a year. Follow her misadventures @shinkitane on social media.
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