ULAM: Main Dish, an initiative of the Filipino community to present the capital of their culinary creativity to the mainstream American consumer, this is a telling documentary about the lives and inspiration of the Filipino American chefs and restaurateurs who essentially pioneered the cuisine in the United States. Featuring renowned chefs like Los Angleles’ Alvin Cailan and several others, this film digs deep to explore the heritage and history of Filipino food.
Although this documentary leaves room for Fil-Am chefs to show their beautiful talent for crafting culturally rich cuisine, their personal stories, obstacles and achievements are the backbone of the film. Opening the doors to embrace and reaffirm the Filipino tradition in American households, the documentary leaves room for discussion about complex issues like colonialism and the importance of support from the Filipino community surrounding this crossover.
Writer, director, and producer Alexandra Cuerdo combined her unique vision for this documentary with cinematographer and producer, John Floresca. As a filmmaker, Alexandra Cuerdo was looking for the right inspiration for her first feature length documentary, and she found her answer over Filipino food in the heart of New York City.
Cuerdo grew up watching her mom cook Filipino food and fondly remembers her favorite ulam including kare-kare, a dish consisting of stewed meat in peanut sauce, as a favorite. Her attachment to the Filipino culinary tradition never left her mind as she attended UCLA where she pursued her dreams of being a filmmaker.
A California native, she fell in love with LA in high school and never looked back, but New York was always just a dream until this documentary. With an overwhelming goal of being bi-coastal, this film was her ticket to the East Coast. Her father and career mentor, Rey Cuerdo encouraged her to take on the project and dive into her passion for Filipino food and film with one endeavor. This spark of creative direction, led to the opportunity for her to pursue a dream that would soon become reality.
With a limited budget and a team of two, the obstacles presented in a film like this were consistent with the typical challenges that arise in indie filmmaking. Cuerdo and Floresca, both familiar with working on sets with hundreds of people, learned how to work through this uncharted territory with trial and error, sleepless nights, and faith in the process. Although it was taxing, the result is a documentary that celebrates the coalition of cultures and the rich legacy of diversity found at the American table.
Ulam was a part of a month-long food festival promoting the diverse culinary scene – Los Angeles’ Times Food Bowl. The film premiered during LA Food Bowl and included a panel discussion with filmmaker Cuerdo and several chefs featured in the film. The Grand Central Market also hosted Filipino food pop-ups directly following the screening.