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Toronto Filipino chef uses food as cultural teaching tool

Culinary art workshops part of this year's Filipino festival

Daniel Cancino, head chef at Lamesa restaurant, is helping Filipino young people learn about their culture through food.

Eduardo Lima / Metro Order this photo

Daniel Cancino, head chef at Lamesa restaurant, is helping Filipino young people learn about their culture through food.

A sense of cultural pride fills Daniel Cancino's heart every time he springs into action in his kitchen.

"At the beginning of my career there was only access to cooking food through a European style," said the head chef at Lamesa, a Toronto restaurant specializing in Filipino dishes. "Unless you're talking about the mom and pop shop, there was no high-end Indian, African or Filipino eateries. But now we're seeing more gateways to it, which is really awesome."

The overall fabric of Toronto cuisine continues to be diverse as the city welcomes more immigrants. But Cancino says it's still harder for the younger generation to truly connect with their cultural cooking, as there's a lack of traditional ingredients and experienced people.

He's out to help change that. As part of the annual Kultura Filipino Arts Festival taking place this weekend, Cancino has teamed up with a handful established chefs in the local community to provide traditional culinary lessons to Filipino youth.

Called Ulam, a Tagalog word meaning dish or meal, the program is an attempt to draw youth born in diaspora into their cultural identity, community and homeland.

Whether it's making staple dishes like adobo or lumpia, or getting flavours just right, Cancino said the goal is to help young people recreate Filipino dishes using Ontario ingredients.

"We want them to be confident and proud of their culture," he said.

According to the Census there were 204,035 Filipinos living in Ontario in 2011, the majority of whom live in Toronto.

The program also fits well into the festival's objective of sharing the community's food and culture with the rest of Toronto, said Nicole Cajucom, executive director of Kapisanan Philippine Centre for Arts and Culture, which runs the festival.

"Food is the entry point to any culture," said, Cajucom, noting non-Filipino youth are also welcome to attend the culinary mentorship program.

"We hope they take what they learn and apply it into real life, brand and market themselves as young chefs."

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