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Photographs by Larry Heng
Kumain Kitchen is a Filipino Canadian fusion take-out business that is owned and operated by twin brothers, Ryan and Jason Buising.
Ryan and Jason were born and raised in Mississauga, but every generation before them grew up in the Philippines. Cooking played a vital role in teaching Ryan and Jason about their Filipino background. On a daily basis, their father would prepare authentic Filipino dishes and share recipes and kitchen tricks with them. Their grandmother, Vicky, owned a small Filipino business where she would make and sell traditional dishes and baked goods.
From a young age, Ryan and Jason would take what they learned at home and apply it to the outside world. For instance, in high school they both used family recipes when preparing food for cooking class exams. Chef Andaya, who was also their high school teacher, helped them build on these skills by mentoring them and training them for high school cooking competitions across Ontario.
Their days would consist of finishing school, training with Chef Andaya until 4 p.m., then heading to their 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. shift at the Wilcox Gastro Pub to work under Chef Humberto Sanchez. They worked at the Wilcox together for two and a half years before splitting up to work at different restaurants in different areas. However, they still reconvened in between at Estia and Enotica Sociale to work together once again.
To this day, the twins still work with Chef Humberto, but now their role is to assist with his new restaurant, Bar Catalina, his Gourmet Guyz food truck and his catering business.
When they aren't helping Chef Humberto, Ryan and Jason are focussing on their own project. As of November 2020, the twins have been managing Kumain Kitchen out of their parents' home kitchen in Mississauga. In Tagalog, the term "kumain" means "to eat." Ryan pointed out that this name is very fitting because "we like to eat a lot."
"We both were very interested in Filipino cooking and we saw a lack of businesses serving fusion Filipino food in [the GTA]," said Jason.
The brothers are keen on serving up Filipino classics, but with their own twist that represents both of their wide culinary experiences. One dish called the Satti Na Curry are a series of grilled beef and chicken skewers that have been marinated and topped with a spicy and tangy curry sauce––the latter of which Ryan says is "not what Filipino food is really known for."
"We want to introduce the GTA to what Filipino food is but with our own twist," says Ryan. "We've worked in Mediterranean restaurants, Italian restaurants, Japanese, Peruvian restaurants and now Spanish, so we want to put our influence into what we're putting out."
While the GTA does continue to lack solid Filipino food, Toronto seemingly has no shortage of it––over the past year, a slew of Filipino-owned restaurants, shops and pop-ups have sprouted, and have caught the attention of not just Toronto food lovers but also other Filipino cooks like the Buisings.
"It's amazing," Ryan says about the birth of so many Filipino-owned businesses. "Growing up in Mississauga, there weren't any Filipino restaurants. Since the pandemic hit, we've seen so many Filipino businesses grow. It's sick."
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the two have noticed that there is more growth amongst the Filipino business community, and are hopeful that the community continues to grow and collaborate further. Businesses like the reputable Bawang, Saints Island Pies, Kusinera and Tala have all launched throughout Toronto's various lockdowns, and have paved the way for a new influx of Filipino cooks and spots in the city.
Kumain Kitchen's menu started off only offering a range of Filipino rice bowls. Ryan prefers to cook while Jason has a love for baking pastries and desserts, so they soon moved into desserts and sweet treats, and now, they have just recently come out with a Street Food themed menu.
This new style has three separate components. The first focusses on barbecued dishes such as Pinoy Pork BBQ, which was inspired by their Grandmother who would always prepare barbecued meals during family gatherings. The summer barbecue menu also features the Inihaw Na Manok, which are grilled marinated chicken skewers with their signature barbecue sauce.
Ryan and Jason have visited the Philippines on two occasions, and each time they have been faced with culture shock. One thing they noticed is that not everyone there uses fridges, so pickling and fermenting their food in order to effectively preserve food was a common practice. This influenced the creation of the Marketplace component of Kumain Kitchen, which features a line of jarred foods such as pickled achara––a well-known side dish in the Philippines that pairs well with fish.
The Marketplace is set to launch very soon, with an assortment of traditional Filipino preserved goods, like pickled mustard greens, fermented rice and red snapper––or burong isda, spiced vinegar and pickled mangos and vegetables.
While the two are currently offering their summer-inspired street food barbecue menu, they tend to switch up the offerings based on the season. Ryan explained that in December, they will move towards preparing more "warm feeling dishes and soups."
The twins hope to find their own production kitchen in the near future, but are focused on building out their clientele and serving up delicious eats to anyone who's willing to try. Down the line, they also hope to incorporate more private dinner services and catering as a part of their business, specifically creating a "boodle fight" for large groups, which is a large Filipino feast eaten kamayan (with your hands) and laid out on a spread of toasted banana leaves.
Ryan and Jason have a van in which they make deliveries from Wednesday to Friday from noon to 5 p.m. When ordering, at least a week in advance is required for items from the Marketplace. Otherwise, you can place an order for their fresh food menu two days ahead of time.