As told to Gemma Wilson
The whole concept of Musang, from the beginning, was lutong bahay, which means “home-cooked.” So, to find a space in a house? Incredible. I want to highlight the ancestral houses in the Philippines, which are homes owned and preserved by the same family for several generations as part of the Filipinx family culture. When I visited Ilocos Norte, there were these beautiful homes that were from a completely different era—so many textures of wood, tiling, clean and simple. There are so many ideas of what a Filipinx aesthetic is, and this one just felt right.
We’ve been doing tastings, which is rad; the staff gets to flex and talk and become part of it. It’s not my menu, it’s our menu, right? The entire kitchen staff are young Filipinx chefs who’ve worked their butts off for other people in the city, and they’re so excited to come and cook Filipinx food they can be fucking proud of. Tinapa and chicharron, a dish that comes from my dad’s hometown, has become one of our signatures. Adobong pusit pancit, squid cooked in soy and vinegar with noodles; Musang’s fried chicken, our lechon pork belly. We’re playing with the bases of Filipinx food based on the season and focusing on the execution of vegetables and showing how diverse our food is.
FLAVOR INSPIRATION: Musang’s menu features dishes that build on the base of Filipino cuisine with a focus on seasonal produce, like chicken sopas and lumpiang sariwa. Photos by Terrance Jeffrey Santos
As we grow, as we take more space, how can we utilize our network to support more people? We show up. Amber [Manuguid] and Aaron [Verzosa] of Archipelago and Jeff Santos of Wow Wow have helped support Musang; the next person out of here or who needs support, I’ll be there to give them love. We need to start creating systems to help sustain ourselves. If we invest in each other, we’ll ensure that our culture and our stories are preserved for the next generation.
I remember seeing the hashtag #communitynotcompetition for the first time from Cam [Hanin of Guerilla Pizza Kitchen]. It stemmed from all these collaborations between our friends who are chefs in Seattle: cooking to raise money and awareness for YouthCare, getting 20-plus chefs in a room and raising $20K for RAICES [Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services]—actual community building and support. Aaron is always involved, and Chera [Amlag of Hood Famous Bakeshop], Erik Jackson of Good Day Donuts. [Chef] Tarik [Abdullah] is a huge force and one of the originators of this movement, and Kristi Brown and Damon [Bomar] of That Brown Girl Cooks. So many others.
How are we changing what restaurants look like in the future? The next person I know who opens a restaurant, I’ll give them everything, all my knowledge. We should empower each other. Seattle has lost its soul on so many levels. What we’re doing in the community, it’s because we believe in something greater. It’s not just food, it’s healing, love, connection. I ask my chefs, “What’s your dream? How can I help you get there?” That’s what I want this place to be. Two years from now: “Mel, I want to open a restaurant.” “Sick, here’s what I can do for you.” That’s what I hope.
Contact deputy editor Gemma Wilson at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter at @gemmaswilson.