The Outtakes from An Interview Between Tokaya’s

Last year when I volunteered in a church magazine, I ended up under my namesake (tokaya), Karen (Galarpe)’s group.   Several months later, she came to the shop to try out the food. She came twice more and mentioned that she wanted to interview me for GMA News Online! 

Please click here for the published interview.

Here are the outtakes:

The interviewer is Karen (Galarpe), GMA News Online Editor and the interviewee is Karen (Young), cook and steward at Karen’s Kitchen. 

1. How did the idea of Karen’s Kitchen come about?

Karen’s Kitchen, the cake making venture was an offshoot of my baking hobby. After I got married, it was an outlet for productivity and creativity while having the flexibility of being around for my kids because I could do it from home. At first, I used to bring desserts for gatherings with family and friends. Later on, they requested if they could order from me. They started giving away to their friends and family and those friends and family paid it forward. Later on, the one-order-per-month turned out to be a hundred cakes a day by God’s grace.

2. When did you open Karen’s Kitchen Kapitolyo, and why did you decide on Pasig as a location?

April 2015 on Easter Monday… That’s when our BIR and City Hall permits were released.  Kapitolyo, Pasig is a rising foodie destination area with many homegrown restaurants. The location is easily accessible from the North, South, and Makati, and the rental is manageable. Entering the gates of Kapitolyo might make you feel like you made a wrong turn because it would look like you’re in the middle of nowhere but I think after you experience the homey, friendly, delicious, made-with-love vibe, you will be glad you got “lost” or napadpad in this secret hidden gem of a place which is so much nearer than Baguio, Batangas, or even Belgium 🙂

Did you decide on the design and concept?

The concept was pitched by my friend, Alix Angliongto. For two years, every time we saw each other, she would tell me to fix my Petron store but that didn’t ignite me until around August 2014 when she mentioned the words, “vintage kitchen” which appealed very strongly to me. At first, Alix suggested “Downton Abbey” which I looked up and found gorgeous but rather stiff.  I then remembered my childhood favorite show, “Little House on the Prairie” which became the peg for Kapitolyo store, an embellished version 🙂

My designer, Joi Cutter, did a wonderful job of putting order to the unleashed imagination  and making the space come alive.

3. What is your aim in opening a dine-in shop?

The dine-in shop was a result of a Bible search.

When Operation Vintage Kitchen was activated, I got an over-a-hundred year old Detroit Jewel oven for the Petron store. When I brought my kids to university abroad last year, I also shopped around for accessories to match the oven. When I came back to Manila, my designer, Joi Cutter, declared I had too much for Petron and that I should start looking for another location.

I went around talking to landlords until I saw the house on San Rafael that looked like my logo. With my original plan to fix Petron store alone, now I factored in San Rafael house. The layout looked like it had a space for dine-in. I told myself, “Wait a minute.” It was one thing to just make my Petron shop look nicer. It was quite another to embark on a full-scale operation that might require all of me.

Having a multitude of options between spending a short season near my kids, taking up a course, etc., I asked God to lead me to His best will. After spending most of my life going ahead of Him, I wanted to ask Him first because I realized from Jeremiah 29:11 that He already has a plan for me. I wanted to know what that plan was and align myself with it. The running question before I signed the lease was, “God, is this what You want me to do?”

I found the verse on Jeremiah 29:28
28 He has sent this message to us in Babylon: It will be a long time. Therefore build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce.’”

I was also switching between translations and happened to see Romans 12:13b which would ordinarily be “Practice hospitality” in my usual NIV translation but I happened to be on The Message translation which said,

be inventive in hospitality.

Those two verses impressed in my heart that embarking on the projects to fix Petron as well as Kapitolyo was a go. I would settle down for a stretch of time doing this. I would go beyond cakes and create a healthy menu in a restaurant set up even though I haven’t done it before. Vegetables, fruits, herbs, and spices, (specially healing ones) would be incorporated in my menu.

4. How did you decide on what dishes to put in you menu?

It was a mix of recipes I would cook at home and some newer ones using healing foods and vegetables.

My younger son got mild fatty liver before he was fifteen even though he looked reasonably healthy on the outside. A pediatric cardiologist sat him down and said he could give him medication but medicines sometimes affect other organs in the body and it would be like a domino effect of treating the new problem. If things got worse, surgery could be an option. But the third option was he would give my son three months to amend his diet. More vegetables, no more fried foods, healthier alternatives. In three months, my son’s condition was reversed and normalized.

That guided me in giving healthier options like quinoa instead of rice, air fried instead of deep fried, baked instead of fried, thin crust instead of thick, making vegetarian dishes tasty and appealing. I also try to have my pork ribs and adobo tender because when I cook for my parents in law, they can eat more if the meats are tender.

5. What are your bestsellers? Which ones are your personal favorites?

Our top three selling items are the Mushroom Truffle Pasta, Summer Garden Crispizza, and the Dalandan Chicken with Turmeric Rice. The menu consists of my favorites to eat as well as to feed my loved ones. But my personal favorite is anything with mushrooms.

6. Lastly, why do you do what you do? 🙂

In Rick Warren’s book, The Purpose Driven Life, he talks about each of us having been made by God with a “shape,”: Spiritual gifts (hospitality, teaching, service, encouragement, etc.), Heart (what you’re very interested in), Abilities, Personality, Experiences (good, bad, as well as ugly). Inventorying these different facets confirms that this is something God equipped me to do. We are encouraged to grow the talents God gives us so they bear fruit, give Him glory, and bless others.

I tried getting a culinary degree but after three sessions at ISCAHM, a string of acts of God occurred (my father passed away, Ondoy came followed by the Fujiwara storm, Melor). I felt like God was not prospering this pursuit so today, I remain an unschooled, ordinary cook in the culinary world and I can only credit Him for everything.

He also equipped me to write so I have a faith-encouragement blog, .

People usually go to a restaurant looking for food. From what I’ve been learning from the bible, man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes out from the mouth of the Lord. I take that to mean that our need for food is at least equal to our need for God’s Word which is really the source for strength, encouragement, victory, love, healing, comfort, joy, peace, and the-abundant-life kit.

I’m so limited. But God said His word will always accomplish the purpose for which He sends them. By making Scripture available in the interior details, it allows God to do His work while I do mine trying my best with what I’ve been given to produce healthy, good, ganda-licious food. Occasionally, I get to chat, share, and pray with guests. Somehow, some conversations get deep and I end up hearing from guests I’ve never met something like, “I don’t know how we ended up talking about this but this is exactly what I’ve been struggling with.” Sometimes, people ask me to sing. My voice is okay for a cook, but when I share with guests how ordinary songs can be seen from a perspective of God expressing His love or encouragement, they get so blessed. Such occasions make me feel that the ministry of food goes full circle.

The story of Maria Teresa Carlson, the beautiful famous beauty queen who plunged to her death from a high-rise or Robin Williams—these haunt me. From afar, they look like they have everything desirable and a wonderful life but there was desperation or helplessness. What if they just got to discover that the word of God is living and active, that the God of the Universe is going to equip them for what challenges come and He will fill their deepest need? The times we live in are uncertain. While I can’t solve ISIS, natural disasters, global economic issues, and every desperation, in this little pocket of space and time God gave me, it is a privilege to share seeds of faith, hope and encouragement and serve a little love on a plate.

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