In “Mad Kitchen,” Madeleine Brown speaks to members of the Toronto theatre community about one of their favourite recipes.
“I love spam,” says Catherine Hernandez, theatre practitioner, artistic director of b current, and author of the 2017 Toronto Book Award finalist Scarborough. For Hernandez (of part Filipino descent) spam symbolizes the country’s culture and history. “Filipino cooking, what I love about it, it is about survival. Our use of spam and corned beef are indicative of the war times in which those were the rations that were given to us. Because, otherwise, why would we actually like it?!”
Her recipe for embutido, a Filipino-style, notably moist meatloaf, comes from her grandmother, who was renowned for her culinary talents from a young age. Given her skill, a Thomasite (Americans who were sent to the Philippines to teach English and American morality in the early twentieth century) hired Hernandez’s grandmother as a cook. The embutido recipe takes advantage of the rations available during her lifetime, including potted meat and (our still beloved!) ketchup, and the drippings are even incorporated into a rich accompanying sauce.
Even though Hernandez met her grandparents only twice during their lifetime, the recipe and its backstory were on her mind throughout the process for her show Eating with Lola. Developed with and directed by Puppetmongers Theatre’s Ann Powell, the play follows Grace as she feeds Lola (“grandmother” in Filipino) her final meal, tracing Manila’s modern history and uncovering the means Lola took to feed their family.
The recipe is also representative of Hernandez’s personal food philosophy: there’s no excuse not to cook for yourself even in times of adversity. “Sometimes that’s when the best recipes come into play,” she says, recalling periods of instability in her own life. “When you’re creative like that because you have to survive, the better your food tastes.”
“There’s a lot we can learn about people through food,” Hernandez says. Cooking serves as a relationship-builder in both her theatrical and literary careers. She’s forged many connections with her food-related gestures: giving a gift of frozen goat pieces for a fellow author’s parents, providing loaves of bread for interviewees, and even catering for two hundred people on a two hundred dollar budget. “In theatre, we’re always trying to find a way to partner with each other. I am so happy to have served the community with food.”
Catherine Hernandez’s Embutido (Filipino Meatloaf)
- 1 lb ground pork
- 1 can potted meat (eg. liver pâté)
- 1 egg
- 2 tbsp (approx.) + ½ cup soy sauce, divided
- 3 hard-boiled eggs, peeled
- bacon, as many slices as necessary to cover the meatloaf’s exterior
- 1 cup ketchup
- 1 sardine, mashed, or Worcestershire sauce, to taste (optional)
- white rice, to serve
- Preheat oven to 400 F.
- Combine the pork, potted meat, egg, and 2 tbsp soy sauce (or to taste, which Catherine calls “to sound and feel”) in a bowl.
- Spread the pork mixture onto a sheet of parchment paper and shape into a rectangle.
- Lay the hard-boiled eggs evenly across the middle of the rectangle and, using the parchment paper, roll the rectangle onto itself to form a loaf.
- Cover the exterior of the meatloaf with the bacon, place in a loaf pan on top of a baking sheet, and bake in the oven for 45 minutes or until the middle is cooked through.
- Remove the meatloaf from the oven and set aside.
- Meanwhile, make the gravy. Combine ½ cup soy sauce, ketchup, and sardine or Worcestershire (if using) in a saucepan with whatever drippings have seeped up over the sides of the loaf pan onto the baking sheet during baking. Reduce the gravy over medium heat, stirring constantly until desired thickness is reached.
- Serve slices of the meatloaf topped with the gravy over plain white rice.