Ethan and Geri Leung moved to Portland for the same reason countless New York, San Francisco, and Seattle chefs do: to slow down. Ethan Leung, who was previously cooking at Seattle’s buzzy hotel restaurant Ben Paris, lived the life of a chef in a demanding market: 12, 13, 14-hour days, all with the high pressure of working in a traditional restaurant kitchen. On the side, he and Geri Leung ran a Filipino pop-up, Baon Kainan, out of Ben Paris, making dishes like smoked salmon sinigang and ube panna cotta.
But after coming down to visit Matta power couple Richard and Sophia Le, the Leungs realized they wanted to do something for themselves on their terms, in a way that allowed them to live the life they wanted. “To see Matta do what they do so very well, and still have a social life, being able to spend time with each other, that really opened my eyes,” Ethan Leung says. “I was like, ‘Oh, this is what it’s about.’”
So soon, Baon Kainan will land in Portland as a food cart, with gluten-free chicken adobo, kare-kare fries, and seasonal dishes like wintertime arroz caldo.
Baon Kainan is an exploration of the foods both Ethan and Geri ate growing up as Filipino Americans. While Ethan pivoted into professional cooking after a short-lived career in engineering, Geri grew up cooking at home for her younger brother, absorbing what she could from the Food Network and, in her words, a “ratty old binder of recipes,” including her mother’s Filipino dishes. After Ethan’s first year cooking professionally, he felt compelled to attempt the food he ate growing up through this new lens, and the two of them started hosting supper clubs for their friends and family. “Even as Ethan created menus, I was the tester of all the foods,” Geri says. “I put the homey spin on it; he had this fine dining experience, and I would reel it back in.”
When the Leungs talk about Baon Kainan — or Filipino cooking in general — they often frame their food as a departure from the home-cooked staples common to most Filipino families. The couple uses the phrase “Not your tita’s cooking” in their Instagram bio, a recognition that the food at Baon Kainan is not the textbook version of any given Filipino dish, while holding full respect for that traditional interpretation. “What we want to convey in the food is that this is our story; this is our upbringing,” Geri Leung says. “Yes we are Filipinos, but we’re Filipino Americans. We grew up on fast food and the buffets and pizza rolls, and so we’re inevitably going to honor the foods that we grew up with, but based on Ethan’s training, my family’s food.”
For example, the cart’s kare kare fries are a nod to Geri and Ethan’s college trips to Canada, where they’d devour piles of poutine. The chef sears seasoned short ribs before braising them with carrots, onions, garlic, ginger, and annatto. After three or four hours, Ethan combines the braising liquid with peanut butter, and smothers fries with the beef, vegetables, and liquid. “We make the peanut stew with the braised beef as traditionally as we can, but to flip it, serving it over fries, that pays homage to our time in college,” Ethan says.
The rest of the menu will include gluten-free versions of both chicken and mushroom adobo, made with tamari and stock, and a rotating selection of dishes like sinigang. The two hope to offer desserts as well — the Seattle pop-up has served things like ube brownies and ensaymadas — but the Leungs don’t want to bite off more than they can chew.
The Baon Kainan food cart will open August 7 at 4311 NE Prescott. Learn more about Baon Kainan by following the Leungs’ Instagram.
Updated July 29, 2021 at 6:14 p.m.: This story was updated to include the food cart’s opening date and address.