On their 10-year anniversary, most couples go out to lavish dinners and have chefs cook for them. But Chera Amlag and George “Geo” Quibuyen decided they’d rather celebrate another way: by making gumbo for all their closest friends and family.
“Celebrating with food is something that we regularly do,” said Quibuyen. The couple wanted to cook, he said, “kind of as a ‘thank you’ for being on this 10-year journey with us.”
When the dinner was a smash hit with their family and friends, they decided they’d do another one the next month, and their monthly pop-up restaurant, Food and Sh*t was born.
After the first time, said Quibuyen, “We woke up the next morning feeling like, ‘Yeah, that was fun, I don’t know if I want to do it ever again, though.’ ”
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The public demanded it, and since then Food and Sh*t (that is how it’s spelled) turned into a burgeoning business that threatens to overshadow their day jobs.
Quibuyen is best-known around town as the emcee for local hip-hop act Blue Scholars, rapping under the moniker Prometheus Brown. Amlag works in education, as the director of MESA (Math, Engineering, Science, Achievement) at Highline Community College.
Every third Monday since September 2013, they’ve taken over Inay’s, a Filipino restaurant in Beacon Hill, and served up their own spin on Filipino cuisine that reflects both their Filipino and Pacific Northwest roots, as well as Quibuyen’s early-childhood Hawaiian upbringing.
“We try to do a typical traditional Filipino dish with a Northwest twist,” said Amlag. “We did a lumpia egg roll — but instead of typical beef or pork, we put salmon in it.”
Their combination of flavors is so successful that Amlag, who makes the pop-up’s desserts, is entering the wholesale food business. Her specialty, “Chera’s Hood Famous Ube Cheesecake,” made with ube, a purple yam (“it’s a root crop and very prominent in Filipino desserts,” said Amlag) is now being sold in all three Uwajimaya stores in the Seattle area.
“I think people are liking the mash-up of the tropical, very traditional Filipino flavors with more American-style desserts,” said Amlag. “It’s fun; it bridges, I think, our identities, or my identity as a Filipino-American literally in food.”
The couple might take it to the next level, they said.
“We would like to open up our own spot someday,” added Quibuyen. “We have friends that run food trucks, and that’s kind of its own hustle. I don’t think we would have the time and dedication to grind out, so the monthly pop-up thing, it goes well with being busy with what we do, me doing music and Chera working education.”
Quibuyen and Amlag had the kind of meet cute that makes Hollywood screenwriters envious.
Now 34, the duo have known each other since middle school (“We met when we were 14,” said Amlag), and grew up in Bremerton in Navy families. They took driver’s ed classes together, dated on and off since high school and got married 11 years ago.
Their birthdays are one day apart, Feb. 19 and 20. They have two kids: ages 2½ and 10. But despite all that close-knit togetherness, Food and Sh*t is a new level in their partnership.
“This is the first time we’ve done anything together as a couple — working on a creative project — so it’s been great,” said Amlag.
At a recent partnership with Garrett Doherty’s pop-up, Kraken Congee, held at Grub on Queen Anne, they had two guest dishes on Doherty’s menu — Quibuyen’s tapsilog lugaw, and Amlag’s cheesecake — the latter of which sold out by 7:30 p.m.
The pop-up commingles Quibuyen’s music world with the foodie world: That night, a more diverse crowd was in attendance than might normally populate a restaurant on staid Queen Anne.
At Inay’s, DJs like Daps 1 have DJ’d while the food is being served and their friends from the music community (like Wong-Wear) often volunteer as servers or hosts.
For many people, the duo are simply the ace chefs serving up dishes like inasal chicken wings, pinapaitan (beef bile soup), and kalderetang kambing (a slow-cooked goat and tomato stew). Amlag and Quibuyen encourage a communal style of eating — with large tables of strangers sharing the family-style dishes.
“We have people seated together that don’t know each other,” said Amlag, who tells of a group of people who became friends after meeting at one of the pop-ups and now continue to go to them together, making more friends in the process.
“There’s a family that drives from Kingston to come down,” said Wong-Wear. “They just met Geo tonight for the first time.”
“You see the combination of the world that he has built in music and the world that he is building in food kind of like, join,” said Lawrence. “It’s really, really cool.”