It started as a birthday kamayan for Carlo Gan in 2017.
Gan said he and his partner Mia Orino just wanted to make Filipino dishes they couldn’t find in Georgia and share them with friends and family.
After five days, Gan said they started again. “We sold out again. That’s literally how it started. And after four or five pop-ups, restaurants are still inviting us in already,” he explained.
Now, Gan and Orino, who first met when they were 12 in Manila, are preparing to open their own restaurant, Kamayan ATL, in the Peach State.
“I’m actually in health. She’s actually in global studies. She’s got a PhD. So cooking and catering is a totally new thing for her and me. But it’s more of a passion, not like a job.”
Gan, who until recently worked as a doctor, told ABS-CBN News that they plan to serve similar dishes that customers have been queuing up at their pop-ups for the past four years.
“We don’t like to stray from what we do because we’re not that. We’re not people like that. We cook what we learned and tasted growing up,” he stressed.
What their cooking has caught the eye of the food industry’s highest honor. In February, Gan and Orino were named semi-finalists at the James Beard Foundation’s annual awards ceremony. Orino noted, “we were surprised for ourselves, but not for our food. We expected at some point it would be nominated for something, not necessarily for ourselves.”
Although they didn’t get the top prize, the couple said being nominated already made them feel like winners.
“It’s for every Filipino, and it’s for every Filipino over forty who is starting over, changing careers. You can do it, go for it,” Orino said.
Orino and gan also pay tribute to all the volunteers and customers who have supported them throughout their journey.
“For me and Mia, it’s like everything we serve comes from the heart. It’s not like we did this to make money, no. It’s just sharing,” said Gan.
Part of that effort is donating hot meals to community pantries, a commitment the couple said they agreed to even before disposing of the banana leaves at their first Kamayan event.