Coquitlam kitchen cooks up family tales in documentary project

Vancouver filmmaker explores his heritage while cooking with his mom and grandmother

A Vancouver filmmaker likely didn’t need craft services for his first documentary project.

That’s because Joel Salaysay filmed Home Cooking entirely in the kitchen of his mom’s home in Coquitlam as he joined her and his grandmother in preparing an old family recipe for bak chang, a kind of sticky rice dumpling stuffed with chicken and mushrooms.

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The 16-minute end result is featured in the Shorts Program: BC Voices at the DOXA documentary film festival that runs online from June 18 to 26.

The film isn’t Salaysay’s pitch for his own gig on The Food Network. 

Rather, he said, it was an opportunity to connect with his own Chinese-Filipino heritage as the trio exchanged stories while they cooked over the course of three weekends of filming last year.

Salaysay, who was born and raised in Canada, said he learned a lot about the relationship between the two women and the challenges they faced as immigrants from Singapore, where gender roles can be quite traditional. He said the act of cooking together fed the discussion and distracted everyone from the artificiality of sharing their story to a camera.

“When you cook at home, it takes time, it takes teamwork,” Salaysay said. “You have an activity you can do together.”

Salaysay said he got the idea of using the kitchen as a backdrop because of his own journey into his wife’s heritage through cooking Italian dishes she grew up with. In fact, during filming he explored that aspect of his story as well, but it was left on the cutting room floor.

Salaysay, 30, said the importance of food as a social connector has been an ongoing presence in his life, from plying his childhood friends with Asian treats when they came over to his house, to toiling in kitchens part-time as he studied film at Simon Fraser University. But it wasn’t until recently he really developed an appreciation for its aspects beyond sating just his physical hunger.

“The only thing that really connected me to my heritage was the cuisine,” he said.

And with the self-isolation of the past few months brought on to limit the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, Salaysay anticipates his film will take on a particular poignancy.

“I think it takes on a different context now,” he said. “There’s now more time to explore recipes, but what is missing is the communal family component.”

• To download a guide to the more than 64 films being presented at the festival, along with master classes, and moderated discussion panels as well as a schedule and ticket information, go to www.doxafestival.ca.

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