by Bill Batson
A Karenderya is a road-side restaurant in the Philippines that serves meals from wooden benches. Nyack’s rendition, launched two years ago by Paolo Mendoza and Cheryl Baun at the intersection of Midland Avenue and Main Street, has already attracted national attention. In 2018, Karenderya was selected one of the 20 best new restaurants in America by Esquire Magazine.
Paolo and Cheryl spoke to Nyack Sketch Log about how they came to open their version of the populist eateries and invite you to experience a cuisine that fuses Malay, Chinese, Spanish, and American flavors and ingredients.
What is your earliest memory of a Karenderya?
(Paolo Mendoza) Walking through the streets of Manila growing up, I would see them every day, walking to school, either on the sidewalk or, even right on the street!
What inspired you to be a chef?
(PM) I like eating and cooking! I see cooking as a form of creative expression.
Who cooks for the family?
(Cheryl Baun) Everyone thinks that when you have a chef in the family that they do all the cooking. It’s not true! I cook simple food, and we eat a lot of takeout. Also, I guess Paolo does still cook for the family because we also eat at the restaurant A LOT!
How old are your kids?
(CB) Our son is 8, and our daughter is 4.
Have they been bitten by the culinary bug?
(CB) The 8-year-old loves to eat and is starting to be more open-minded about food, and the 4-year-old is super-picky, but she loves to help bake and cook.
Cheryl tells me that you liked to watch cooking shows as a kid in the Philippines. What was your favorite cooking show when you were a kid?
(PM)I used to watch “Yan Can Cook” with Martin Yan.
What is your favorite show now?
(PM) I don’t have time to watch cooking shows now, but I do like watching “Top Chef” and food documentaries like “The Search for General Tso” and “Jiro Dreams of Sushi.”
What was your first job in a kitchen?
(PM) I worked at a friend’s restaurant in Nolita as a dishwasher/salad/prep cook.
Is this your first restaurant?
What ways has the community has supported your business?
(CB) Members of the community have shared widely on social media, posting in various groups, Yelp, etc. Before we even opened, I would bump into acquaintances in town and had people coming up to me saying, “Do you need help painting or carrying furniture or anything?” We’ve always loved Nyack, but we never imagined how welcoming and generous folks would be. We are truly grateful for that!
What are the influences of Filipino cuisine?
(PM) So many, from Malay/indigenous cuisine to Chinese, Spanish, and American.
Five years ago food writer Andrew Zimmern predicted Filipino cuisine would be “the next big thing.” Was he right?
(PM) Well, he was right in that Filipino food has finally gotten the spotlight, but I don’t like thinking that the food that I grew up with is a “trend.” It’s always been around, although many people are only just discovering it now, which is a great thing.
If someone was going to order a tasting menu to sample the scope of Karenderya cuisine, what would you prepare?
(PM) I would include a dish like sinigang (meat or fish in a sour tamarind broth) to showcase the use of sourness, found in many dishes. Also a kakanin, which is a snack/dessert, made from glutinous rice or rice flour. I might also do pancit, a popular noodle dish. I would also feature something prepared with coconut milk, as well as something featuring bagoong, which is a fermented shrimp or fish paste.
If someone is having the cuisine for the first time, what would be the best appetizer, entree’ and dessert to order?
(PM) Probably lumpiang shanghai, adobo, and halo halo.
What are some of the challenges of opening and running a restaurant?
(PM) Opening a restaurant: getting the word out, making sure all of the legal aspects are covered, and securing funding. Running a restaurant: hiring the right people, controlling costs, and the administrative work.
(CB) There are so many details to consider when opening a restaurant. You have a huge checklist. I think one of the most challenging parts of our journey so far was the anticipation leading up to the opening. There was so much anxiety around knowing whether or not people would actually even come. “What if no one comes? What if they don’t like our food?” Thank goodness they came and liked our food!
In terms of everyday running the restaurant, it is like a 24-7 job. It’s not glamorous, but if you love it, it doesn’t feel like work. We’re working harder than we ever have, but we’re also having fun. And it’s rewarding to welcome people into our place and to share our culture and our food with them.
Cheryl, can you describe your non-profit work in the Filipino community?
(CB) I’m not currently doing any work with organizations serving the Filipino community, although going back more than 10 years ago, I sat on a couple of boards of Filipino organizations in NYC and Jersey City that focused on immigrants’ rights, workers’ rights, and youth.
Which do you prefer Filipino or Philipino?
Is there a little Manila in the region?
(CB) Filipinos are everywhere! But, I guess Bergenfield, NJ or Woodside in Queens would be some of the closest enclaves of the Filipino community.
How would you describe the community-based presence that you want to build for Karenderya?
(CB) Creating a sense of community is important to us. We don’t want to be just a restaurant; we want to be a gathering place, where people feel welcome. Nyack has been so good to us, even before we opened our restaurant, and we intend to give back. We hope to be in a position in the near future where we can offer our space to local groups for events, as well as to do some fundraising for causes we care about.
Paolo and Cheryl met in 1997 while working with a Filipino indigenous performing arts troupe. Twenty years later, on a stage that caters to all five senses, they have collaborated to create a venue that will thrill the audiences fortunate enough to be seated.
(Editors note: In 2018, Cherly became the Executive Director of the Arts Council of Rockland.)
Their gastronomic production, which is open to the public six days a week, will introduce your palate to the diverse influences of filipino cuisine.
The culinary curtains open:
Tuesday – Thursday 5-8:30p
To learn more visit karenderyany.com
Why It’s Great That Karenderya Was Named Top 20 Restaurant , by Ben McCarthy, Published on NyackNewsAndViews, December 2, 2018
Mabuting gana (Bon Appetit)
Bill Batson is an artist and writer who lives and sketches in Nyack, NY. Nyack Sketch Log: “Karenderya“ © 2019 Bill Batson. To see more, visit billbatsonarts.com