‘Is this piece of cake?’ competitor aims to standardize views and flavors of Filipino cuisine

April Julian – a Filipino-Canadian cast member of Netflix’s new competitive baking show “Is It Cake?” – laughed as she reflected on how she carried away a stack of stuffed buns, known as siopao, that her mother had made for school lunch.

Julian, 42, a finalist on the show, recalled memories that inspired her to bring her culture to the show, whose contestants replicate common objects, ranging from handbags to bowling pins and creations of weirdly authentic cakes and silly celebrity judges for $50,000. great price.

She remembered being too ashamed to eat the Filipino dish in front of the kids at school, but too guilty to throw them away. So in his room they sat down.

Lumpia-inspired cake.Courtesy of April Julian

“You want to blend in as much as possible with this environment, where peer pressure is at its height,” recalled Julian, who said his mother was furious at the discovery of the hiding place. “There were years when I wouldn’t eat my lunch because I was too embarrassed to take it out.”

April Julian and her family in the Philippines.
April Julian and her family in the Philippines.Courtesy of April Julian

While Julian said she was now able to look back on those moments with humor, the memories still evoke a visceral feeling for her, all these years later. That’s why, she says, on the Netflix show, which came out last month, she made it a point to include Asian flavors in one of her baked goods and speak openly about her heritage. . She said that, in part through her hyper-realistic designs, she aims to normalize the sights and flavors of Filipino cuisine.

“Diversity is the norm, and it’s not the exception,” Julian, director of education at the Canadian Daytime Civil Liberties Association, told NBC Asian America. “And that’s what’s important to me — to be in the position of also being maybe the norm for someone else when they see themselves in me on the show is really important.”

Towards the end of the show, based on an internet meme in which realistic objects are sliced ​​up and revealed to be piece of cake, Julian chooses to build a mallard decoy duck. The pastry incorporated a white chocolate coconut ganache and mango coulis as an ode to its Asian heritage, in which flavors are widely celebrated.

Coconut jam and ube ensaymada in progress.
Coconut jam and ube ensaymada in progress.Courtesy of April Julian

The baker, who grew up in Whitby, Ontario, said she was 3 when she left the Philippines. Some of his first encounters with racism were related to the food his family ate. But at the time, she says, she didn’t have the vocabulary for the kinds of bullying she experienced, nor the ability to deal with it.

“I knew it wasn’t just about lunch, because it’s not just me,” Julian said. “If someone brought in curry, different spices or an ingredient the other kids didn’t know, I knew that was why they didn’t like it. It was tied to our identities, and no matter what, even though we were born here, we are “different”.

Ramen cake.
Ramen cake. Annabis Photography

Worried about how the family would be perceived, Julian said his parents had stopped speaking to him and his siblings in Tagalog, his native language.

“I lost that language, which is so, so sad. I think that’s my parents’ biggest regret,” she said.

The contestant said not all parts of her heritage were hidden from her classmates. She remembered being proud to be a Filipina immigrant. However, she says, she was intentional in how she presented her culture to others, hoping to be accepted by her peers.

“There’s also a certain exoticism to being from the islands,” Julian said. “When we tell people, ‘I’m from this place, and it’s an island,’ they say, ‘That’s so cool!’ because it’s so different. That in itself is problematic.”

For her, food and baking became an essential way for her to reclaim the parts of her youth that were almost stripped of her life.

“Now, as an adult, I try to reverse everything that’s trying to fit me in so I don’t get laughed at because of…what westerners expect from lunch,” Julian said. “I make sure my daughter calls her grandmother ‘Lola’ and ‘Lolo’ for grandpa, and talks about the Filipino foods we eat. We don’t call it “noodles”. We call it the ‘pancit’, the correct term.

She added of her journey, “That’s probably what fueled me on the show as well. Like I said, if I only had one pastry left, I wanted to make sure that it would come out.

Julian admitted she was nervous about the mallard duck challenge, unsure if the taste-conscious judges would be open to Asian-inspired flavors they may not have tried before in such a western dessert. But with encouragement from her fellow competitors and a support team that went out of their way to provide the specific ingredients she needed, Julian said she was able to make it happen. She said the nurturing environment also underlines the power of allies.

April Julien on "Is it cake?"
April Julian on “Is This Piece of Cake?” Patrick Wymore/Netflix

“My other contestants are all wonderful human beings and they loved it. They were all so encouraging, and they were like, ‘Try it! These things are delicious on their own. How could they not think they are delicious?” Julian said. “I can’t say anything but amazing things about everyone else who was on the show.”

Julian said she hopes to make more Filipino-inspired pastries, and she recently finished one inspired by lumpia, a Filipino spring roll. She is currently working on a cake inspired by the Jollibee fast food chain. But she said one of her biggest regrets on the show was not having had the chance to incorporate turon, a crispy-shelled Filipino dessert often stuffed with plantains or jackfruit, due to time constraints. For now, she said she would incorporate Filipino flavors into her baked goods — not intentionally, but because it’s just authentic to who she is.

As for other aspiring Filipino-born bakers, Julian said she hopes they don’t feel the need to shy away from food from their culture. After all, it’s been certified delicious for as long as the culture has existed.

“They won’t know it’s delicious if they haven’t tried it, and who better to bring that to the western world than people who are part of that culture?” she says.

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