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Pinoy Garden Cafe brings a new taste to town

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KAYTE YOUNG:  From WFIU in Bloomington, Indiana, I'm Kayte Young, and this is Earth Eats.

CHRIS MANANSALA:  The Filipino food is not really known like that yet, especially in Indiana, so we wanted to bring something new.

KAYTE YOUNG:  This week on the show, we visit with the owners of Pinoy Garden Cafe. They talk about what it means to them to bring authentic Filipino cuisine to Bloomington, Indiana. And they share a recipe for vegetarian Lumpia, a Filipino style spring roll that locals can't seen to get enough of.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Plus a story from Harvest Public Media about funding challenges in agriculture research at a time when it's needed most.

KAYTE YOUNG:  That's all just ahead. Stay with us.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Thanks for listening to Earth Eats, I'm Kayte Young.

KAYTE YOUNG:  The Federal Government spends billions of dollars every year on agriculture research. That is research that helps advance farming technology. That funding has fallen by a third over the past two decades. As Dana Cronin reports for Harvest Public Media, that decline has implications for agriculture's ability to adapt to climate change.

DANA CRONIN:  Gwyne Beattie tugs open the frosty door to her labs industrial style freezer, which houses thousands of plants and bacteria samples. It starts beeping angrily at her.

GWYN BEATTIE:  And you can't have it open too long, or else it beeps at you, and says, "I don't wanna warm up."

DANA CRONIN:  Beattie is a professor of plant pathology at Iowa State University. She recently received a big grant from the US Department of Agriculture to study drought resiliency in crops. A subject of increasing importance.

GWYN BEATTIE:  There's not a sustainable amount of available fresh water for agriculture everywhere, the way we're going. So we really need plants that can thrive with less water.

DANA CRONIN:  But federal funding for that research is becoming more scarce. According to the USDA, federal funding levels for agriculture research are the same now as they were in the 1970s.

DANA CRONIN:  Meanwhile, China has surpassed the US in its agriculture research funding. Brazil, a major competitor in ag exports has also increased its funding.

DANA CRONIN:  Beth Ford is the CEO of ag giant Land O'Lakes. Speaking at a recent public event, she said she's worried the US is falling behind in preparing for agriculture's stark future.

BETH FORD:  We're going to have less arable land, less available water in the future. We know this. And at the same time, population is set to go to nine and a half, ten billion, by 2050. We have to produce more food than the last 5,000 years combined.

DANA CRONIN:  That should be an eye opener, she says.

DANA CRONIN:  But while public funding for ag research has fallen over the past two decades, private funding from companies like Land O'Lakes has shot up. Iowa State University, for example, has seen a 50% increase in company funded research over just the last two years. And agriculture has been at the forefront of that.

DANA CRONIN:  Gabrielle Roesch-McNally does agriculture research with American Farmland Trust. She says relying on corporations for funding could skew the overall research agenda.

GABRIELLE ROESCH-MCNALLY:  They're looking for ways that research can develop products, you know, tangible, intangible, that people will spend money on, that will increase their base of profit.

DANA CRONIN:  Research is a public good, she says, and it should mostly be up to the federal government to fund it.

GABRIELLE ROESCH-MCNALLY:  I think it's a danger to move to a system where the government that, yes, albeit influenced by politics, that it has the public interest in mind more than any other entity and can take a broader view.

DANA CRONIN:  Research dollars are determined by Congress via the Farm Bill, which is set for reauthorization next year.

DANA CRONIN:  Gordon Merrick is the policy and programs manager with the Organic Farming Research Foundation. He advocates in Washington, D.C. for more ag research funding, which he says can be a tough sell.

GORDON MERRICK:  Agricultural research especially is slow. It's methodical. There's no crazy, cutting edge, new way to organically control bindweed that hits the airwaves.

DANA CRONIN:  Earlier this year, the Senate increased the research budgets for agencies including the National Institutes of Heath, the National Science Foundation, and the Department of Energy. The USDA, however, saw another budget decrease, when accounting for inflation.

DANA CRONIN:  Iowa State professor Gwyn Beattie says that's a dangerous trend.

GWYN BEATTIE:  It's in all of our best interests to have food security. Food security is not only good for food, but it's actually also for political stability and world stability. The only way to have food security is to have enough knowledge and resources to continue to produce food even in the face of adverse conditions.

DANA CRONIN:  And when in the era of climate change, has the world ever faced such adverse conditions? For Harvest Public Media, I'm Dana Cronin.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Harvest Public Media's Katie Peikes contributed to this report. Harvest is a collaboration of public media newsrooms in the Midwest and Great Plains. Find more at

KAYTE YOUNG:  I like to cook. I especially love to bake. But as we've talked about on this show before, I can't imagine trying to start a food business. It sounds like a lot of stress and a lot of risk, and I know I don't have a strong enough business sense to make it work. For that reason I'm always fascinated with stories of people who are willing to take that chance. We even had a series about small food business start ups, called Making the Leap. My guests today would certainly be a perfect fit for that series.

CHRIS MANANSALA:  My name is Chris Manansala, and I am the owner of Pinoy Garden Cafe.

MARIA ST. CLAIR:  Maria St. Clair. We serve all authentic Filipino food, and we want to share it with all of Bloomington.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Maria St. Clair and her son Chris Manansala took the leap. Their story belongs in a long tradition of immigrant families starting a new life in a new place, and in this case, sharing their food with their new community. And starting a business. They launched Pinoy Garden Cafe on April 2nd of 2022. Here's Chris.

CHRIS MANANSALA:  We started as a pop-up event. Having a pop up at Switchyard Park, downtown farmer's market. We also started doing catering. From that point to now, I would say that it grew pretty quick because Bloomington is very welcoming.

KAYTE YOUNG:  So, right now you don't have a food truck, but you're doing it more like a pop-up.

CHRIS MANANSALA:  It has a tent. We have four tables, our equipment, and then we cook on site. The other stuff that we need to cook before we get to the pop-up events, we use the commissary kitchen at One World, and then we bring it to our event where we're set up at.

KAYTE YOUNG:  So there are some things that you can cook on site, while you're there, but then other things you prepare ahead of time.

CHRIS MANANSALA:  Yes. Because most of our main dishes we have to cook it two or three hours, then we can bring it. But the others, like the fried lumpia spring rolls, we can cook that on site, because it's already been prepared the night before, and then we freeze it, and then we can take it out and pop it on the fryer.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Oh, that's nice, so you can have the fresh fried.

CHRIS MANANSALA:  They're fresh, yes, because we don't want to cook it, and then put it in a cooler, and take it out. It becomes soggy. We want everything to be fresh.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Yes. I was wondering if you could take me back to when you first had the idea to start the business.

CHRIS MANANSALA:  Building a business, or having a family business, has been a dream for us. Because we have worked in a lot of places, restaurants, and food trucks. Corporate jobs. We always talked about, is this going to be our life forever? Can we make a difference in our family? We didn't grow up with money. We worked a lot throughout these years. So when me and my mom talked about, what can we do to change that? We said, hey, let's start a food business, because the only thing we know is Filipino food. So why not use that talent that we have and make people happy, and also expand our culture, because Filipino food is not really known like that yet, especially in Indiana. So we wanted to bring something new on top of that.

CHRIS MANANSALA:  Also, we enjoy doing it. We enjoy cooking, we enjoy serving people. So that's one of our main goals. It's about what can we do in the long term? Because I feel like this is what we have been wanting to do for a long time. And not just a pop-up, but we want to do a food truck and eventually we want to build a restaurant. That's the main goal right there.

KAYTE YOUNG:  So, you wanted to have your own business?


KAYTE YOUNG:  And you realized that food was probably the thing that was going to be the best choice.

CHRIS MANANSALA:  Yes, because it's something we've always done all our lives. Because back in the Philippines all we did was cook. In the Philippines you can get out of your house and there's a lot of vendors out there. Because we were also a vendor in the Philippines. We were selling food. It's different in the Philippines compared to the United States. You can go outside as vendors. Here, you have to come up with an event or join something. So it's different.

KAYTE YOUNG:  And is there just more of a process here, just the regulations, and getting permits, and all that stuff?

CHRIS MANANSALA:  Here is more harder. We had permits there, too, but here they're I'm not going to say more strict, but they pay attention to the details. Make sure we are doing it right.

KAYTE YOUNG:  So, you guys got the idea to start a business. What did you do next?

CHRIS MANANSALA:  Starting a business costs a lot of money. So a lot of people in the past who started a business jumped into it too quickly. So we wanted to start small, build it from scratch, even if it's harder. So, the idea of a pop-up makes sense because it didn't cost us a lot. It is a lot of work, but it's worth it at the end.

CHRIS MANANSALA:  When we first started, the farmer's market introduced us to Bloomington. But we planned this three months ahead, before April 2nd. In January we were already 100% planning this. It's been in our minds for years now, but we just needed to put our heads into it 100% and make it happen.

KAYTE YOUNG:  The first events you did were at the Bloomington Farmer's Market?


KAYTE YOUNG:  So where did you go from there?

CHRIS MANANSALA:  When we started the farmer's market, we were doing an event once a week, every Saturday. As the word got around, a couple of people reached out from Indiana University that wanted to cater. We didn't know what to do at the time, because we didn't plan on doing catering yet. So, we had to sit down one night and make a plan on the pricing, and what we were going to serve? How much are the costings to make the food, and buy the food? Most of the ingredients we use, we still order from overseas, so it is authentic. We use a lot of authentic ingredients.

CHRIS MANANSALA:  So, the University reached out to us, and we had to make a plan. And then after that, after one or two catering events from Indiana university, the word spread out and we started doing two or three catering jobs a week. It was once every two weeks, but now it was two or three catering jobs a week, from IU and different departments. Mostly at Kelley School of Business.

KAYTE YOUNG:  That sounds like a good problem to have, but a little bit stressful at first.

CHRIS MANANSALA:  Especially being short-staffed, because it was mostly me and my mom in the kitchen, doing the operation. But we have my siblings help if we need them at the events, to take orders, or bag the food. Also my step-dad, he helps us with the websites. Anything to do with computers, he's the guy. Me and my mom can't handle everything, because we are in the kitchen prepping, shopping, coming up with more menus. It's a lot. So, it's good to have my family helping, because they do a lot behind the scenes.

KAYTE YOUNG:  It sound like you kind of hit the ground running.

CHRIS MANANSALA:  Yes. Bloomington welcomed us with open arms. We didn't know it was going to turn out like this. I thought it was going to be, let's just put our business out there, and do once or twice a week. And it just kept coming with more events and catering. I still can't believe it to this day, because we didn't expect that at all.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Let's talk a little bit about the food in detail. What kinds of dishes do you offer?

CHRIS MANANSALA:  So when you hear Filipino, you hear about the adobo. It's our main dish. You can cook it with chicken, pork, sometimes seafood. We offer pork adobo. It's just marinated meat with our Filipino ingredients like soy sauce, vinegar, all kinds of stuff. And we marinate it overnight and then we cook it the next day. That's served with either fried rice or white rice. And our adobo is gluten free. We also have the pork belly rice which is one of our best sellers. That's also served with fried rice or white rice.

CHRIS MANANSALA:  My mom came up with the adobo tacos. We were just in the kitchen, and came up with the idea, and wondered what it would taste like. And it was good. We put it on our menu for that weekend, and ever since people have been asking for it. Our adobo taco is also one of our best sellers.

KAYTE YOUNG:  What's the adobo taco?

CHRIS MANANSALA:  Adobo pork in a flour tortilla and then you have the meat, cheese, pico de gallo, cilantro, onion, and our two special sauces on top.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Wow. So sauce upon sauce, it sounds like. [LAUGHS]

CHRIS MANANSALA:  Yes. And also the lumpia spring rolls. That's one of our well known side dishes in the Philippines, or whenever you hear about the Philippines is the spring rolls. We roll about 500 pieces every week. Sometimes if there's catering, there's more. Maybe we'll do a 1000. It's a long process with the spring rolls.

KAYTE YOUNG:  And yours is chicken?

CHRIS MANANSALA:  Chicken, yes. We offer pork and veggie on our catering, but mostly chicken.

KAYTE YOUNG:  I was going to ask next, do you have any vegetarian dishes?

CHRIS MANANSALA:  Yes we do. We have the pancit stir fry noodles. Soy sauce and rice noodles, with cabbage and carrots. And then we cook it with our Filipino ingredients with soy sauce, garlic powder, and we just mix it. And that's also gluten free. Some people call it a stew because we add soup to it. The soup is for the rice. So, you are not just eating the meat, you are also enjoying the rice, and the soup combination.

KAYTE YOUNG:  So, the meat is just cooking in that. It's marinating in it. It's cooking in it for a while. So it's really got that flavor, and then you use the sauce itself over the rice.


KAYTE YOUNG:  What kind of flavors? What are the spices? Is it sweet?

CHRIS MANANSALA:  It's sweet and tangy.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Sweet and tangy. Okay. Have you struggled to find ingredients for the authentic dishes?

CHRIS MANANSALA:  Yes. So from April until now, half of this time has been a struggle trying to get the ingredients because we order from overseas. We have a couple of international markets that we reach out to, so they order for most. Sometimes I have to go to Indianapolis and drive out there and look at a couple of international markets that has the ingredients that we use. And sometimes they don't. We try to make sure we save it on our shelves for the next week or two, because it's really hard getting it from another country.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Yes, you can't get it last minute.

CHRIS MANANSALA:  No, you can't. You have to order it ahead a week or two, sometimes longer, so they can order in bulk.

KAYTE YOUNG:  What kinds of things do you have to order?

CHRIS MANANSALA:  The soy sauce, the vinegars, the garlic powders. Also the spring roll wrappers, because those are very famous here. It's not just Filipinos who use it, but other Asian cultures use the same rice paper. So when we go to the international market, it's lucky if there is some on the shelf. So you have to order them in bulk.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Especially how many you guys are going through in a week.

CHRIS MANANSALA:  With catering and events on top of that, yes. But mainly we have three or four different international markets, like Indianapolis Viet Hua international market. They have probably the biggest market in Indiana. So, mostly all our stuff comes from there too.

KAYTE YOUNG:  I think I've been there before. It's huge.

CHRIS MANANSALA:  Because they have a lot of stuff in stock. It's just a long drive sometimes.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Yes. So you'd probably want to stock up when you got there.

CHRIS MANANSALA:  Yes. When I go there, I make sure I buy in bulk and it lasts us for three weeks.

KAYTE YOUNG:  That's Chris Manansala talking about the ins and outs of running his food business, Pinoy Garden Cafe. After a short break we'll meet up with Chris and his mom and business partner, Maria St. Clair, for a cooking session at One World KitchenShare. Stay with us.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Kayte Young here. This is Earth Eats. We are in the kitchen at One World commissary, where the owners and chefs of Pinoy Garden Cafe prepare the food for their pop-up events and catering. They have generously agreed to share the recipe for one of their most popular dishes. Maria St. Clair will be preparing the dish, and Chris Manansala will be cooking it.

KAYTE YOUNG:  What are we going to make today?

MARIA ST. CLAIR:  We are making vegetable lumpia spring rolls.

KAYTE YOUNG:  For those who don't know Lumpia, it's a lovely fried spring roll type appetizer, often filled with a seasoned chicken or pork mixture. Today we're making vegetarian lumpia.

MARIA ST. CLAIR:  This is one of our best sellers. For catering also, we always have a lot of orders for this.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Could either of you explain how lumpia is different from a spring roll or an egg roll?

MARIA ST. CLAIR:  I think the difference is the ingredients that we use.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Is the shape and how you roll it any different?

MARIA ST. CLAIR:  It's almost the same as the others. Mainly it's just the ingredients.

KAYTE YOUNG:  What goes into the filling?

MARIA ST. CLAIR:  With a vegetable lumpia you can put any kind of vegetable that you like. This is just the basic. I used cabbage and carrots, just because that's what our customers request. This is their favorite with just two main ingredients.

KAYTE YOUNG:  What's the first step?

MARIA ST. CLAIR:  The first step, I chop the cabbage and the carrots thinly, then I saute it, and then put garlic powder, salt and pepper, that's it. A little bit of the liquid seasoning that came from our country. After that, I let it cool, and then I use just the regular spring roll wrapper that you can buy from any Asian store.

KAYTE YOUNG:  The wrappers are thin, 8" square sheets made with wheat and sometimes rice flour.

MARIA ST. CLAIR:  I prepare it in a long and thin way. Just because we want it to be bite size. That's how we present it to our customers during our catering. I take one or two tablespoons, just to make sure you have enough filling.

KAYTE YOUNG:  She arranges the filling in a line down the center of the wrapper.

MARIA ST. CLAIR:  Not too much, just enough, and then you line them up and fold it. So, one big fold, and you have to make sure that it is tightened up. And then you roll it. Make sure it's not loose. So once in a while you need to take a grip, and then roll it again. Sometimes I use water to seal the wrapper, or eggs. I put a little bit on the edge of the wrapper, and then you close it, and smooth it out a little bit more, just to make sure it's sealed. Then you freeze this. It's much better to freeze it before you fry, as it helps if it's frozen.

KAYTE YOUNG:  So, there's no closing it at the end?

MARIA ST. CLAIR:  No closing at the end. That's what we do. But I have a second way to do it. But this time it's a much bigger vegetable roll. This is like a diamond shape. This way you put a little bit more of filling just in the middle. And then you close it.

KAYTE YOUNG:  You're bringing that front corner up.

MARIA ST. CLAIR:  Yes. And then the same way, you roll it one time, and then here at the edge, you close the sides. Just making a triangular shape. And then the other side again, you fold it. So you sealed the sides already. Then you continue folding until you close the whole wrapper. But of course you need to seal it with the eggs.

KAYTE YOUNG:  So I see that you've got one that's a little thicker. It's more what I think of as a spring roll, or an egg roll.

MARIA ST. CLAIR:  Yes. So it really depends on how our clients want it. If they want it bite size, we prepare it long ways like this, and then we divide it into three.

KAYTE YOUNG:  I see. Once it's cooked you would cut it.

MARIA ST. CLAIR:  Yes, we cut it. And this one, if they just want something big like this, that's how I make the bigger version. So you fry it. And then there's two sauces for this. So if you want the sweet chili sauce, which is the normal sauce for spring rolls like lumpia, and also I have vinegar with onions. This is chopped red onions with vinegar. I put a little bit of sugar, salt, and that's it.

KAYTE YOUNG:  So, I'm guess that the vegetarian isn't the typical one that you make? What other kinds of fillings do you make?

MARIA ST. CLAIR:  I can put in tofu. We also use turnips or green beans. It really depends on what kind of vegetables you want as a filling.

KAYTE YOUNG:  What about the meat ones?

MARIA ST. CLAIR:  The meat ones we use the ground pork, ground chicken. Soon we are going to do the adobo version of the Lumpia.

KAYTE YOUNG:  What is that like?

MARIA ST. CLAIR:  I will just make the adobo meat as Lumpia. We're still trying that.

KAYTE YOUNG:  So you'll cook the meat like you do the adobo, and then you'll just cut it up real small to fit in.

MARIA ST. CLAIR:  I'm going to dry it a little bit, but all the seasoning and marinations is there. Then once it's dried up, and it's cooled down, I will use it as a filling. I'm going to try different ways. That's our next thing that we're going to feature.

KAYTE YOUNG:  So, some recipe testing is ahead.


KAYTE YOUNG:  Are we ready to go to the frying stage? Or do you want to make some more? Or how do you want to do it?

MARIA ST. CLAIR:  Frying station.

KAYTE YOUNG:  While Maria was teaching me how to roll lumpia, Chris was heating up oil in the deep fryer. And in case you're wondering at home, you probably could try using an air fryer. Just brush the outside of the lumpia with oil first, and give it a try. Chris and Maria recommend freezing the lumpia first. They tend to hold together better in the fryer.

CHRIS MANANSALA:  With this process, normally the lumpia takes three to four minutes, depending on the temperature. We use 400°, so it's a quick fry.

KAYTE YOUNG:  So you're able to take a fryer like this to your pop-up so that you can fry them on the spot?

CHRIS MANANSALA:  Yes, because we want to make sure our spring rolls are fresh.

CHRIS MANANSALA:  Once you see the golden brown color, the vegetable lumpia is cooked. But with the pork and chicken Lumpia it's way different. That process might take five minutes because you want the meat in there to cook.

KAYTE YOUNG:  So for the meat ones, you don't pre cook the meat that goes in there?

CHRIS MANANSALA:  No, we don't. Just ground chicken or pork, and then we season then up, and then we wrap it into the Lumpia spring rolls, and then we drop it into the fryer.

CHRIS MANANSALA:  And now we start seeing that brown color. That's how you know it's done. But every time we cook lumpia, we check the temperature first before we give it to the customer, because we want to make sure it's at the right temperature. Just because it's a brown color, it doesn't mean the inside is cooked. So we make sure that it's cooked.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Okay. Which one shall I try first? The skinny one?

CHRIS MANANSALA:  You can try the skinny one, yeah.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Okay. I mean, I know they are probably going to taste similar.

CHRIS MANANSALA:  But the skinny one has the filling, but the egg roll one has more filling inside.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Also it's just a different experience. I think this is probably a different texture.

CHRIS MANANSALA:  A lot of times we cut the long ones into three pieces.

KAYTE YOUNG:  That's right.

CHRIS MANANSALA:  So it's bite size, if somebody wants an appetizer.

KAYTE YOUNG:  That's so good. Thank you. I don't want to double dip. My first bite was mostly the wrapper, so I've got to get the second one with the filling.

KAYTE YOUNG:  I mean, it's so simple, but it all works together to make this a really delightful appetizer, that is so crunchy. The texture is everything. It's just so great. Okay, let me try it with this vinegar onion.

CHRIS MANANSALA:  That's more of a Filipino tradition. The vinegar is not just regular vinegar. It's a Filipino brand vinegar.

MARIA ST. CLAIR:  And the way we do the sauce is different.

CHRIS MANANSALA:  It's different than other places that serves egg rolls. Mostly it's the sauce.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Yes, I like that sauce much more actually.

MARIA ST. CLAIR:  Oh, really? Oh.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Yes, because I don't really like sweet sauces. This is such a great contrast.

MARIA ST. CLAIR:  Yes, that's traditional, actually.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Sometimes fried things can feel a little heavy, and I feel like the vinegar really cuts through, and just makes it more bright, or something.

KAYTE YOUNG:  I love it. I bet all the other flavors are good, too, but I just like the simple vegetables. It's really nice.

CHRIS MANANSALA:  Also the vegetable lumpia is a great pair with the pancit stir fry noodles vegetables. So, that's a good pair for vegetarians. They can enjoy the rice noodles, and the vegetable lumpia together.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Are the vegetarian dishes not traditional to Filipino food?

MARIA ST. CLAIR:  They are.

KAYTE YOUNG:  It's not just the Americanized version?

MARIA ST. CLAIR:  No, it's not. But in the Philippines, we use more of the bean sprouts. But, as I say, we ask our customers what they like, because most of them don't like sprouts.

KAYTE YOUNG:  But I would think bean sprouts would be a good texture in there. I would like that.


KAYTE YOUNG:  Thank you so much for this. I really appreciate it. And I'm excited to share it with listeners.

CHRIS MANANSALA:  Thank you for having us. I appreciate the opportunity.

MARIA ST. CLAIR:  Thank you.

KAYTE YOUNG:  That was Chris Manansala, and Maria St. Clair, the mother son team behind Pinoy Garden Cafe. After a short break, we'll return to my studio conversation with Chris, where he reflects on what it means for him to share the food of his homeland with the Bloomington community. Stay with us.

KAYTE YOUNG:  This is Earth Eats. I'm Kayte Young, and we're back in the studio with Chris Manansala.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Chris and his mom Maria St. Clair are the owners of Pinoy Garden Cafe, a pop-up and catering company serving authentic Filipino cuisine here in Bloomington, Indiana. I asked Chris to share a little about his family's background.

CHRIS MANANSALA:  We're originally from the Philippines. We came here in 2009. Not in Bloomington, but in Louisville, Kentucky. That's where we are originally from. We moved to Bloomington in 2016. Bloomington is a great family environment because where we came from, it's pretty rough down there.

KAYTE YOUNG:  In Louisville, or in the Philippines?

CHRIS MANANSALA:  Louisville. We had to leave to Louisville because there's not really opportunities there. Also, we wanted to be close to my brother, because he want to IU. So, that's one of the reasons why we came here, to get closer, because family is very important to us. We want to be together. So that's one of the reasons we came here to Bloomington. And my step-dad, too, because he's been here for 40 years.

KAYTE YOUNG:  When did your family move to Louisville?

CHRIS MANANSALA:  We moved to Louisville in 2009.

CHRIS MANANSALA:  We came straight from the Philippines to Louisville.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Where did you live in the Philippines? In a big city, or a small town?

CHRIS MANANSALA:  It was more of a mix. So, province, and then the city. We had to move a lot because of either jobs or living conditions, stuff like that.

KAYTE YOUNG:  You said mostly the work that you guys had done was mostly in food?

CHRIS MANANSALA:  The food industry, and also half of that is corporate jobs. My mom also worked at health care building, medical supplies, stuff like that. But mostly restaurants, and food trucks. We've been around food a lot.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Were you guys also missing the food from the Philippines?

CHRIS MANANSALA:  It's different here compared to the Philippines. In the Philippines there are so many foods. Here there's a limit, because we don't know how to cook everything. In the Philippines there are different areas that introduce other Filipino dishes.

CHRIS MANANSALA:  A lot of provinces have regional food that we don't know how to cook, but it's really good. If you have a family member in that province, you can learn how to cook it from them. But there are a lot of different Filipino foods.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Do you go back at all?

CHRIS MANANSALA:  We been back since. We haven't left the United States yet, but we plan on visiting. We want to feel that environment again because it's been 14 years since we have been back there.

CHRIS MANANSALA:  We would love to go back home and learn from them too, because we still have a lot of things that we need to learn. Being back home is going to help us learn more, like the real authentic way they make it there, because it's different to how we make it here.

KAYTE YOUNG:  And you might not even be able to do everything, because of the ingredients and stuff.

CHRIS MANANSALA:  Yes. Also, the equipment. They use a lot of manual equipment in the Philippines. You can't get those here.

KAYTE YOUNG:  What's an example of that?

CHRIS MANANSALA:  Those push carts with grills. There, you can just go anywhere with a cart and sell food. Here, you can't do that. Also ice cream makers are different. You have to do it manually there. Here it's push start. But there you have to do it manually. A lot of things are manual over there.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Do you guys make ice cream?

CHRIS MANANSALA:  We do. We have the Filipino dessert, halo-halo. That's very well known in the Philippines. It's like a fruit gel on the bottom. You have fresh bananas, shredded coconut, and you put shredded ice, like a snow cone. Then you put evaporated milk, and either mango ice cream, or vanilla ice cream, or whatever ice cream you want. And we put a sweet flan on top.

KAYTE YOUNG:  This sounds very complicated.

CHRIS MANANSALA:  With the purple yam. Then you mix it together from top to bottom. You mix and make sure, because most of the sweets are in the middle where the evaporated milk is.

KAYTE YOUNG:  So, when you're eating it, you mix it together?

CHRIS MANANSALA:  You have to mix it before you eat it.

KAYTE YOUNG:  But you serve it, and it's all in those layers.

CHRIS MANANSALA:  All those layers. Yes.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Could you talk about your relationship to the foods of your home, and what does this food mean to you, or what does it mean to you to be making it here?

CHRIS MANANSALA:  It means a lot making it here, because we're representing our culture. Also some of the family recipes that my mom's been carrying for years, that she's always wanted to show out. Now that we have that chance to do that, it feels great. Filipino food is not really known in the Mid-West. I feel like here is the perfect place to do that.

CHRIS MANANSALA:  Also, Indiana University is very diverse. There are a lot of Asian-American students, and there is a group, the Filipino American Association. We would like to give them Filipino food, because I feel like a lot of people miss home, especially those students that are from our state, and not from Indiana, and they miss home cooked meals, and they can get it from us.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Where do you see the business going? What are your plans right now?

CHRIS MANANSALA:  We are looking for a trailer right now. Our goal is maybe by April at the latest, because the farmer's markets start at that time. The Food Truck Friday starts at that time. A lot of events start in that time.

KAYTE YOUNG:  How would a food trailer be different than a food truck? Or is it kind of the same thing?

CHRIS MANANSALA:  A food trailer is something you can cook on. A pick up truck, and then drive it around. We want to do that because it's cheaper. Like I said, we want to do it step by step. We don't want to jump into a pop-up, and then a restaurant. Even though a lot of people are saying, get a restaurant. Get a commercial building. But we wanted to start with a food trailer.

CHRIS MANANSALA:  The funny thing is, that there are a lot of people sending us messages with pictures of food trucks. "Hey, I found this food truck for you guys." "This will be perfect for you guys. Check it out." "We want you guys to have a food truck." It's great, but it's funny at the same time, because we didn't expect that. But we didn't want to get the drivable food truck, because it's very expensive. It's difficult because if you have the food truck, you have to have money on the side for repairs, because it costs a lot. A trailer is a good idea, because the only thing you need to worry about is the inside.

KAYTE YOUNG:  I can see the way that could make sense. I hadn't really thought about it before.

CHRIS MANANSALA:  Also our menu's going to expand even more, because we have so many Filipino foods that we want to introduce. But it's just so hard for us, because doing the pop-up, you cannot have ten, 12 or 15 menus in one day. We have to pick the top four, maybe five, that we can sell, because our time is limited. But when we get that trailer, it will be easier for us to park somewhere and be there all day long. We can have picnic tables, and an upgraded menu.

KAYTE YOUNG:  That sounds great. And then you said that your long term goal was to perhaps have a restaurant, but you're trying to do it in steps.

CHRIS MANANSALA:  That's our big goal. Like I said, we have a lot of plans. Not just the food trucks, but how the inside of the restaurant is going to look. How the outside is going to look. Maybe we can put entertainment inside the restaurant. Or karaoke, because Filipinos love karaoke. They can do karaoke all night long, so we want to make sure we have a karaoke section. There's a lot of plans with the restaurant, but that's long term.

KAYTE YOUNG:  And you feel like you're liking the work?

CHRIS MANANSALA:  For me personally I think this is the best job I've ever had. Just because I'm with my family. We are doing what we love to do, which is Filipino food. It is a lot of work. It's three, five times the work, compared to working somewhere else. But at the same time it's also good, because we control our own hours. Also, we don't have to answer to anybody. We like the freedom, and we get to see our family a lot. When we were working for other companies, we can't take days off or have a weekend off. Now we can enjoy having family functions and stuff like that.

KAYTE YOUNG:  And also, like you said, you're working with your family, so you're spending more time together, even when you're at work.

CHRIS MANANSALA:  Yes, which is good.

KAYTE YOUNG:  I know some families that could put a lot of stress on the family relationships, but it sounds like you guys are pretty close.

CHRIS MANANSALA:  Families bump heads sometimes, but it's nothing personal. But we love working with each other, even if sometimes we have disagreements and stuff like that. That happens. That's life. But it's never personal.

CHRIS MANANSALA:  And we also learn a lot from each other, too. Even though we've known each other for a long time as a family.

KAYTE YOUNG:  So you mean you're not just learning things from a family member, you're learning things about them that you didn't know before.

CHRIS MANANSALA:  Yes. Like how they operate physically. The ideas they have. They throw out ideas and you think, "I didn't know that." It works pretty well.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Or what their organizational style is. How they keep things together.

CHRIS MANANSALA:  Recipes, also. "What else do you have in mind that you've been keeping that we can put in the business?" So, a lot of things play out.

KAYTE YOUNG:  That's really great. That's a great thing to hear.

KAYTE YOUNG:  While Pinoy Garden Cafe has experienced some early success, it hasn't all been smooth sailing. They secured a spot for vending at Lotus Fest this year. Lotus is an annual world music festival held in downtown Bloomington every September. But unfortunately, Maria and Chris were missing some crucial information about the set up.

CHRIS MANANSALA:  We didn't know that there was no outlets. So, nobody told us about a generator, because mainly our pop-up vans have outlets.

KAYTE YOUNG:  So when you do a Food Truck Friday, you can plug into electricity, at Switchyard.

CHRIS MANANSALA:  At Switchyard or at the farmer's market downtown, there are outlets. But at the Lotus Festival we weren't aware. I should have asked. That's kind of like my fault. But it wasn't bad, but we had to leave, and go and get a rented generator.

KAYTE YOUNG:  So on the spot, you had to go get a generator? While you're getting ready to do the event?

CHRIS MANANSALA:  Yes. I had to call Master Rental and ask, "Hey, do you guys have a generator available right now?" Which they did. So, I picked it up.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Wow. [LAUGHS] That sounds so stressful.

CHRIS MANANSALA:  There were a couple of events that was very stressful. Like, wait, we need a generator? It was nerve-wracking. [LAUGHS]

KAYTE YOUNG:  What is your plan when you're at an event like that? What kind of food do you bring?

CHRIS MANANSALA:  When we first got to Food Truck Fridays as a customer, we saw how the process works. So, when we got invited, we already made the plan. We said we need to make sure it's not a long wait, and make sure that everything is scoop and serve, but it's fresh. The only thing that people are probably going to have wait for is the lumpia, because we cook the lumpia fresh. But we are already cooking three or four orders at a time. So once that's cooked, we put it on a pot, so it's still hot, and then we cook another three or four. So the process can be faster, because we have a plan to make sure the customers only wait less than five minutes for the food.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Another venue that was full of surprises, was the Munroe County Fair this summer.

CHRIS MANANSALA:  We were at the fair the whole week from from Monday to Sunday. Monday and Tuesday it wasn't that busy, because we didn't know how the flow of the fair was during the week days, because people were working. But Wednesday through Sunday it was starting to get busy. That was our first time doing the fair, and it was crazy. The thing that surprised us is we didn't know that a lot of people would get Filipino food. Because if you go to a fair, you eat fair food. Corn dogs and fried Oreos and stuff like that. All the good stuff.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Funnel cakes.

CHRIS MANANSALA:  Funnel cakes mainly, yes.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Corn. Turkey leg.

CHRIS MANANSALA:  Yes. I think that time I had four orders of fried Oreos because that's the only time I get to eat fried Oreos like that, so that one day I had four or five orders. But I didn't know that a lot of people would eat Filipino food at the fair. A lot of people came to see us and get food, which is very humbling. We're grateful for that.

KAYTE YOUNG:  You mean there were some of your customers, or people who had already tried your food, who knew you were going to be out there, and came for you.

CHRIS MANANSALA:  They came for us, yes. A couple of people said, we don't even go to the fair, but you guys are here, so we're going to get some food. So that was good to hear.

KAYTE YOUNG:  But then there were a lot of fair goers who had never heard of you.

CHRIS MANANSALA:  Yes. And they were like, "Wait, fresh Filipino food in Bloomington?" And then they went to our booth and bought a lot of food from us. Mainly the lumpia, because a lot of people know about the lumpia. The whole week we were slamming, especially the Saturday. There were a couple of times that we had to close down for an hour, so we could bring more food from the commissary, because we had some back up food just in case we sold out. So we sold out twice in a day.

KAYTE YOUNG:  That's wild.

CHRIS MANANSALA:  We didn't know about that, but we had that good feeling that, hey I think we should make two batches, which we did. It was a great atmosphere being at the fair. Being there as a vendor was different than being there as a customer, but it was a good experience.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Well, that's cool, and it's great to hear you say that it was a good experience, because I would just think, so hot, and so long.

CHRIS MANANSALA:  It was hot. But we would like to do it again next year, but with the trailer, so it will be easier.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Oh right, because you guys were just in a booth.

CHRIS MANANSALA:  Yes, we were in a booth. A tent.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Were you inside or outside?

CHRIS MANANSALA:  Outside, so it was pretty hot. The fan that we brought, it wasn't enough.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Before we wrapped up, I asked Chris if there was anything else he wanted to say.

CHRIS MANANSALA:  We would like to thank everyone who has been there for us since we opened on April 2nd 2022. A lot of people helped us along the way. I want to thank Mr. Clarence Boone of the farmer's market, because he's the one that really put us on the map. He helped us to be out there in front of Bloomington. Also Jeff Mease of One World Commissary, because we have a spot where we can cook. Just everyone who supported us from the start. All our regular customers, also. They show up at every event we go to. "Hey, you remember me?" "Yes, of course we do." So we want to thank them, because Bloomington has been very welcoming to us.

KAYTE YOUNG:  All right, well, thank you very much.

CHRIS MANANSALA:  Thank you for having me.

KAYTE YOUNG:  That was Chris Manansala of Pinoy Garden Cafe in Bloomington.

KAYTE YOUNG:  You can find out more about the business he runs with his mom Maria St. Clair on our website,

KAYTE YOUNG:  December is cookie baking season for many of us, and if you're looking for some new cookie recipes, I've shared some of my favorites on YouTube. We've got chocolate pecan shortbread cookies, classic thumb prints filled with redcurrant jelly, and delicate ginger cookies shaped like ducks, with a juniper berry glaze.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Next week we have three more cookie recipes dropping on YouTube, including one for Earl Gray scented tea cakes and another for a butter cookie with a hint of aniseed.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Watch step by step instructions from my home kitchen, by searching for Earth Eats on YouTube.

KAYTE YOUNG:  That's it for our show this week. Thanks for joining us, and we'll see you next time.

DANIELLA RICHARDSON:  Earth Eats is produced and edited by Kayte Young with help from Eoban Binder, Alex Chambers, Mark Chilla, Toby Foster, Samantha Gee, Abraham Hill, Payton Whaley, Harvest Public Media, and me, Daniella Richardson.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Special thanks this week to Chris Manansala and Maria St. Clair.

DANIELLA RICHARDSON:  Our theme music is composed by Erin Tobey,and performed by Erin and Matt Tobey. Additional music on the show comes to us from the artists at Universal Production Music. Our Executive Producer is John Bailey.

Maria St. Clair and Chris Manansala standing in a comercial kitchen with shelving behind them

Maria St. Clair and Chris Manansala are the mother-son team behind Pinoy Garden Cafe. They prepare the food for their pop-up events and catering at One World KitchenShare. (Kayte Young/WFIU)

“Filipino food is not really known like that, especially in Indiana, so we wanted to bring something new.”

This week on the show, we visit with the owners of Pinoy Garden Cafe. They talk about what it means to them to bring authentic Filipino cuisine to Bloomington, Indiana and they share a recipe for vegetarian lumpia, a Filipino style spring roll that locals can’t seem to get enough of.

Plus a story from Harvest Public Media about funding challenges in agriculture research, at a time when it’s needed most.

Two hands, one rolling a narrow spring roll, one dipping fingers into a bowl of egg, a bowl of chopped cooked cabbage and carrots next to egg bowl
Maria St. Clair demonstrates rolling the Lumpia. She rolls them very tightly and seals them with egg. (Kayte Young/WFIU)

While I love to cook, I can’t imagine trying to start a food business. I know it takes more than passion and I don’t have a strong enough business sense to make it work. For that reason, I am always fascinated by stories of people who are willing to take that chance. A few years ago we had a series about small food business start-ups called Making the Leap. My guests today would certainly be a perfect fit for that series.

Maria St.Clair and her son Chris Manansala made the leap. Their story belongs in a long tradition of immigrant families starting a new life, in a new place, and in this case, sharing their food with their new community.They launched Pinoy Garden Cafe on April 2nd of 2022, starting with a booth at the Bloomington Community Farmers Market then branching out to other events and catering. 

fried spring rolls on a plate with an orange sauce in a small container and a clear sauces with diced onions in a small container
There are two ways to roll Lumpia. One method is long and thin with the ends open. They divide those into 3 bite-sized pieces for catering. The other method involes more filling and the ends are closed. (Kayte Young/WFIU)

In this week's episode, we talk with Chris about the founding of Pinoy Garden Cafe, and about what it means to them to share Filipino food with the Bloomington community. We drop into the the kitchen with Maria and Chris at One World KitchenShare and they walk through the steps of making vegetarian Lumpia.

Music on this episode

The Earth Eats theme music is composed by Erin Tobey and performed by Erin and Matt Tobey.

Additional music on this episode from Universal Production Music.

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