Home cooking, the magazine editor’s new medium

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Three former magazine editors — Paolo Lorenzana of Mafalda Makes, Bea Ledesma of A Home Kewk, and Jonty Cruz of Fake Baker — talk about their new gastronomic journeys, which they chronicle through their food Instagrams.

As we continue to burn daylight indoors, the outside world lives on through the media we consume like newspapers, magazines, and now, even Instagram. One of the many hobbies people have taken up during the pandemic is sharing their food creations online, especially since social interaction has been stripped down to a minimum. Joining the ranks are three former magazine editors, who have taken up cooking and baking as a reprieve from quarantine. “When you talk about food, you talk about life, and you’re giving death the middle finger, aren’t you?” says Paolo Lorenzana of the food Instagram Mafalda Makes.

The former editor-in-chief of TEAM Mag, Lorenzana has become more known by the moniker, Mafalda Makes. Inspired by the housekeeper from the film, “Call Me By Your Name,” he was reminded of his own Mafalda, Sol. “She was our mayordoma up until I was a teenager. She thought I was a spoiled brat growing up because I was into international food. I would always request Italian food from her, and she would always just prepare Filipino classics,” Lorenzana explained. “Back then, I didn’t appreciate it. Now, obviously, I’m nostalgic for it all the time.”

He explained that “Mafalda the Instagram” has become somewhat of a tribute to her. “In a way, she’s always been telling me, okay if you want something to eat, prepare it yourself,” he explained. “I kind of became my own Mafalda without her. I gave myself comfort the way she did when I was a kid.”

At the beginning, Mafalda Makes was meant to be a business that sold milk buns. A few months later, he turned it into a hobby. “I’ve seen the hard work and commitment that one needs to make it succeed, and that’s not something I can take on right now, especially in a pandemic,” he admitted honestly. “What I can do is share what has worked out for me, personally, in my own tiny apartment kitchen, and I think that other people can benefit from that because a lot of other people have tiny apartment kitchens and a lot of the same cravings I do.”

The tone he’s picked for Mafalda is witty and approachable, where he weaves pop culture into the captions so the content is more relatable. “I compare foodstuffs and dishes to a lot of D-list celebrities or personal heroines — like Winona Ryder, for example. I wanna do a cocktail inspired by her. It’s really personal,” he said. The pop culture from his teenage years plays a large role in his decision-making when trying out new dishes. “I think it’s rooted in a lot of movies I saw as a teenager. That era in the late ‘90s and early 2000s, when I was figuring out my identity out as a gay man, and inspired by divas in movies.”

“It’s great hearing from other people what they think about the food I prepare because they share their own memories with the food,” he said. “I love it when somebody who’s my age or old goes, oh I remember that era.”

Among his favorites is the Dutch Babyngka — “‘cause it’s so stupidly named,” he joked — an intersection between a recent discovery and a constant childhood craving. “I tried it out with a regular skillet that you can put in the oven and it’s a show,” he said, painting an image of dutch babies rising in the oven as they bake. “So from — what’s one thing we can apply that I’m constantly craving and looking for but it’s so hard to find? Bibingka.” He purchased salted eggs and dove into the recipe. Thankfully, it worked out. “Of course it’s not like your regular bibingka that’s pillowy soft, but it’s a great alternative to your pancake that’s pinoy inspired.”

His inbox is often dotted with messages of appreciation — a mix of people trying recipes for themselves (particularly for the pastas), and those who simply enjoy watching Mafalda Makes in his element. “They always tell me that it’s relaxing for them to watch me make the pasta, parang that’s enough for them,” Lorenzana said.

Similarly, Bea Ledesma started cooking during the pandemic as a way to explore herself and her relationship with others.

“I had recently left my job at Hinge Inquirer and was in deep rest mode. Lots of sleep, reading, TV and dog-walking. In between, I was cooking — a lot. And I wanted a space to document my home cooking,” she said. “Part of this home cooking project is to explore the way food is meaningful to us — how we interact with it and enjoy it, how we share it with others.”

Food, she described, is something indicative of a person’s life. A favorite dish speaks volumes about where they grew up, what they’re interested in now, and everything in between. Like a gastronomic fingerprint, everyone is different, and Ledesma finds joy in exploring those contrasts through her account, A Home Kewk.

“The idea behind the account was to celebrate the food of other untrained home cooks like myself,” she said. “It’s interesting, I asked a lot of friends who enjoy food and a lot of them were hesitant to share their recipes or their cooking, often opening with the caveat, ‘But I’m not the best cook.’”

In contrast to Lorenzana, who transitioned from a business to a hobby, Ledesma recently opened a pop-up for A Home Kewk at Karrivin. “When you do things for shits and giggles, there’s no pressure. The minute I decided to sell food, I was like ‘Oh, shit, now I have to make sure it’s GOOD good.’” Since this was her first pop-up, she was walking on unfamiliar terrain. “We’re a small crew (tiny, actually) so mounting the pop-up, prepping the food, serving, arranging orders for pickup was challenging to say the least.”

For the menu, she went with dishes she both enjoyed and ate often enough that she knew it like the back of her hand. “I’ve made variations of this egg sando over the years. And this veggie burger, while recent, took me lots of testing and recipe dev to get to this point. I’m still developing it right now, recently experimenting with adding turmeric and flax seed,” she explained.

When choosing what to cook, she has three main criteria: does it look good? Is it easy? Would she eat it standing up on the kitchen counter as soon as it's cooked? “Honestly, I’d love to learn more regional Filipino recipes. The Very Veggie Burger uses a lot of Filipino ingredients (banana heart, malunggay) but the execution isn’t really Filipino. I’d like to explore more local ingredients, techniques and recipes,” she admitted. “Recently, [I] made pasta with palapa breadcrumbs. Palapa is a Maranao spice made from sakurab (a native scallion), chili and ginger. It was recently gifted to me, and I thought it would be great in a simple pasta, like aglio olio topped with a palapa breadcrumb.”

To all the home cooks starting out their culinary journeys, she recommends taking it easy and having fun. “Start making what you like! Which is advice that applies to anything in life, really.”

Jonty Cruz, former editor-in-chief of Rogue Magazine, started out doing exactly that when he picked up cooking again during the pandemic. “Parang it really starts with, what do I miss eating outside? And then from there, it’s like me thinking, can I actually make these things?” He said that, while most of the time he can’t, it doesn’t dissuade him from trying again. “You make it and after you eat it, ano yung things I can improve [on]? Or if I ever do this again, what would be exciting? It’s me wanting to try but also not overreaching kaagad. I guess if you’re like a novice writer, you’re not gonna do 3000 words kaagad.”

Cruz, who now runs Out of Print, created an Instagram for his food with the handle @fakebaker_. He’s also let his creations seep into his main Instagram feed. “I had a finsta account before — well I still have it — that’s where I was dumping my stuff. My other account has all of those first attempts: shitty baking stuff. And then last year, I guess I felt like these are nice things to post since I can’t really post anything else,” he said, describing how the pandemic had shifted his approach to posting. “You kinda wanna put things that make you feel good, I guess. Within the last year and a half, posting things that make me feel good kahit na it doesn’t look great like, oh I really enjoyed making this so this is what I’ll post nalang!”

Apart from reforging a connection to a past life outside, cooking has become a way for Cruz to show his appreciation to the people he spends most of his time with now — his family. “I think most of it I would say my favorites that I’ve made [are] based on what my family likes,” he said, explaining that his first ever attempt to bake was a matcha pie for his mother. “Consistently, they really like the burgers that I have made for them, so at least twice a month I try to make it for them. I did these weekend eggs — I made my mom and my kuya try it for a merienda and naubos kaagad nila so I was like, okay, I would count this as really up there. I saw that it was a good respite for them.”

Another favorite is also his biggest challenge: donuts.

“I think donuts for me. If I get to do it close to right, the accomplishment level is amazing ‘cause that’s the thing I love the most,” he said. “But then it takes so much time and effort na when you fuck it up, it’s like, existential crisis levels. Like sinong niloloko ko?”

When baking, everything has to be exact. Donuts, in particular, involve a lot of steps and specific equipment to get it right. “It needs two rising times. That’s like if the first one is great but then the second rising kind of fucks up the shape, then parang, what’s the point of this. Parang you fucked up at 70%,” he recalled. “One time, I was making Hawaiian rolls naman, and I forgot something in between, and I was just so sad that whole day kasi there’s no way I can fix it na eh. Like I would have to start again, parang ganun.”

Despite his love-hate relationship with the practice, he finds more satisfaction when baking. “I think, if you really do well baking, iba yung accomplishment. Not naman it’s better, but it’s a different feeling when I do a baking thing right as opposed to cooking a steak.”

Since posting his creations more actively on his main page, he often gets questions about whether or not he wants to start a food business. His answer is simply that he does not. “I think it’s more about filling a void with carbs and butter,” he said. “If there’s anything that I learned, maybe I have now an added value to people, na yeah, I can feed them. But in terms of any personal growth, maybe ask me again in a year?”