UWP Alumnus Opens FLIP KITCHEN to Feed Los Angeles Theater Community

UWPIAA - Craig Mills (‘81C, ’81-’90 Era Representative) and Scott Freeman (‘81C)
June 1, 2021
1981 - 1990, Alumni Experiences, Era Reports, News

Jon Lawrence Rivera (‘81C) founded Playwrights’ Arena in Hollywood, California, in 1992, where he currently serves as Artistic Director. For nearly 30 years, Playwrights’ Arena has been dedicated to discovering, nurturing, and producing bold new works written exclusively by Los Angeles playwrights. Then COVID hit in 2020 — and the Los Angeles (LA) theater community was unexpectedly shuttered. That’s when FLIP KITCHEN was born with its now notable tagline, ‘Who’s Hungry?’.

UpBeat contributor Craig Mills (‘81C, ’81-’90 Era Representative) and Scott Freeman (‘81C) sat down with Jon via Zoom to discuss the story of FLIP KITCHEN and the inspiration behind it.

SCOTT:  What led you to trade your producer/director hat for a chef’s jacket, and start FLIP KITCHEN?

JON:  It all happened by accident. When our theaters were shuttered in March 2020, I was looking for something to do with my time. I thought of all the things I have missed doing when my time was taken up (practically 24/7) running Playwrights’ Arena, plus my freelance directing. I remembered how much I loved cooking. But this time I was yearning to learn and re-create food I grew up with in the Philippines… so I started cooking.

Jon in the FLIP KITCHEN
Jon in the FLIP KITCHEN

I quickly realized that the recipes I was following made enough food for 4 to 8 people, so I started posting pictures of the food I have been making and asked if anyone is hungry to take the rest of it. I was very aware that my community was having a challenging time as jobs in the theater kept disappearing.

I posted a note on Facebook that simply said, if you are hungry and need food, to come by my house to pick up (or I will deliver) food I have made, no questions asked. That was the beginning of FLIP KITCHEN.

CRAIG:  We know you decided to focus on the Filipino dishes you grew up with. Where did you get the recipes?  Were they written down in detail?  Or have you had to get them verbally and deal with unique directions?

JON:  When I started cooking during the pandemic, I asked my mom for her recipes that had meaning to me. Simple traditional dishes like adobo… then pancit, then sinigang, arroz valenciana, dinuguan and the ‘granddaddy of Filipino cuisine’… kare kare. What I discovered was my mom never kept a recipe book. She learned from her grandmother and all of it by memory. When I ask her how much a particular ingredient to add, she would usually say ‘just enough,’ or ‘shoop, shoop.’  I would laugh. She does all her cooking by taste. I would look at recipes on the internet or ask one of my cousins for their recipes and adjust them based on what I think my mom meant by ‘shoop shoop.’

SCOTT:  Do you think your year with Up with People has impacted, inspired FLIP KITCHEN?  How?

JON:  Absolutely. One of the most important values I took from my year in UWP was service to others. I never let go of that ideal. It is one of the principles of my non-profit theater. I think of ways I can be of service to my community. When my fellow artists lost so much during the pandemic, I thought, ‘What I can do to help?’  The cooking was an outlet for that.

CRAIG:  What has the reaction been from the LA artist community? Did you find that feeding artists also kept you connected as a community family during the pandemic?

JON:  I’ve been enjoying hearing from so many people how much they love the food. Many of them have never even had Filipino food. I’m actually surprised because I have some Filipino friends who have not had some of the dishes I have made. I don’t think anyone has had the courage to say it’s no good if it is not to their liking. A few dishes may be a bit spicy for some palates, so I’ve heard, “That dish was a bit spicy for me, so I gave it to my roommate, and she loved it!”

I think I get the most validation from my mom. When she sends me a text saying how much she loved a particular dish… I know that I am not only honoring her, but my ancestors as well.

The remarkable thing I learned when we shuttered our theaters was this… it wasn’t the productions I missed the most, it was the social/community engagements. Those conversations with random audience members after a performance, discussing what they just saw, or the connections with friends who have been loyal supporters. FLIP KITCHEN became an extension of that. I have been seeing many people through Zoom, but the live person-to-person interactions are what really matter. Now when someone comes over to pick up food, I get to spend 2-3 minutes of catch up with them while fully masked, distanced and outdoors. These have been and continue to be gifts during this pandemic.

Jon making a FLIP KITCHEN delivery
Jon making a FLIP KITCHEN delivery

SCOTT:  Do you charge anything for the dishes?

JON:  I have never charged anything for the dishes. People who are new to the kitchen will always ask, “How much do I owe you?”  And the answer is always, “There is no charge.” It started with me using my own money. Now people have been very generous in making donations through our website. I have not used my own money since September 2020. One of the reasons I keep cooking … sometimes up to 3 or 4 dishes a day … is because I want to make sure that I spend the money people have donated. I have kept track of each person’s donation and all the receipts to make sure that I am accountable for their generosity.

One of the remarkable aspects of the community’s support of FLIP KITCHEN has been the barter system. People inherently do not want to take anything without giving back. When I insist that there is no payment required for the food, people come over to pick up food and then give me supplies. This can be anything like lemons from their tree, herbs from their garden, Tupperware containers cramming their cupboards, plastic bags, etc. Then a friend suggested I create a wish list on Amazon for specialty items I might need for the kitchen. We do maintain a short wish list on Amazon … and it is empty most of the time due to the generosity of FLIP KITCHEN supporters.

 

CRAIG:  Jon, any kitchen nightmares you are willing to admit to?

JON:  I’ve had the occasional slicing of my fingers while chopping or peeling. But one night I was finishing up a dish and was multitasking. I was in a hurry to put a new batch of food from the wok to a platter and lifted the wok without turning off the stove. As I was dishing the food onto the platter, I heard a whooshing sound. By the time I looked to see what it was, the sleeve of my sweater was on fire. I tried to pat my arm, but the fire stayed on, so I dropped the wok, took off my sweater and stomped on it. Phew! When I shared the incident on Facebook the following day, I had fire blankets, first aid kits and a fire-proof chef jacket delivered to my doorstep from friends!

SCOTT:  Has the local news in Los Angeles found out about you?

JON:  A friend of mine mentioned the idea to one of the newscasters at Spectrum News. And she bit. And she did a story. Here is the segment…

CRAIG:  Jon, do you think you will continue FLIP KITCHEN when you are back in production? And perhaps more importantly, how has FLIP KITCHEN fed your life, your career, your purpose in life?

JON:  This is a very good question. I think ultimately, as we open up, it will evolve to something else. I am not quite sure what that is yet. But like all things, it will reveal itself when the time comes. I also think FLIP KITCHEN has reinforced in me the value of community. Throughout the pandemic, we faced many challenges… Black Lives Matter, Stop Asian Hate, Transphobia… on top of financial worries. The simple act of cooking and giving food feels like a small window to what is possible. That we are all in this together.

Photo courtesy of Ken Sawyer Photography
Photo courtesy of Ken Sawyer Photography

SCOTT:  Finally, where can alumni contact you for more information or to donate?

JON:  Information about FLIP KITCHEN and Playwrights’ Arena are available at:

 

Jon’s Traditional Adobo with Pork
Jon’s Traditional Adobo with Pork

JON’S TRADITIONAL ADOBO

There are many ways of making adobo. All of it is the perfect way.

3 lbs. pork butt 1-2″ cubes (or boneless chicken thighs cut into small pieces)

1/3 cup soy sauce

1/3 cup vinegar (use Datu Puti)

6 cloves of garlic chopped

6 bay leaves

black pepper (to taste)

 

Put everything in a pot and let cook until meat is done.  Usually about 45 minutes, let it boil, then lower to simmer.  That’s it. That’s the traditional way.

OPTIONAL: You may add one can of coconut milk at the end of cooking the traditional way.  You can also add some chili flakes.  I add serrano chili – about 4-6 finely chopped.  I like it a bit spicy. This is just another version of adobo.

#flipkitchen

#feedingartists

#lifeinthetimeofcorona

#weareinthistogether

#lathtr

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *