When Filipino performance artist Pepe Dayaw takes over a guest’s kitchen as part of his itinerant cooking project Nowhere Kitchen he asks that they don’t shop for groceries—instead it’s the odds and ends in their cupboards that take center stage at his roving dinners.
The project began in 2012 in Madrid, after finishing his Master of International Performance Research in Amsterdam and London. According to Pepe, the more bare the cupboards, the more memorable the dinner. “Each time I opened the fridge at the dinner, it was a new situation and each evening was a very unique kind of choreography of how strangers and friends come together.” The dinners gained a swift following, something Pepe attributes the intrigue of leftovers, which he noticed didn’t bear the positive connotations he was used to: “On my island, in the language of my mother there’s a word ‘tadak,’ which means ‘to leave something for.’ It can be both a verb and a noun, so it means that it’s also an action, it’s something we do—it’s a habit.”
The conversation is peppered with various linguistic slips, terms, and with them practices, that multilingual Pepe has picked up on his stays abroad. ‘Convivencia,’ coexistence in Spanish, makes its way in next as we sit on Pepe’s balcony at his home in Wedding, and he explains the expansion of the Nowhere Kitchen project. It’s current home of sorts is across the city in Neukölln at Agora Collective, a coworking space. “It went from a me to a we,” explains Pepe. There, they cater the daily lunch service, though he still periodically raids fridges for occasional ‘leftover’ dinners. He has 12 cooks alongside him in the kitchen, all of whom had previous professions—“We’re all leftovers, too, and we ended up in Berlin,” he laughs. “Our cooking network is all about how to get people to cook again and learn to love it without so much intimidation.” And, it’s our next stop on tour with Pepe.
Stopping by his shared house in Wedding, we find out how this wandering figure feels at home in Berlin. “It’s the constellation of people. You realize when you meet people like this that you feel at home, you feel like you’re with your family.”
Pepe was never formally trained in gastronomy. Growing up between chaotic Manila and the small island of Catanduanes, he whiled away many hours in an impressionable setting—his grandmother’s kitchen.
“I never cooked in the Philippines, I only cooked in exile, because this is what you do. The culture of cooking is so prevalent in there that you don’t have to cook, there’s always something around to eat. You find a coconut, crack it open and eat it straightaway,” he says miming the action as he speaks.“So when I came to Europe, I started cooking how my grandmother cooked, without consulting any recipes. I was with her thousands of times, just sitting at the kitchen counter, while she stood sautéing something.” As he speaks, he plucks invisible ingredients mid-air—listing tomatoes, garlic, onions, that together make up the fragrance of his childhood. His expressiveness points to his seven years as a dancer, having trained with a company specializing in the traditional dances of the indigenous peoples of the Philippines.
There’s a coexistence between Pepe’s two practices of cooking and dancing, one he sees as rooted in storytelling.“I like to make people remember things. Making dinners is a way to tell stories, and there’s some dance in it, and music-making. Because, choreographically, they’re really not that different from each other. You move in the kitchen, you really need to be aware of the space, it’s a bit like dancing.”
Excerpts from a feature by Freunde von Freunden
Interview by Ruby Goss, Photos by Daniel Müller
shot in Berlin during Pepe Dayaw and Nowhere Kitchen residency at Agora Collective,
cooking with artist Jessie Alice, author of Leftover Lovers (Australia), 2016
Link to the complete interview