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Hey, I am VJ Navarro, chef-owner of So Sarap NYC and founding member of Philippines Fest. I was born in Italy to a Filipino family and moved to NYC in my teens; my career began as a busboy – I didn’t go to culinary school which meant I worked my way up the hard way, from dishwasher to prep cook and around every kitchen station; I learned from my father and inherited his passion for the craft.

Having come from such a diverse background has opened my eyes to the beauty of the world, I grew up with street food and fell in love with the easy prep, its fast service and its affordability for everyone to enjoy. I spent a long time working my way up in restaurant kitchens, learning every section and honing all my skills – but then the door was closed on me when they rejected me for an executive chef position. My dreams crumbled and I decided to move out of fine dining and instead open a Filipino street food cart in the middle of the pandemic.

I value tradition and believe that kitchens should be open canvases where anyone can express their love for food, and cooks should cook whatever they feel like cooking; as much as I take pride in my heritage I believe in exploring unusual foods and earning people’s trust in your community so they are willing to expand their horizons and try new things.

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Get ready to meet the incredible Augelyn Francisco, also known as Augee, the powerhouse and "Ate" of the Filipino Community! As the chef-owner of Kabisera Canal and Kabisera West, and one of the founding members of the Philippines Fest, Augee is a force to be reckoned with. Augee is descendant of the indigenous tribe known as the Igorot from Northern part of the Philippines, Augee’s palate was influenced by the flavors of her forebearers’ culinary tradition which included stewed (nilaga), vinegar-marinated (kinilaw) and grilled (inihaw) dishes.

Augee explore her horizon from being registered nurse, to culinary journey and community movers. Her culinary journey began from her Family Ranch, horse ridding at young age was not a challenge to her, as she learned that as normal routine while shepherding cows and moving from Cow's barn to fishpound to farm. Growing in the mountain region of Northern Philippines, where she learned to butcher farm animal and cooked on open fire.  In June of 2022, she also completed the Institute of Culinary Education’s (ICE)  Augee's passion for Filipino cuisine and culture has taken her around the world, from Korea, Japan, and New York City.  With her dedication to her community and her strong support system, Augee is making her mark on the culinary world and beyond. Get ready to be inspired by this amazing chef and entrepreneur!

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Paulo Manaid the founder of Hatzumomo and Founding Member of Philippines Fest. Paulo is a modern self-made casual clothing designer with a mission that highlights his Filipino heritage.

Born in Quezon City, he moved as a child with his family to the San Francisco area and eventually earned a degree in Product Design from San Francisco State University.

Although a creative soul, he realized early on that he would need to have experience in something economically practical. Thankfully, he also has a knack for numbers. So, for several years, he worked as an accountant for various fashion and jewelry brands, which gave him great insight into the business end of the creative world.

In 2015, he went on a “balikbayan” trip to the Philippines, when he saw the beautiful fabrics being used for souvenirs. In 2016, he started his own fashion and design company by making tote bags and smaller accessories, which he successfully sold in pop-up stores in New York City. Since then, his business has grown exponentially.

His company, Hatzumomo, incorporates and highlights Filipino woven textiles into his line of one-of-a-kind T-shirts, hats, robes, jackets, and bags. He personally designs, cuts, and sews all his products at his home, making his clothing truly unique and imbued with his artistic essence. He says that “the handwoven fabric is always the star on my garments.”

The brand name for his goods is Natibo ATBP by Hatzumomo (“Natibo” means native, and “ATBP” is shortcut for “at iba pa,” which roughly translates to “and others” and used similarly like “etc.” in English). He likes to think of himself and his company as a “channel” through which awareness of the distinctive Philippine fabric weaving is brought to light.

He proudly says that “everything is self-financed and sustained through my business [with] money I saved. It took about 2-3 years to figure out what works and what doesn’t work to make it profitable. As a small business owner, I have to wear a lot of hats because I just have so many ideas.”

Manaid sells his wares from his own website, https://www.hatzumomo.com/, and at street fairs not only in New York City but in other parts of the country as well.

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