Lani Halliday of Brutus Bakeshop and Woldy Reyes of Woldy Kusina are renowned Brooklyn chefs known for their innovative and collaborative projects. Since 2015, Lani has made a name for herself with her delicious, gluten-free creations, including her popular snake cakes. A graduate of ICC’s Food Business Fundamentals program, she was recently featured on the cover of Cherry Bombe magazine’s 14th issue. This month, Lani and business partner Woldy, bring a new immersive dining experience to the rooftop of the Ferris restaurant at the MADE Hotel, “Departure – A Modern Kamayan Feast”.
You could say the stars aligned for Lani and Woldy who met at commercial co-working space, Pilotworks, which closed down abruptly in late 2018. Before the closure, the duo had been working out of Pilotworks on a project that launched their partnership. Unfortunately, the sudden closure forced them to leave behind all of their food stock and supplies. When one door closed, the two found a way to open another—they began working on a new project, Departure Kamayan.
Woldy, the son of two Filipino immigrants, loves to share his heritage with the world through food and aims to modernize traditional Filipino feasts through this project. Alongside Chef Tyler Heckman and Charles Seich of Ferris restaurant at the MADE Hotel, Lani and Woldy are bringing an intimate, immersive experience to the rooftop dining room of the MADE Hotel, set in a tropical oasis. The evening features plant-based interpretations of classic Filipino dishes including Pansit, Lumpia, Adobo, Kare Kare and Bibingka, with flavors that transport you far from NYC.
#DepartureKamayan kicked-off last week as a limited, ticketed dinner series running on select days from January 21 through the end of March. Tickets are $100 per person (+tax) and can be purchased through Ferris on RESY for February 11, February 25, March 10 or March 24. We sat down with the duo to learn more about their partnership and the launch of their festive Kamayan feasts. Check out our interview with them below!
First of all, congratulations Lani on your recent cover of Cherry Bombe! What has it been like to gain this acknowledgement for everything you’ve been doing in the food industry?
Lani: Thank you so much! It’s been really dreamy to be honest. On the one hand it’s been a fantastic opportunity to practice the art of acknowledging and receiving. I definitely identify as someone who can mechanically move through accomplishments without fully acknowledging, celebrating and fully luxuriating in my experiences. So I’ve consciously chosen to do that this time around. Its also been really fun! Anyone who knows me knows i LOVE to connect and collaborate and this has certainly made that process easier. It’s opened doors for me to continue to do what I love to do best.
How did your partnership come about?
Woldy: Lani and I met at a commercial kitchen co-working space, Pilotworks which closed down abruptly in late 2018. Lani is the owner and pastry chef of the custom gluten-free baked-goods project, Brutus Bakeshop and I’m the chef and owner of a catering company Woldy Kusina. We admired each other’s work and I would buy her gluten free pastries for catered events. From there, we continued to collaborate on projects and we are excited to partner with Ferris’s team Chef Tyler Heckman and Charles Seich on this dinner series – #DepartureKamayan.
Lani, you opened Brutus Bakeshop in 2015 and later took ICC’s Food Business program in 2018. How would you say ICC’s program has helped you in operating an existing business?
L: The program was invaluable. I already owned Brutus when I took the course, but what the course gave me was an opportunity to ‘level-up’. I was able to learn new things, enrich areas of familiarity and crystallize some things that I already knew. It certainly clarified the areas of importance and showed me ways of understanding that I didn’t previously possess. I walked away being able to write an incredibly solid business plan as well as a skill set that will allow me to do that again for my next venture.
What would you say is the most important trait to find in a business partner?
W: Lani and I operate and run our own businesses, respectively and we are so lucky enough that we share the same ideas and approach to doing business. Having similar ideals around hospitality, beauty, and what luxury, care and service looks like is important. Plus we enjoy and respect each other so very much. We’re like a double act. We have our own language. It’s definitely the mutual admiration society with tons of laughs with us.
What has it been like to build this partnership and dinner series?
Both: This journey has been a blessing and we are so fortunate enough that the team at Ferris has been so open and accepting of the vision that we want to share with people. They have definitely provided a safe and warming space for us to share our talents and story!
What made you want to showcase Filipino food in the Kamayan-style feast? How does it differ from other Filipino restaurants in NYC?
W: I wanted to share an important part of me which is being a proud Queer Filipino-American and to share with people a celebratory and elevated Filipino food experience. Lani and I envisioned this feast to be a multi-sensory eating experience. When guests arrive, they enter into a tropical oasis and greeted with a cocktail called “Ube Bae” a Filipino take on a piña colada. Guests then witness the feast being built and laid out onto a banana leaf covered table. As each dish comes out, the room is filled with aromas and guests are excited to eat. Before eating, we do a ceremonial hand washing. It’s a spiritual way to start the dinner. Then everyone dives into the feast and enjoys it!
Kamayan feasts are traditional in Filipino culture for celebrating community, but DEPARTURE is a modern take on this tradition. Can you share what traditional elements will be experienced in DEPARTURE, and what modern elements are being brought to the table?
Both: Kamayan is an abundant and luscious Filipino feast served on a banana leaf and eaten with your bare hands. It’s a communal experience. I love the idea where strangers come and sit down to see a colorful array of food laid out in front of them and there are no utensils except your hands. Eating with your hands is a spiritual and personal experience. Then you formulate a conversation and bond with people around you who were once strangers, but are now your eating buddies! This builds community.
The modern approach to this Kamayan dinner is that we took classic Filipino dishes which are usually meat heavy and made it very vegetable forward. Save for fish sauce, the dinner is vegetarian, and gluten-free, save for the lumpia.
We’re seeing more dining experiences pop-up in NYC that push diners out of their comfort zone. Can you share what you hope to achieve by bringing people together in this intimate setting? Are there any challenges that you foresee?
Both:Yes, that’s a really valuable part of what we have to offer. DEPARTURE is certainly that—a departure from the familiar Euro-centric dining format that most New Yorkers identify as “normal”. As chefs, we get so much out of seeing the emotional and intellectual journey that the diners get to experience. It’s really an incredibly unique experience. The only challenges (as well as the resolutions) lie in the individual diners themselves. DEPARTURE really is a celebration of abundance, play and fun.
Oh, actually food allergies are a challenge! Because of the format, we can’t really offer concessions, substitutions or modifications. At all. We love people, we love hospitality and we really, really love to feed people, but unfortunately this one is not for our friends with certain food restrictions.
What does the future hold for Woldy & Lani? Can we expect more unique dinner-series pop-ups? What will you team up to do next?
Both: As part of our goals and fresh outlook for the new decade, we’re consciously choosing to focus solely on this series in terms of what’s next. We’ve got another 2 months left to relish this series and luxuriating in that is key to the beauty of the project. That said there are tremendously exciting things (including more projects with the Ferris Team) that are percolating for the both of us and you can follow along on our respective social media channels for updates!