Rowena Dumlao-Giardina is a food and travel writer for different websites aside from being a photographer and recipe developer. Her interest in food, wine, and everything in between can be seen on her blog Apron and Sneakers. Moving from the Philippines to Italy in 1999, she started chronicling her kitchen adventures and travels in Italy and other countries, too.
Her entrance into the world of food photography and styling started in 2011. She learned on the job and through her travels. Immersing helself in the Italian culture and gastronony helped her understand the world and how to work with food especially in a country where people have been perfecting their dishes for centuries. In Italy, fresh and homecooked meals are the standard.
Rowena aims in telling a story whether it’s a well composed restaurant dish, relaxed meat skewers or a bowl of fresh salad it’s all about emotion when you see her photos. The smallest detail of a regular napkin, silverware, or ingredient can make the food come into life. She learned how to make food pretty and appetizing at the same time. Everything from the surface to the plate to the background and tiny bits and pieces of the food is carefully thought of and what’s even more exciting is she often prepares the dish herself. It’s all about versatility.
Creativity is crucial in her work from cooking to taking photos. Food blogging and photography is not just about knowing the dishes or pushing the camera button and then something magical happens. There’s conscious effort and planning involved. It’s about understanding everything and getting inspiration from it, says Rowena.
“I am inspired by what I see, smell and taste around me. Being exposed to the gastronomic world helps a lot in giving my cooking the right direction. Traveling uncovers a lot of new things for me. For the most part, I rely on my senses in creating what I think is the best.”
Cooking and developing recipes
Filipinos have a good taste and style in cooking wherever they are and whatever dish they prepare. Rowena learned to cook better learning from her husband’s Sicilian family. Having a mixed culture at home, her cooking is dominated by the Italian cuisine which is also favored by her kids. Once in a while, she prepares some selected Filipino dishes that are loved at home. At times, she prepares some Spanish and French inspired dishes too.
Her favorite cuisine is Italian because of its straightforwardness in flavors and the rightful usage of ingredients. Her cooking, thus, leans heavily on the Italian cuisine because she’s more familiar with its flavors and ingredients.
“It’s a very flexible cuisine that gives room for a lot of creativity in the kitchen.”
When asked about Filipino dishes Rowena describes the Filipino cuisine as a curious Asian kitchen because it has different cultural influences. The Spanish have embedded their influence on the food and of course the Chinese has also left imprints in the Philippine plates. Then there are also the Malay influences and most recent among these cuisines, the American influence.
“But I love the simple side of the Filipino cuisine which I think is its best aspect. Grilled seafood served with dipping sauces and steamed rice. Vegetable dishes cooked with coconut milk and a sea of mango desserts.”
Behind a plethora of wonderful photos and awesome recipes on her blog and social media accounts there are challenges that Giardina encountered. She must always know the history and trradition of the food in each place she visits. Language has also become a barrier at first.
“It takes time to remember the names which obliges me to take more effort in understanding. The Italian enogastronomic world is a very big scope to grasp with all its diversities from the northern part to the south. It’s been almost two decades that I have been tasting and learning the cuisine and still, I feel like I still have long road to travel.”
Celebrating Filipino food
Rowena did the photography and styling for Migrant Filipino Kitchen. It is a compilation of stories and recipes by 30 Filipino food experts who have migrated to different parts of the world. A cookbook anthology by restaurateur and food writer Jacqueline Lauri which is scheduled for release this year.
“It speaks about the trains of emotions that binds us to the food that are embedded in our veins. Filipino food is something that can’t be replaced by other cuisines because it is what makes us what we are right now.”
Filipinos hold on to the traditional food culture but over time the shift in palate of the international audience towards Filipino cuisine has been overwhelming. A lot of chefs have revolutionized native dishes gaining global recognition.
Mastering her craft
An empty plate turns into a canvas as Rowena carefully creates or develop dishes as she mixes colors and flavors of food together. Her recipes don’t just appear in thin air. Truly like no other her work is a fusion between Filipino and Italian cuisines from local food finds and her own ideas. They’re gorgeously beautiful and meaningful. There’s a whole new world in the blog-o-sphere where people like her put too much effort into recipes, photos and what they write and it’s amazing how many people are interested.
Taking photos is her tool of communication as much as writing and she has been doing both on her blog. She has found her own unique style and voice in photography ang blogging. Great food photos are a big deal especially now that everybody has gone social media savvy. When it is a must to take photos of food before people devour them. Food photography is challenging because there are other factors that support the subject like food styling and food plating. Styling is a personal taste for Rowena. Her approach is minimalistic and she has done a good job in telling a story behind each plate or glass of wine.
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