We Talk to Director Quark Henares about Food in Filipino Film, Culture and His Own LifeMarch 11, 2017
Quark Henares is a collector. His shelves display rows of immaculately cared for graphic novels, perfectly arranged vinyl toys, DVDs (some signed, most notably one an autographed Quentin Tarantino DVD that his girlfriend, singer Bianca Yuzon, tells us was the only thing he grabbed during his building’s fire drill), and Hype Beast-ey high top sneakers. His walls feature a growing collection of art by local visual artists. A single shelf houses a collection of ill-gotten plastic restaurant signs from waiting numbers to reservation placeholders. Managing to look both crowded and organized, with items measuredly placed in lines like dominos, the shelves contents feel like spillover from Henares’ multifaceted mind. But for the us, the most interesting collection we find in Henares’ apartment is in his fridge. A bric-a-brac of mismatched food items that cause confusion, laughter, and a little concern for his nourishment, we find that there is more to these items than their face value.
Recognizably green bottles of Pellegrino gifted to him by his interior designer glisten in a bottle rack within his fridge. A half-liter jar of Nutella from his mother that has frozen over and thawed demands attention. A pair of Victoria Bitter beers from a friend sit on the door shelf. A bag of chips (“from that one time we watched Pulp Fiction with Bianca’s barkada”) and a French onion dip (“when I watched the WestWorld finale and Miguel brought chips”) take up room in a corner. Chocolates from Yuzon given to him during their first few months of dating occupy the egg holder rack, next to glutinous ube snacks (“a Christmas present from a friend who went to La Union”). Each item tells a story of Henares’ attachment and deep connection with people.
And sure enough, Henares instantly relates food to being in the company of others. “I like eating with friends and trying different things,” he says. “There’s nothing like a Filipino get-together. When you see someone eating, they’re like, ‘Kain tayo!’ It’s really that spirit of togetherness. It’s not just sharing a meal but it’s sharing each other; sharing your lives.”
As art is wont to imitate life, food plays a pivotal role in Henares’ films, which he says always include a scene where the characters bond over food. “One of my good friends, Maria Jamora who is also a director, said ‘I’ve noticed you really like first dates,’ that they’re very important to my movies—like the first time people go out and that first conversation when they’re feeling each other out . . . For example, Keka, they eat in my favorite street food place—it’s called Country Side in Katipunan that featured a lot of tenga and isaw and all that—so that played a significant role in the film.”
To Henares, food also has the ability to evoke a strong sense of nostalgia. “When you watch Rakenrol, it was a kind of time capsule of what [the music scene was back then], like Cubao X, Mogwai, Magnet, Saguijo; and a lot of these establishments that were known for the food and having bands there.”
When asked if he thought Filipino stories can be told without food, he makes a poignant observation: “I’m sure there can be a Filipino story without food involved. In fact, the lack of food is the story of many Filipino films . . . that has made many great Filipino stories, but there is something about having food in there, exemplified by the latest craze of the Jollibee ads, that is so linked to emotional experiences and relationships and family that it’s hard to tell a Filipino story without food involved in one way or another.”
But beyond the oft-discussed food-centric community culture of the Philippines, Henares believes that food is undeniably linked to the human experience, and its use in film is endlessly versatile. “I do love good food movies like Tampopo and Big Night,” he explains and highly recommends, “But at the end of the day I think there is something kind of homey about featuring this conversation between characters whilst sharing food and even the consumption of food. Like [in] Blue is the Warmest Colour, which isn’t a food movie—how the characters eat the food while talking—it gives a good sense of who they are and what they’re about.”
It seems apt that Henares finds himself so strongly attracted to people, since despite the many hats he wears (writer, director, singer, DJ, content creator, and most recently restauranteur with the opening of 20:20 late last year), he is first and foremost a storyteller interested in sharing stories of people. You can see it in the way his eyes light up when he meets a new person, how warmly he grabs your hand to give it a firm shake, how intently he nods his head as he listens to you, and how deeply he bellows when he hears a great story. It is this warmth and genuine compassion of Henares that you question whether his cluttered fridge is really out of “laziness” as he says, or if, like his restaurant keepsakes, he enjoys being reminded of a good memory with good company over food.
As we step out from his gallery-of-cool and back into the cold, grey interiors of his lobby that drive us back to reality, we wonder how long the cupcakes we left behind will remain in his fridge. We hope that they’ll remain a little longer than they’re supposed to.