Hiram Sales doesn't think this is the end of the food industry. Instead, it's time for a new beginning.

This was a fun one. I promised you I would be sharing more voices from the industry, right? Hiram Sales has been around cooking his entire life. He's worked the restaurants and he's studied different food cultures. He even created Bunso, his own popup where he's doing Filipino food his way. I talk to him about his beginnings, how COVID has impacted him and the work he's trying to do, and where he thinks the food industry is heading. Oh, and start sharing your friend's businesses on social media, he knows first hand how it helps more than you think. 

K: My brother, thanks for doing this. I want to start off with asking you the easiest question you'll probably have. Who is Hiram Sales today.

H: So my full name is Hiram Sales. Right now I’m a full time parent, part time chef given the circumstances. 31 years old, I have a two year old and a newborn coming in December.

There’s not too much to me. I’m an aspiring chef and I’m big into the food industry, as you know. Just trying to get shit done man, whatever that is. It’s been a crazy ride, but given the circumstances in the world right now I’m just trying to live it day by day. So as of right now I’m Hiram Sales and I’m just trying to survive.

K: I get it man. Let's go into more about your start in the food industry. I've seen you be a part of a bunch of different things, so from your love of food to love of the industry tell me your origin story. 

H: My first interest in food is from when I was about nine years old. Ever since then I knew that I wanted to become a chef. I was always running around playing with kitchen tools versus toys and stuff. I had a container of uncooked rice and that was my spot. I would sit there and chill as a baby and play with rice. Come 13-14 I actually got my first job at Tim Hortons and they asked me where I wanted to work. I told them I wanted to be a baker because I just wanted to be in a kitchen. It started from there and I got to learn the basics of the kitchen and stuff. I wouldn’t really consider it a real kitchen, but it did give me the gist of what it was about.

K: It gave you the vibe, right? An idea of what the scene was like, the ambience, etc.

H: Ya, exactly. That’s when I realized that the guys and girls in the back don’t have a filter. You can say and do whatever you want back there.  That’s where I felt like I belonged. Being at school with all the other kids I wanted to pursue other things in life. The kids were conditioned in such a way where it was like "this is how I have to talk to you, these are my manners." I hung out with the cool kids that always did stupid shit.

 

At 16 I was doing co-op at a corporation restaurant, and that’s where I really learned about food. I got the job afterwards because I really loved the chef over there. He taught me a bunch of life lessons in general, and for some reason his words really got to me. He ended up switching to a different restaurant and I followed him right after. I remember him hiring me and asking me to clean the bathroom doors. I asked him "Chef why, this isn’t my job, I’m supposed to cook and do this and that." He  turned around and grabs his own rag to start cleaning the door with me. He’s like "I’m in this position and I'm going to help you do this and I want you to know that whatever you do in this kitchen, no matter what position you’re in, take pride in it." He didn’t just walk up to me and say it. He grabbed a rag and started to clean with me, and that’s stuck by me through all these years. Now I’m in my 18th going on 19th year in the industry.

K: That sounds like an entire lifetime dude. Now, I want to get into more about you and your Filipino culture. I’ve been around that culture growing up myself, and I understand how important food is. Tell me how that played an influence into you doing what you’re doing now.

H: Ya absolutely. I always grew up eating Filipino food, thinking this is what everyone was eating. I never noticed that it was something different. Even if we did go out we would go to a Chinese restaurant or another Asian restaurant and it was always. All I see is rice meat veggies, noodle meat veggies, whatever. I realized that there are other cuisines and cultures. But this one was the one that really planted itself in my subconscious mind. When I was 9 I remember my dad telling me that he wanted to teach me how to cook. My dad taught me how to chop everything up, add whatever ingredients and I learned all these different terms from the kitchen. All I did was corned beef because that was the one thing I knew how to make. It just became so perfect to me and I knew that this is the shit I wanted to do. I want to be in the kitchen.

But growing up my mom and dad had such different styles of cooking. My dad specialized in the Filipino food where you were drunk and you needed something to soak it all up. My moms cooking is very subtle. Everything is super flavorful and it has the tangy sourness. She always had the broth dishes that the Filipinos had and you always felt like you were at home when you were eating it.

K: That's a full picture for sure.

H: Ya man it was great. Both my parents educated me and I’m thankful for that. With the 18-19 years in the industry I've been through different cuisines which I'm also grateful for. I got to learn about different cultures, new techniques, but this is the one where the roots are.

K: To build off of that, tell me about the shit that you're doing now like Bunso, which is a big thing you've started.

H: Of course. Ya, the project that I started is Bunso, where I do food popups, catering, and events. Bunso is actually my nickname growing up, meaning youngest child. I’m the youngest of two siblings, so growing up that was my name and everyone called me bunso. Trying to think of what was cool and creative, one day I was like fuck it man, this is supposed to be my shit. Youngest kid gets whatever they want.

K: It's such a dope name man.

H: Ya, right? The type of Filipino food I make is whatever fucking Filipino food I want. If I've eaten it and I can make my own rendition of it and fuck shit up with it then that's what I'm going to cook. When I started Bunso it was literally just a little project I had to get my food out and share my experience, whatever it may be. It started out a lot bigger than I thought because the chef I was working for at this Argentinian steak house offered his restaurant for a pop up. We had some bumps in the road, but we still managed to do the event and people were happy. Thankfully the first one was mostly friends and family and they were super supportive.

Ever since then we’ve just been doing popups. All together we’ve done about three or so, including the first one. We had our third event at Mother Cocktail Bar, and out of all the three this one was the most successful one man. They get one chef every month to come up with a menu and they would have a drink that would match with the courses. We had was a five course meal, and they had an 8 course drink menu. It was just magic, man. This one was the most well received. It was was called Pasko de Pilipinas, meaning Christmas in the Philippines. So it was around winter time 2019. I was talking to my buddy Carlos and I was like “alright, next event will probably be around valentines."

K: Dude, I know what you're about to get into.

H: Ya, man. February 2020 was kind of when things started happening.

K: February, March was when everything blew up.  We were forced to stay inside, everything closed, and as you and I both know the food industry got smashed. How did it affect you and the work that you were doing. How do you think it affected the food industry as a whole?

H: So Bunso is a part time business.  It wasn't as challenging for me to put that on pause. I'm also working full time at another kitchen, and they pretty much gave us a few days in advance, saying and that was it.  Once the pandemic hit and they told us to stay home I looked at it and said “you know what, I'm going to put everything on pause".

From my perspective industry wise, its scary. Its also tough man, I have some friends that were in the industry, and maybe like 70% of the ones I've caught up with are like “yo man I'm hanging up my apron, this industry is over.” I've known people that are geniuses in the kitchen that are now switching over to a completely new environment and industry, which scares me man.

I don't think its the end of the food industry. Its basically just a new beginning, you know. It can start as small as my popup concept. People can rent spaces with limited seating and time frame for people to come and eat. It's baby steps that we gotta take to go back to what it was before all of this shit. This is the one industry that I fell in love with. I don't want to give up on it, and if it means changing the way it was then so be it.

K:  People don't know how to help the food industry. No ones talking about it. How they can help an industry that's in shambles right now?

H: I mean, there's a few answers to that. There's a lot of restaurants that are still doing take out and delivery. The mom and pop restaurants are struggling right now, and whenever I get Uber Eats or delivery I go there. I cant stress enough to the people out there, support support support your local restaurants. These are the people that are riding on thing ice just to keep afloat.

K: It's like a big fuck you fell in their lap. I'm seeing these places that I've grown up with having to close and its like taking an eraser to my childhood.

H: Exactly. It hurts and it's heartbreaking, but the wars not over. We gotta survive through this. To feel the pain, the anger, the stress of restaurants owners and chefs, I get it man. You don't get the same kind of love like at a mom and pop restaurant. Just keep supporting, that's the main thing.

K: You're huge into supporting people on your Instagram. You're shouting out anyone you know that has a business. What made you start doing this?

H: I love promoting and sharing on my social media, and I'm super passionate about it. These are people that I know personally. They took this adventurous step that our parents were afraid to take. I always see this one particular meme that's like “how to support your friends business: like their post, share their stuff,” whatever it is. What I never see is them actually doing it. If I'm not buying anything from the business, the least that I can do is share what you're doing. 

 

This kind of stuff makes a difference for people. Lets start promoting my friends. We’re in a pandemic right now. We're in a  spot were people are not working. Let me help my friends get money in their pocket. We grew up with social media. We are the ones that are paving the way for all the younger generations.

K: You're doing the damn thing man, that's powerful. We're at the end of this one brother, any final thoughts?

H: Final thoughts. For anybody out there that's doing what they love, just keep doing it man.  I know it sounds so cliché and it may not seem like it now, but it'll happen for you. The main thing is don't do it for the money, do it for the love that you get back from people. Peoples reactions, peoples love for you, that's priceless. Keep fucking going. When you literally feel like its going down the shitter and its not going well for you that's when you'll prosper. That's my final thought.

K: Hell ya, can't get any more final than that.

You can follow Hiram at @hirammajamma, @chefhiramsales, and @bunso.toronto