Jovanni Sy in A Taste of Empire

Boca del Lupo’s A Taste of Empire pokes fun at high-caliber cooking shows with added depth through history, politics, and a few cooking tips. Written and performed by Manila-born, Toronto-raised Jovanni Sy, this show allows Sy’s comedic timing to shine through.

The stage is set, literally in the Granville Island Public Market courtyard, with a view off to the left of False Creek and a peek-a-boo snippet of Granville Island Bridge. We’re seated around a makeshift outdoor kitchen, complete with gas grill and prep station. A video monitor to Sy’s left is the only other prop used in the 90-minute production.

Salty air and the sound of seagulls punctuate the atmosphere, with a show that soon gets down to business: preparing a Filipino staple known as Rellenong Bangus, or stuffed Milk fish.

Demon Chef Maximo Cortes is called away last-minute on a culinary emergency; Sous Chef Jovanni Sy is our evening’s cooking show host/stand-in. After a rock-n-roll introduction, Sy explains that the Master has taught him everything that we’ll need to know about cooking this dish.

Jovanni Sy

By five minutes in, the other star of the show, a Milk fish lovingly chastened Bong-Bong is cleaned and prepped with a live video feed off to the side. As Jovanni gets underway with the show, he discusses generational fishing in the Philippines, and how families would fish by the rhythm of the waves and the song of the wind.

Chef Maximo, however, is opposed to the old ways and believes in maximizing profits, so he’s created the Imperial Seafood company and processing plant. During the filet process, a quick pallet knife infomercial spot is thrown in for additional camp.

Jovanni Sy in A Taste of Empire

A Taste of Empire brings together themes of moving into modern times, doing away with tradition, while profiting through investment, export, and abusing local populations.

Sy has a gift for storytelling; as he marinates Bong-Bong, we learn how Spanish ingredients wound up in Filipino dishes. And how Spam got into the picture, deconstructed via a diagram. Not fair to tell you what the chef does with SPAM.

SPAM aside, it starts to smell pretty good around here about halfway into the show.

Fast food, diabetes, playful pokes at locavores…and here comes another well-placed infomercial spot. Comedic timing is key to pulling off a successful one-man cooking show, and Sy nails this one. As well, a lot of politics (particularly of the Yank flavour) are thrown into the recipe.

Chef Jovanni Sy and Bong-Bong
[Chef Sy with Bong-Bong, all ready for serving; photo © 2014 Ariane Colenbrander]

You’re in for a treat with this one. All shows are sold out with the exception of Saturday night, May 25 (and last I heard, there’s four seats left for that performance). Culinary treats await you before and after the show.

A Taste of Empire is the fourth of five micro site-specific performances in this season’s lineup and is presented in conjunction with Richmond Arts Centre.

A Taste of Empire runs through May 25 at the Courtyard at Granville Island Public Market (1689 Johnston Street). The performance area is covered, but outdoors so dress accordingly for cooler weather into the evening. Photos by Keith Barker.

About Jovanni Sy

Jovanni has performed with theatre companies across Canada, including Artistic Fraud of Newfoundland (St. John’s), The Grand Theatre (London), The Citadel (Edmonton), The Banff Centre, Theatre Junction (Calgary), Globe Theatre (Regina), Nakai Theatre (Whitehorse), and Soulpepper, Canadian Stage, Theatre Passe Muraille, and Tarragon Theatre in Toronto. His most recent appearance was in Fear of Flight at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre during the 2010 Winter Olympics. Among his numerous film and television credits are regular roles on two CBC series—Riverdale and Side Effects.

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