The culinary adventure of Elle Phillips begins with a love tale. Elle grew up surrounded by food, but she didn’t start cooking until she began dating her now-husband, she reminisced cheekily.
This would lead to a new love story including Elle, Filipino cuisine, and a goal to expose it to the Swedish culinary world.
Chef Elle remarked between lunch service at Kanto, her recently launched concept restaurant in the heart of Stockholm, “I’m really trying to squeeze myself into the market and say, ‘Alright, we have another Asian cuisine, Southeast Asian food.'”
Elle stated that the concept for Kanto began five years ago, when her family relocated from Singapore to Stockholm after her husband was offered a job in Sweden’s expanding tech industry.
“When we arrived here, as a Filipino, I searched for a restaurant that served home-style cuisine. And I thought, this is a tremendous chance,” she continued.
Elle began by bringing meals for her husband, which prompted his coworkers to inquire. Eventually, Elle was requested to make them lunches as well. Lunch baon led into catering engagements for her husband’s firm, then gigs with other corporations (Amazon, Spotify, Candy Crush-maker King) prior to Stockholm-based embassies (not only the Philippines’) requesting her for their functions.
Elle believed that opening her own restaurant was the natural next step. Via networking, Elle originally linked with a Swedish organization that assists foreign-born female businesses. She subsequently discovered a business partner who specialized in serving ethnic foods that are not typically available in Sweden.
Kanto the pop-up will stay present until December 2023 or the end of the year, when most pop-ups are only up for around three months.
The lunch and supper dishes of Elle’s restaurant in Kanto are exemplary of Filipino cuisine. All of these dishes are served with sinangag: lechon liempo, fried chicken, chicken tapa, and sisig.
The last two, according to Elle, have been a surprising hit.
Sisig, a typical Kapampangan delicacy, is prepared in Kanto with locally procured chicken liver and other components. It reminds Swedes of a local meal that is likewise cooked with chicken liver. “[The sisig] has chicken liver yet they adore it. The kinilaw, I do it for dinner service. And then the lechon…they really enjoy the lechon,” remarked Elle.
Sinangang – “jasmine rose laced with garlic” – is also a major success. For many of her clients, it’s also their first time ever to sample it.
Kanto is not subtle at all about how Filipino it is – Filipino songs from different decades blare through the speakers, there’s a giant Philippine flag displayed on the wall right beside the entrance, and art by Stockholm-based Filipino artists depicting Filipino culture are displayed proudly on the other side of the restaurant.
On loan from the Filipino embassy to Sweden, Ambassador Maria Lumen Isleta, there are a few lovely capiz shell ornaments in the bathroom and main dining room.
The beverages too all have a touch of the Philippines – San Miguel Beer (Pale Pilsen, and of course Red Horse) are obvious top selections while cocktails like the Mango-jito, a delightful spin on the mojito – are stand outs.
Elle’s hustles include the distribution of Philippine-made chocolate brands such as Auro, Theo, and Filo, which are proudly displayed at Kanto. Elle makes it a point to recommend potential clients to other Filipino caterers when she is out of town or otherwise preoccupied.
Elle already has a plan for Kanto: a permanent residence by 2024, when her temporary lease ends. When the snow eventually stops falling and the weather in her region warms up, she also has a more immediate plan: customers have been encouraging her to provide halo-halo, the Philippine summer staple.