To those taking the time to read:
My name is Silver Cousler. I’ve been in Asheville, NC for nearly a decade, cooking in many of the city’s best restaurants. I got my start washing dishes for a small Japanese spot in 2010, an experience that sparked my interest in the possibility of a culinary career. I enrolled in and graduated from AB-Tech’s culinary program and, despite its programming focus on the structure of French traditional cuisine, it pushed me to pursue representation of my own Filipinx heritage—something I’d come to see as largely underrepresented in the US and the world outside of the Philippines.
My mother is a first generation immigrant from Manila and my father is from Havelock, NC, they met working overseas in the mid ‘80s in Tokyo, Japan. My mom earned her money as a singer in a bar, my dad was stationed there as a Marine. Their union landed them both in Parris Island, SC, where I was born.
As my mom was finding her footing in the South, I felt very much a part of the growth of her own understanding of Filipino food through the lens of estrangement here in America. As a child growing up my favorite foods were Filipinx—I loved hard fried egg omelets with banana ketchup and bagoong, a very strong fermented shrimp paste, over rice. The intersection of Filipino and Southern food reveals a host of similarities, like the whole pig traditions of Filipinx Lechon and Eastern NC barbecue. I never felt too different than most children until I got older and my mom started packing my lunch—an experience I think many children of immigrants can relate to.
Throughout the course of my life I’ve been fortunate to visit family in the Philippines fairly often. We would spend a lot of our time in the city and retreat to the beach in Batangas, south of Manila nearby to Taal volcano, to be together. Our meals were all fresh caught fish with meat for special occasions and celebrations. I saw a pig slaughter for the first time at one of these celebrations—I’ll never forget that experience and gained a newfound respect for the animal. Everything was cooked by fire and the lack of a gas stove was normalized. My exposure to these methods of cookery are indispensable to who I am as a chef.
You’re reading all this because at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic I returned from a residency in the British Virgin Islands—where I was working with an incredibly inspiring team of people to build out a progressive food program at a hotel—and found myself jobless. My first extended break in years, with restaurants initially closed and now slowly reopening, gave me a chance to reflect on my work as a chef thus far and my plans (dreams) for the future. I’ve felt called to open a restaurant of my own for years to celebrate the Filipinx cuisine that I love so much, and to give something back to the city of Asheville—my community here has always looked out for me. My brainstorming has birthed the concept of Neng Jr.’s, an open concept Filipinx restaurant I hope to bring to West Asheville.
Neneng is my mom’s Filipinx nickname which means baby girl, and Neng Jr. is my Filipinx nickname—the more Filipinx friends you make the more you’ll understand the nicknames..;). My goal with this restaurant is to create a platform for the food I so badly need to express, and to open the doors for those that are unfamiliar with this cuisine. In my experience most folks have little familiarity with Filipinx food because of its lack of representation, though there has been an explosion of discovery and celebration in the last five years (A big shout out and moment of gratitude for my friends Angela Dimayuga, Tom Cunanan and the team at Bad Saint, and my local chef friends that have supported me over the years). Most have only been able to try the food of their Filipinx friends instead of experiencing it in a restaurant. I’m hoping to provide that in my own special way.
The presentation of Neng Jr.’s feels right. One of the alluring qualities of this space for me is the Quickserv window, which will be essential for operating as we all reinterpret our current climate of food service. The news of The Mothlight closing due to the pandemic initially had me struck. It broke my heart to find out because it’s a space where we’ve all shared community, a place where the owners have worked diligently to curate it as a safe gathering space for locals and guests. To my surprise a friend of mine, Honey Simone, was also interested in her own project, Different Wrld, which will occupy the majority of the prior venue. Please take the time to read about her space. Both independent projects will be under one roof—we are excited, scared and vulnerable, but we are beyond thrilled to be neighbors in this endeavor. I am sincerely honored. At the forefront of both of our ventures we seek to uphold this space in its new iteration, with the legacy as a sanctuary to our community with our strong desires for equity and urgency to highlight our fellow BIPOC creatives, artists and chef friends alike. To me this is a space for us first, for our joy to translate into our work and funnel down to those who support us and our mission.
Neng Jr.’s will be Asheville’s first Filipinx restaurant. You can expect classics—Sinigang, Shanghai Lumpia, Pancit, Adobo BBQ chicken and more. Interpretations of Filipinx staples will be in a menu format inspired by the South’s “meat and threes.” I’m eager to bring these ideas to life. As rich as my cooking experience has been, the past two years in my career especially have presented so much inspiration that it feels impossible to keep to myself.
The build out for this small restaurant will require the help of so many. We’ll be facilitating my first baby, installing a new hood vent, upfitting the kitchen with equipment, and tearing down a wall for a more open concept. There will be some available seating that will be up to code, and we’ll continue to evolve alongside fluctuating safety regulations. I’m asking for funding to provide security for new hires, equipment, insurance, and other miscellaneous start up costs.
I want to supply the South with the beginning of Filipinx representation in more professional settings and allow some form of comfort for people like me, to find representation of who they are and to embrace where they came from. It is my dream to be who I am and to be celebrated for that. If there is anything you can contribute to this dream, please know it would mean so much.