Playwright and social-media influencer Primrose Madayag Knazan had the opportunity to fulfill a childhood dream when Great Plains Publications asked her to write her first book.
When brainstorming story ideas, Knazan was influenced by her son’s reading preferences. While many young readers opt for dystopian novels, her son liked stories that connected with his cultural heritage. A combination between her personal interest in cooking shows (primarily Top Chef) and her urge to explore the Filipino and Jewish cultural identities, Knazan came up with the protagonist of her novel.
“I wanted the main character to go on a journey to discover her culture and herself through food,” Knazan says.
Lessons in Fusion is set in Winnipeg during the COVID-19 pandemic. Sarah is a Filipinx-Canadian food blogger who loves to sit on the couch and watch Cyber Chef, a competition in which influencers submit their videos and recipes to judges, who then replicate them. In a call for submissions for the next season of the culinary show, Sarah makes the cut with a small exception: she must create Filipinx recipes.
“I read a lot of articles from chefs saying that they didn’t have the space to create food that was outside of their culture, and that truly fascinated me,” Knazan says.
Despite being of Filipino descent, the protagonist grew up attached to her Jewish roots, especially when it came to food. Knazan wanted the character to represent those who grow up in mixed backgrounds and who don’t necessarily follow stereotypes.
“It’s terrible to say this, but in a lot of shows, they are checking out boxes and thinking about forced diversity and not the true integration of different cultures. Sarah has no knowledge about making Filipino food, and I wanted her to go on that journey alongside the reader,” Knazan says.
In this regard, Knazan relates to Sarah. As a child, the author’s parents were encouraged by teachers to only speak English at home in order for her to learn the language. Even though she eventually reconnected to her culture through dance and friendships, she still saw herself as an outsider.
“I always felt different from the Filipino kids, because I didn’t understand the language, and I was into rock music,” she says. “It took me a long time to reconcile that that was okay.”
Knazan says she would like readers to think outside the box and acknowledge that a person can be Filipino, without following a certain stereotype.
The official book launch will take place on Oct. 9 in the atrium of McNally Robinson Booksellers in Grant Park. A conversation hosted by Tyler Magz will be livestreamed on YouTube to mark the occasion and will remain available online after the event.
To learn more about the novel and Knazan’s work as a food blogger/influencer, follow @pegonaplate on Instagram and on Facebook.
Published in Volume 76, Number 05 of The Uniter (October 7, 2021)