New Filipino eatery at the Forks Market introduces Winnipeg to culture through food

On December 1st, Basta! Filipino Kitchen is opening at The Forks. Amid restaurant closures during COVID, chef and operator Norm Pastorin says he wants to take this chance to share his culture with Winnipeg through food. Joanne Roberts reports.

A culmination of his classical training, years in the kitchen, pandemic setbacks and a desire to share his culture with wider audiences has led chef Norm Pastorin to this moment.

The Winnipeg chef is opening a Filipino eatery at the Forks Market – Basta! – with the goal of introducing Winnipeg to his culture through food.

It’s the perfect convergence of “everything I’ve learned and the timing of wanting to get to know my culture and expose my culture to the mainstream,” Pastorin told CityNews.

The 49-year-old Red River College alumnus says Filipino restaurants have traditionally been segregated to certain areas of Winnipeg – not necessarily destination spots.

So when he was contacted by the Forks Market, which wanted to “bring new life” to its existing businesses by branching out into Filipino food, it was a no-brainer for Pastorin.

Chef Norm Pastorin and his team prepare for the opening of Basta! (Joanne Roberts, CityNews)

“A lot of people know about Filipino food, they’ve heard of it, maybe they have some friends in the Filipino community that have exposed them to it,” said the chef. “The only way you’re going to know good Filipino food is if you have a connection or an inside.

“Here, it’s central. It’s a tourist area but also a lot of locals come here throughout the year, so it’s a huge opportunity to let Filipino food get its deserved spotlight.”

The opening menu at Basta! will be what Pastorin calls Filipino food’s “greatest hits” – foods that are more familiar to the non-Filipino market like lumpia, Filipino barbeque and pansit. He’s later planning to expand to more traditional Filipino delicacies.

“The goal will be to make sure that my brand is trusted and that people can trust that Basta! does delicious food,” Pastorin said. “Once they know and trust that the staples are delicious, maybe the more adventurous people will be inclined to try something like dinuguan, which is a blood stew. Things that are more an acquired taste.”

Pastorin is classically trained in French Cuisine. He also trained under chef Takashi Murakami, often considered one of the most talented chefs in Canada.

Winnipeg is no stranger to Pastorin’s cooking. He opened several successful restaurants, each tailored to respective neighbourhoods: The Grove Pub and Restaurant, The Cornerstone Bar and Restaurant, The Black Bird Brasserie.

“I went through my career using the French technique of running professional kitchens,” he said. “Never really considering the food that I grew up with. And it wasn’t intentional, it was just the way my journey took me. Now I’m here and now I have this opportunity, and I’m very grateful for it.”

The COVID-19 pandemic threw a wrench in Pastorin’s presence on Winnipeg’s food scene, forcing him to close shop.

“We couldn’t pivot and so it forced us to close.”

That negative experience required him to carefully rethink how he wanted to approach his next project.

Basta! is opening at the Forks Market Dec. 1, 2023. (Joanne Roberts, CityNews)

Basta! is more of a kiosk than a traditional restaurant; the cooks act as servers and there are no hosts or bussers. It means lower expenditures compared to other standalone restaurants and it allows him to pay better wages to his cooks.

“I thought it’d be a perfect way to get back in the industry without your typical overhead,” he said.

Rolling with the punches and ditching the traditional restaurant experience is even reflected in his new eatery’s name. Basta in Tagalog means “it just is.”

“It’s sort of reflective of where I am in my life right now, too. It is what it is.”

Basta! opens Friday at Winnipeg’s Forks Market.

Basta! chefs prepare for its grand opening. (Joanne Roberts, CityNews)

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