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How a Black Filipino Chef Is Feeding the Masses at Williamsburg Protests

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Channing Centeno has been whipping up batches of pork and shrimp lumpia, chicken adobo tacos, and more for protesters at McCarren Park

Alexa Bendek

Eater has been featuring voices from around the food world in weekly Instagram Takeovers. Today, we are highlighting Channing Centeno, who has been serving Latin and Filipino food for McCarren Park protesters in Williamsburg.

“I’m in the middle of eating some leftover chicken from yesterday’s protest,” chef Channing Centeno says over the phone. “I have a friend here in the kitchen with me. I had to feed her.”

He’s joking, but he’s not.

Centeno is a food and beverage consultant living in Williamsburg who previously spent time working in the kitchen of Momofuku Ko and as a beverage director for Bushwick cocktail bar Otis. For the last week, though, he’s been camped out in Williamsburg’s McCarren Park, walking through crowds of protesters carrying aluminum trays piled high with Latin and Filipino meals. He makes anywhere from 80 to 150 servings of food each day. It’s “as much as my kitchen can handle,” he says, and he distributes it all for free.

Handing out food, water, and other supplies is one way that volunteers have supported protesters advocating for racial equality right now, especially here in New York City, where items like masks and hand-sanitizer can be of vital importance in large groups. But for Centeno, with his experience, he knew it had to be food.

The effort began in earnest earlier this week, after Centeno attended a Black Lives Matter vigil in McCarren Park. “I was at the vigil with some friends and, after, I saw someone passing out egg rolls to people,” he says. “I realized, okay I could do that. I’m a worker, I’m not just going to sit by and watch this happen.” The next day, he was back at the park handing out 80-or-so homemade chicken adobo sandwiches.

It’s only been six days since Centeno began cooking for McCarren Park’s protesters, but already he’s made batches of pork and shrimp lumpia, chicken adobo tacos, arepas, empanadas, and even a full leg of jamon iberico to give out. He’s been taking donations over Venmo (@channing-centeno) to support the free meal program.

That impulse — to find a way to feed others, whether he’s in the middle of an interview or in a crowd of protesters — doesn’t come from his experience in hospitality or fine dining, though. It comes from his heritage as a black Filipino, he says. “Filipinos love to feed and host people,” he says. “It’s just what we do.”

Eventually, Centeno says he hopes to expand his presence at McCarren Park and offer folks a place to not just get free food, but also to charge their phones, have a refreshment, and speak with yoga and nursing specialists when dealing with anxiety from protesting. Other chefs have been setting up similar stations at parks offering free food and drink for protesters, including Rasheeda McCallum and Kayla Davis of Brooklyn-based Black Chef Movement.

Centeno will be back at McCarren Park, located at 776 Lorimer Street, starting on Wednesday. Head over to Eater NY’s Instagram feed to tour Centeno’s kitchen and learn more about his work to support and feed the McCarren Park protesters.

A person stands over a bowl in a kitchen and mixes a green liquid with a fork. Behind them, someone is standing at another counter.
Centeno cooks as many lumpias, empanadas, and arepas as his kitchen “can handle”
Alexa Bendek
A pile of golden-brown fried egg rolls are stacked on a plate
A mountain of lumpia, what Centeno describes as “little fried egg rolls”
Alexa Bendek
An overhead photograph of two bowls filled with filling and a hand rolling out dough
Centeno makes roughly 80 to 150 servings of food each day in his home kitchen
Alexa Bendek

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