Filipino restaurant Nanam has long been respected in Auckland. Opening first in Royal Oak in late 2014, it relocated to Hurstmere Road on the North Shore in 2017 — and the awards just keep coming.

Last year, Nanam won an Iconic Auckland Eats award for its organic roasted tamarind chicken sinigang – a play on the traditional sour, savoury soup that imparts those flavours onto the bird minus a broth. In 2019, the Wagyu and lemongrass longganisa (a type of skinless Filipino sausage) took out the Best in Taste Award at Taste of Auckland. Legendary chef Marco Pierre White, who had come over as a judge that year, declared it “sensational”, adding “I can see why it’s so delicious, because of the amount of emotion and love she puts into her cooking.”

That’s a spot-on description of co-owner and executive chef Jessabel Granada, who runs Nanam with her partner and co-owner Andrew Soriano. Much has changed over the past few years, but their love of cooking their home country’s food never falters. “There are more than 7100 islands in the Philippines, with so many cultures: Spanish, Malay, Vietnamese … it’s impossible to name them all, but each has added to the flavour of the Philippines,” says Granada.

It was that roast chicken sinigang that became the most-ordered takeaway dish when Covid ravaged everything in sight, including the hospitality industry.

Like every other venue, Nanam had to think laterally, but they managed to turn the situation into an opportunity. “We opened a bakery,” laughs Granada. “Andrew bought a small coffee machine, we acquired a cabinet and Andrew baked sourdough, croissants and tarts. We opened up a takeout window – and we found a whole lot more customers that way. Who knew people wanted to eat at 7am?”

Now, many locals who didn’t know Nanam previously are regulars.

Granada says she’s learned a lot about herself. “For years I’d come to work on three hours sleep; like most chefs, I’m a complete workaholic. Covid taught me that I wasn’t a better person for it; if you don’t stop sometimes, you never have time to consider how to reach your full potential. If you want to survive, you have to look after yourself.”

The challenges around food supply have led to positive changes. “We couldn’t get Filipino beer, so now we support local breweries. We couldn’t get guava, but we’ve found feijoa provides almost exactly the same texture and flavour,” she says. “Ube has been swapped out for purple kūmara, annatto powder for paprika, kangkong for watercress. All the replacements are very close in flavour, it’s more sustainable and I have a stable supply again.”

If it sounds like Granada is unstoppable, you’d be right. On July 20, Nanam features as one of four restaurants in Auckland festival Elemental’s Feasts of Legends, a multifaceted cultural experience that aims to highlight a diverse range of cuisines from around the world. In the four-part series, diners are invited to take their time over their meals and understand the culture and relevance behind each bite.

At Jessabel’s Feast, Granada will share the details of her personal culinary journey with diners and delve into how she infuses traditional Filipino cuisine into contemporary dishes, taking inspiration from all facets of Filipino culture. Dinner will be served with a generous helping of Filipino music, dance and storytelling, aiming to shine a light on the culture, history and tradition.

“This is once-in-a-lifetime for me,” says Granada. “I get to represent what I do; we’ll have dancers, and people talking about our culture. I am Filipino at heart; I really do want to please people and serve them food that is really special to me, and I hope it’s special to them.”

Jessabel’s Feast is on July 20 at Nanam Eatery, 178 Hurstmere Road, Takapuna. Tickets are $120, including a welcome drink, full meal and entertainment.