Mise en Place: Theresa Santos-Spencer of Ting’s Filipino Bistro on geography lessons and family recipes
When it comes to flavor, there is no substitution for family lineage.
Theresa “Ting” Santos-Spencer is the owner of Ting’s Filipino Bistro—one of the very few traditional Filipino food establishments in the KC metro. Ting and her staff put a strong emphasis on family bonds and ancestral history, as can be seen on their website’s “About” page alone.
Below, Ting reflects on the smells from her childhood kitchen, draws a map of the mainland, and encourages community within the restaurant industry.
The Pitch: When did you first find your passion for food? What were some of your favorite experiences as a child?
Theresa “Ting” Spencer: I have always loved watching my grandma and my mom cooking in the kitchen. There’s a long history of amazing food passed down from generations in my family. Our background of Filipino and Spanish ancestors gave us the edge on flavor and our love of food.
‘Til this day, when I smell certain dishes like Sinigang or Adobo cooking on the stove, I can’t help but remember the best memories of my childhood when the two most important women in my life were still alive.
What is the philosophy at Ting’s Filipino Bistro that keeps the staff and food going strong?
The dynamics of our Ting’s Filipino Bistro staff is one of family. We sometimes go through ups and downs, but we always come together for the common goal of serving KC with the best Filipino food we are able to offer.
We have become a very close-knit family. Sometimes there is bickering and then we make up. I trust the team I have and am very grateful for them all.
Are there any menu secrets you can shed light on?
Filipino food is kind of tricky. The Philippines is made up of 7,100 islands, so dishes have different versions depending on what region you are from. My family is from the mainland—which is North Philippines—called Luzon. It’s where the bustling big cities Manila, Quezon City, and Makati are located.
The real secret to my food is in the ingredients we use and the steps we take to accomplish certain textures and flavors by cooking everything with specific intentions.
What is one ingredient you’d rather skip altogether?
I don’t cook with MSG at the restaurant. No need, really.
What’s your go-to meal after a long day at work?
This may seem weird, but I love homemade soups no matter what time of day or season.
Who are some local restaurants you’re drawing inspiration from or keeping an eye on?
For some time now, I’ve really enjoyed going to Jarocho’s in Kansas City, KS. I love going to small mom-and-pop places more than the big fancy places. I like the vibe in the local spots, and just like I want them to support Ting’s, it’s why I choose not to frequent chains and corporate-run restaurants.
What’s one thing keeping you on your toes about the hospitality industry?
The food and beverage industry is its own type of animal. You really have to know your market, provide good food, and give great customer service to survive. You have to be passionate about food and the quality of ingredients you use to keep the customers coming back. Consistency is definitely a priority.
If you had to choose right now—drinks included—what would be your last meal?
My grandma’s Bistek Tagalog (thinly sliced beef sirloin, marinated in calamansi juice, soy sauce, and lots of onions), served over white rice and melon juice.