Chef vs Public BBQ: Maria and John Viojan

March 4, 2022

Words: Angela Skujins

Pictures: Dimitra Koriozos

On a Friday afternoon, Kadlitpina Rundle Park fills with the smells and flavours of Southeast Asia, as the founders of The Filipino Project, John and Maria Viojan, prepare a feast fit for the festival season.

John Viojan squares up the public barbeque at Kadlitpina Rundle Park with intent. The cook folds his bucket hat right to the rim, allowing total vision of the beast in front of him. The man loves a spectacle.

“Filipino food is really theatrical,” he says, grabbing his tongs and turning up the heat. “It always has to be an open-flame and you always have to see someone moving the charcoal around. There’s also skewering. It’s high-level drama.”

John and his partner Maria have run their food truck, The Filipino Project, for more than six years. They first opened a bricks-and-mortar restaurant, Niño’s Lamesita, on North Terrace, and then moved into a mobile operation for festivals. This will be their sixth year firing up in Gluttony.

Maria says Filipino food is designed to be shared. They, as a business, want to be shared around, too. “We get asked all the time, ‘When are you going to open a bricks-and-mortar [restaurant]?’ But we just love being with the people,” she says.

The couple has taken time out in the lead-up to Mad March to host a lunch for CityMag. The menu consists of barbecue corn (inihaw na mais), barbecue chicken (inihaw na manok), garlic fried rice (sinangag) and papaya salad (atsara).

As John tends the hotplate, Maria sets up the picnic table. She pours what appears to be lime juice into small glass cups, but we’re mistaken. It’s calamansi juice, which are “like cumquats,” she explains. The drink is a fitting thirst-quencher for the hot January day, but it’s also part of the secret-recipe marinade John slathers on the chicken cuts. “Filipinos – we’re one hit-wonders,” he laughs.

Another mystery ingredient in the sauce is Sprite. “It helps tenderise the meat. It also adds a little bit of extra sweetness to the barbecue sauce, while caramelising it as well,” John says. This sweet-salty harmony is characteristic of Filipino food and integral to the food truck’s identity.

Day-old rice is another of the duo’s weapons, John says, as the garlic on the grill turns dark brown. “Day-old rice is harder, and it’s easier to reheat and it absorbs better flavour, so it absorbs the garlic and absorbs the juices on the grill.” If you want to make it really interesting, he says, add a swig of soy and you’re sweet.

With the table laid, John and Maria survey their work. The corn cobs, glistening with adobo mayonnaise, still have their husks attached, which we’re curious about. The reason is simple. John and Maria like the look of it. It’s the drama, John says, smiling. 

(Inihaw na manok)


— 1kg boneless chicken thigh fillet with skin on


—1 can Sprite
—1 cup of tomato paste
—35g minced garlic
—½ cup brown sugar
—½ cup of calamansi juice or freshly squeezed lemon juice
—½ cup soy sauce
—½ cup sugarcane vinegar
—¼ tsp cracked black pepper


1. Mix marinade ingredients in a large bowl. Mix well or until the sugar has dissolved.
2. Split the mixture in half.
3. Use one half to marinate the chicken. Place the marinating chicken in the fridge for at least one hour or overnight. Reserve and refrigerate the other half of the marinade.
4. When ready to cook, prepare the grill (either charcoal or gas hotplate) on high heat.
5. Place chicken on the grill and cook. Constantly turn the chicken, while using the other half of the marinade for basting.
6. Once cooked through, take the chicken off the grill and serve.



(Inihaw na mais)


— 4 whole corn


—1 tbsp garlic salt
—1 tsp black pepper
—1 tsp onion powder
—½ cup Kewpie mayo


1. Prepare grill on medium-high heat.
2. Place corn on grill, turning often until it’s tender and charred.
3. To create sauce, mix garlic salt, black pepper and onion powder with the Kewpie mayo in a bowl. Transfer into a squeeze bottle.
4. Once corn is ready, slather the corn cobs in adobo mayo and serve.




—1 large green papaya
—1 large carrot
—¼ red cabbage
—Dried shallots
—1 cup of bean sprouts
—2 pinches mint and coriander


—500ml palm or coconut vinegar
—110g brown sugar
—1 tbsp sambal or minced chilli
—1 tsp cracked black pepper


1. Peel the green papaya and carrots.
2. Using a mandolin, shred papaya, carrots and red cabbage and place in a bowl.
3. To make dressing, place vinegar, brown sugar, sambal and pepper into a bowl and whisk until sugar is dissolved.
4. Add sprouts, mint and coriander to taste. Douse with dressing and top with crispy shallots. Ready to serve.





—1 bowl of day-old, cooked jasmine rice
—50ml vegetable oil (plus extra if necessary)
—5 garlic cloves
—Salt and pepper to taste


1. Wear gloves and break up rice with hands in a bowl.
2. Heat the vegetable oil on a hotplate or non-stick pan.
3. Add finely-chopped garlic cloves to the cook-top and sauté for two mins or until fragrant.
4. Add rice, and salt and pepper to taste. Continue mixing mixture on the grill until hot. Serve immediately.



—¼ cup freshly squeezed calamansi
—⅓ cup caster sugar
—500ml water


1. Pour calamansi juice into a large, heated saucepan.
2. Add sugar and water, and stir until sugar is dissolved.
3. Cool down to room temperature and serve over ice in cups.

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