Love Songs

Cherry Iocovozzi and Silver Cousler

t4t culinary couple Cherry Iocovozzi and Silver Cousler talk juicy steak & kisses, cooking with fire, and building a romantic life with food at the <3

“Love Songs,” was published in Active Cultures’ Digest, Issue 11, April 2022 (edited by quori theodor).

Images: All images courtesy of the artists.


Silver Cousler is a Filipinx lifelong Southern resident chef who continues to nurture a deep love for the histories and food pathways of barbecue in the American South and its application globally. Silver’s dedication to the culinary cosmos is indebted to the experience of their Filipino mother, Neneng, as a first generation immigrant landing in Parris Island, SC in 1986. The lessons taught through this lifelong connection have deeply affected their inspiration and dedication to the diffusion of Filipinx cuisine and its heritage. Silver will also be opening Asheville, NC’s first Filipinx restaurant in 2022.

Cherry Iocovozzi is a food and wine enthusiast, drag performer, and currently East Fork Pottery's head of food systems and programming. He is actively spearheading the beverage initiative with his fiance, Silver Cousler, on their up and coming restaurant Neng Jr.'s. He enjoys spring ephemera, pontooning, and fresh caught shellfish in his hometown of Savannah, GA.

Silver Cousler: Food has been a center point of our relationship since we met. The night we were introduced, we sat down for an 11 pm dinner reservation at Mission Chinese on Broadway with a couple of mutuals. I feel fortunate to continue to have incredibly impactful moments centered around food and wine. I love also recounting the beginning of our relationship and not just falling in love with each other, but discovering how our mutual passion for food added this incredibly dense and sexy layer to our relationship. Is there an instance that comes to mind that resonates with our relationship to food, sex, and love?

Cherry Iocovozzi: Our first real date, when I came to visit Asheville for the first time, resonates a lot. You picked me up to go for a hike at Max Patch and we stopped at the grocery store for picnicking supplies. We were immediately aligned on our choices and both craved sardines, pungent cheese, crackers (which you’ve kept after 4 years!), and dolma. Once we settled into our grassy spot and feasted on tinned fish and cheese, we kissed for the first time. It was a pretty stinky kiss, given what we had just consumed, and it was still one of the most exciting and sexiest kisses of my life. We continued on, licking and slurping the sardine juice from our fingers. It was so hot, so delicious, and so mesmerizing.

C: What is your favorite food to share with me? And what is your favorite food to share with a group of our dearest?

S: To share with you? Definitely a big hunky ribeye. It’s the finest cut of meat I’ve been able to cook countless times between growing up, cooking at home, and learning how to cook it properly in professional kitchens. It's so satiating. I always think about that time a friend coached me through cooking a porterhouse steak on the line, how to know what spot of the grill is the hottest, get a pan ripping hot so a drop of water moves like a marble in the pan. I think it was my go-to to try and impress you when we first met and has now become this tradition for us. I remember going to the butcher shop across from Diner when you were still working there and grabbing a hunky one and the butcher saying to us “beautiful steak” and it becoming our motif for the weekend. My favorite food to share with our friends is cooking barbecue. If I’ve ever cooked a pig for you, I really really love you.

C: On that note, I remember you talking about finally understanding and loving the spinalis and the fatty part of a ribeye and how cooking with fat in the smoker. Can you talk about why foods need fat to be sexy?

S: Yes. I love the spinalis. I love cooking fatty meats in the smoker and putting trays of grapes underneath to catch the fat and soak up flavor waves. A good dish has balance. The balance it needs depends on what the star of the dish is, plus an addition of the opposite of what the main component is...if that makes sense. Fat gives body. It rounds out, adds a film of buttery delight, and in the case of a spinalis, melts in your mouth.

So before your impact, I lacked a lot of wine knowledge, drank whiskey and miller high life, and essentially had no sweet tooth at all. Does anything come to mind about the way my influence has changed the way you consume?

C: So many things! I think you really taught me how to cook. I cooked before, loved cooking, but I learned a lot more about being intuitive, tasting, seasoning, and savoring food from you. I also think you changed the way I see sitting down to a meal, the importance of setting a table and eating something delicious every night of the week. Even if we choose to eat KFC for dinner, it’s a special occasion. The way you cherish food is contagious.

S: But baby, how do you like your martini?

C: Vodka, wet, up, with a twist ;)

Tell me what you remember about falling in love with cooking over fire?

S: I grew up spending so much time in the Philippines I believed most people had this other land to go to before realizing how unique it was to get to live this experience. Part of my Filipino family lives in Batangas, which is right off the coast and shares waters with an active volcano. Part of province life is fresh seafood every day and cooking over fire. There is barely any electricity and most certainly no conventional western cooking equipment. I spent a lot of time cataloging the way my family members cooked the most complex dishes and creating something out of what seemed like nothing. It was the beginning of understanding possibility. I saw my family slaughter a pig there for the first time and make several different impressionable dishes and use every part of the pig. The way it tasted was so so different than cooking on a stovetop; the most subtle perfume of smoke on the nose before consuming a spoonful of caldereta, I remember, inspires me to this day.

In my professional cooking career, I learned how to cook whole hog bbq over wood in many different iterations. There is a coming-to-god-experience when cooking a pig. Its extremely labor intensive and requires thoughtful strategy to understand how an animal is built and it’s important to consider the positioning of the coals, what kind of wood to use, making sure the wood is seasoned, having the right container for your wood to maintain a good fire, consistent coals, and a regulating temperature to ensure the pig will be ready before the people arrive. It is an honor to cherish the animal in this way. You’re just together side by side from dusk till dawn to produce this painfully delicious outcome. Sometimes I wish I didn't know that pigs were so smart because every part of their body is so delicious to eat.

I love hearing about your upbringing in the south. More than that I love to get to share your hometown as it is a huge part of my life now. Can you share with me your memories on the waterways of the marsh? Do you see any crossover in our upbringings?

C: I am so so grateful for my childhood in the marshes of the low country. I remember plucking the flora of the marsh and sucking on it as a child just to get the taste of salt. I even loved the stinky sulphuric smell of the marshes at low tide. One of my favorite things to do when I go back home is crab off the dock at my parents’ house, which I’ve done with you now a few times. There is nothing more rewarding than spending an afternoon with a chicken neck tied to a line catching crabs and subsequently smothering them with Old Bay before boiling and devouring for hours, drinking white wine, and folding it all up in newspapers when we’ve finished.

S: Can you name your earliest memory of food being more significant than just sustenance?

C: I have so many childhood memories of eating and enjoying food immensely. When I was in elementary school, my mom made grits almost every morning for breakfast and I looked forward to that steamy, buttery, cheesy bowl every day like it was my first time eating it. Both of my parents worked full-time for a lot of my childhood so we spent a lot of time with our babysitter, Meg. Sometimes she would have us help cook dinner and my favorite was Manicotti stuffed with ricotta. So fun to make as a child and so incredibly tasty. Pasta is easily my favorite food so Manicotti night was special.

Describe the sexiest food-centric scene you’ve seen in a movie or on tv?

S: Ok so there are a few scenes. In Simply Irresistible which is so psycho-it’s a 90’s movie starring Sarah Michelle Gellar as A CHEF in NYC but she makes this food that makes people horny and have some sort of bodily reaction depending on her current emotional state. I rewatched it recently and didn’t find it sexy at all, but as a child it left a huge impact on me and I think it has something to do with how I want people to feel when they eat my food…

The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover. I love the wife and her affair with the “reader.” There is something really beautiful about sharing a connection with someone in a dining room and needing to meet in the bathroom. This movie is wild in many ways. Great sets. It feels like watching a play.

& Tampopo. This ramen style spaghetti western is filled with scenes that describe food romantically. It starts with how to properly eat ramen, drowning the slices of pork belly in its broth, admiring the noodles, slurping the broth. It is so beautifully shot and well done. We have the room service scene...and the oyster scene from the young diver. Must be watched first to not spoil for someone that hasn't seen it.

During the initial lockdown, we were able to spend more time outside. Some of those things include fishing, cooking “old-timey” over the fire, and a lot of foraging with mushroom Dr. Ren. I love feeling peaceful with you in the sun during any of these times. What can you say about these moments and how it relates to food?

C: Similarly to catching and eating crabs-going out into the mountains for foraging and fishing is incredibly rewarding. I remember one night specifically. We were visiting our friend in Black Mountain and he showed us Meditation Rock. On our way there we found a flush of golden chanterelle and then you caught a trout and we ran back to the house and cooked everything in the same pan with butter and salt and it was so delicious. We must simply shout out our brother and best friend Ren here, who has taught us pretty much everything we know about identifying plants in the wild and has shared his excitement for mushrooms specifically with us. Spending a summer night over a fire cooking steaks, and potatoes, slurping oysters, and sipping wine is  my favorite.

So picture this- it has just been a sweltering early summer day, sweat smells like salt, we’ve just hiked up a rock face, and the sky is turning orange to pink. Once we’ve settled in for this big show, what do you want in your mouth?

S: Maybe Chenin, a tin of sardines, a small wet cheese, and a big juicy kiss from you.

I am a firm believer that coffee always tastes better when someone else makes it. I think there is an ethos in most things tasting better if prepared by the hands of another. That's where it starts. When I'm too tired to cook, what is a meal you’re likely to prepare for us?

C: I almost always fall back on a dish my mom made for me countless times as a kid - bowtie pasta with cream sauce, sausage, and peas. It just hits every single spot of satisfaction every single time. I also love watching youtube and tiktok channels dedicated to food and trying to recreate some of those dishes like Maangchi’s kimchi jjigae.

So I know you have a big collection of eating tools, silver spoons, all shapes and sizes, chopsticks from your mom, little dishes for fish sauce and joint ash.hat is your favorite tool to get food from the plate to your mouth?

S: I have these blue chopsticks my mom bought for me a long time ago. They’re from the Grand Asia Market in Raleigh, NC–the market I grew up going to. There used to be a broken sliding door that we would have to squeeze through and now they’re a massive store. I think they hold a lot of power for me. They’re my favorite chopsticks to cook with and eat with and remind me of memories with my mom, which is my most powerful tool in cooking.

On that note, what are some ingredients or objects in our kitchen that most people probably don’t have?

C: Well, our home kitchen is also the home of more than a few things that will eventually live at Neng Jr’s–the vac sealer, plates, eating accessories that we’ve amassed at antique stores over the years, and different fermentation and pickling projects. Some of my favorites could be a blown glass swan we like to build sundaes inside of, multiple brands of fish sauce, luxardo cherries, small crystal dishes for sauces, and my favorite spoon which I will add a picture of below :)

S: In love and in collaboration, we do so much work together, including our baby, Love Songs. We were about to create this first rendition of a Filipino restaurant and have fun with it. Talk about your contribution to this and how it felt significant for you.

C: Love Songs was really about creating a sense of romance and playfulness that we never saw represented in the food industry. Every chance we had to welcome folks with warmth, talk about wines we felt excited about, and show people how rich and beautiful Filipino food got us really excited for the next week, the next menu, the next opportunity to pair wines. I love how lived-in Love Songs felt, like stepping into our dining room for an impromptu dinner party :)

S: Following that, what do you think will be different about Neng Jr.'s? What is the thing you're most excited for in your contribution towards Nengs?

C: Nengs will be unlike any restaurant because it will be the first time you get to see a vision out 100% from your mind and inspiration. I just feel grateful to be a sounding board and collaborator. I’ve witnessed how transformative your food is for people, and I can’t wait to have the space and resources to dig deeper into that. It's going to be so joyful, so full of romance and love, and viscerally sexy.

Interview was conducted at the couple’s home in Asheville, North Carolina.

Active Cultures is a cultural organization that explores the convergence of food and art in contemporary life.