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Spotlight The Philippine Tastemakers 2021: The Most Influential People In F&B Today

The Philippine Tastemakers 2021: The Most Influential People In F&B Today

The Philippine Tastemakers 2021: The Most Influential People In F&B Today
Jessie Sincioco, David Ong, Chele Gonzalez
By Tatler Philippines
May 03, 2021

In Partnership With

Get to know the individuals who are setting the bar in the food and restaurant scene in the country

With an insatiable appetite to influence the way we view food, these epicures and connoisseurs continue to shape our dining landscape:


1/30 Chele González

Chele González / Photography: Sonny Thakur
Chele González / Photography: Sonny Thakur

Executive chef and co-owner, Gallery by Chele and Deli by Chele

The Spanish-born chef Chele González had a phase in his life when he didn’t really care much about food nor understand anything about cuisine. But then, a visit to his sister, Eva, who lived in Galicia, far from his hometown in Cantabria, when he was 12 years old changed his view and ignited his passion for food. “[I] was immersing myself into different kind of cuisines,” he shares. He studied culinary arts and eventually worked at Michelin-starred restaurants Arzak, Nerua-Guggenheim and Mugaritz, to name a few. “[This] made food my life’s core,” says the 2019 Tatler Dining Philippines’ Most Inventive Chef awardee.

This wealth of skills and techniques opened a new door for him in the Philippines. In 2013, he established Gallery Vask in Manila, that became his playground for cooking with local ingredients using global techniques. The restaurant renovated and reopened in 2018 as Gallery by Chele. “Gallery Vask defined my personality and philosophy as a chef,” he says.

To date, his restaurant continues to thrive along with two new ventures: Chef Chele’s Kitchen, Deli by Chele and Adviche. “I hope I inspire a lot of people to make things evolve,” he says, looking into the future with more food that is healthy, affordable and sustainable.

2/30 Jessie Sincioco

Jessie Sincioco / Photography: Patrick Uy
Jessie Sincioco / Photography: Patrick Uy

President and CEO, Chef Jessie Restaurants

From being a humble trainee in the pastry kitchen of then Hotel-InterContinental Manila to helming her own eponymous group of restaurants, chef Jessie Sincioco is one of the first purveyors of fine dining in the Philippines. “Having been in this business for more than 30 years, creating such memorable fine dining experiences I think is my best contribution to the dining scene,” she says, citing that what she considers as her greatest credential was when she was chosen to cook for all the meals of His Holiness Pope Francis during his visit to our country in 2015.

Read more: Chef's Table: Jessie Sincioco

3/30 Jordy Navarra

Jordy Navarra / Photography: Regine David
Jordy Navarra / Photography: Regine David

Chef and owner, Toyo Eatery and Panaderya Toyo

This acclaimed chef, whose restaurant Toyo Eatery has been on Asia’s 50 Best for years running, started out in the industry comparatively late in the game. “Pursuing it professionally didn’t happen until I discovered the world of restaurants,” Jordy Navarra relates. The people surrounding him lifted him up and provided him with a lifetime of lessons and experiences that have helped bring him to where he is today.

Despite all the success, winning the Miele One to Watch award in 2018 and being on Asia’s 50 Best for three years running make Navarra feel “like we’ve only just started”. While he believes the Philippine dining scene is still quite young, he thinks that what he has contributed is a developing curiosity for what food can be.

“I feel like our food scene has so much potential. It’s really a matter of digging deep into what we Filipinos like to eat and sharing that with the world,” Navarra states.

4/30 Antonio “Tony Boy” Escalante

Photo: Francisco "Paco" Guerrero
Photo: Francisco "Paco" Guerrero

Chef and restaurateur, Antonio's, Breakfast at Antonio's, Balay Dako

“Never follow the crowd,” Antonio “Tony Boy” Escalante advises aspiring restaurateurs. In his case, however, the crowd follows him, all the way to Tagaytay, from far and wide. Escalante began doing “private dining” for friends. By word-of-mouth, he says, people became aware of this farmer chef who specialised in farm-to-table dishes.

In 2002 he opened Antonio’s, which he calls his big break. “The minute my doors opened, my dream turned into reality,” he says. He then opened a second restaurant, this time for casual dining and called it Balay Dako. Soon enough, he grabbed global attention and has been on many prestigious lists including The Miele Guide, Asia’s Best Restaurants and 25 Chefs and Restaurateurs You Should Know. He also received the 2014 World Gourmet Summit Manitowoc Restaurateur of the Year from the World Gourmet Summit.

5/30 Colin Mackay

Colin Mackay
Colin Mackay

Chef and restaurateur at Blackbird, Sala, People’s Palace and Sala Bistro

Mackay has been an avid foodie all his life. This passion he’s brought with him around the globe—as a teenager in Scotland, then as a chef in Hong Kong and as a restaurateur in the Philippines.

His first restaurant, Sala, opened in Malate in 1997. “Since [then] I have continuously channelled my energy into original restaurant concepts,” he says. He’s also known for masterminding other dining establishments that include Sala Bistro, People’s Palace and Blackbird. Yet, despite his multiple triumphs, Mackay explains that accolades are just the cherry on top of the cake. “What is satisfying to me is seeing guests return to the restaurants, with friends, family or business clients and enjoying what we have to offer. Their appreciation is most important to me.”

Though the pandemic had impeded original ideas that the chef had been working on, Mackay says that he’s focusing on other exciting developments. For one, he’s been introducing colonies of native and European bees to his farm in Cavite. “Their delicious organic honey will be featured in the restaurants over the next few months.”

Mackay’s evolution amidst the 2020 crisis also points to the chef’s resilience in the F&B industry. “We have refreshed our menus, introduced various takeout options, developed our frozen food line, You Are the Chef! and created bespoke small private events,” he says. “It is always about keeping the restaurants safe for everyone, while maintaining the experience of quality food and warm hospitality  that we are known for.”

Read more: Chef's Table: Colin Mackay on Christmas

6/30 Margarita Forés

Photo: Francisco "Paco" Guerrero
Photo: Francisco "Paco" Guerrero

Chef and restaurateur, Margarita Forés Concepts 

The image of a woman born to privilege creating a culinary buzz sizzled throughout the local food scene in the late Eighties as Margarita Araneta Forés, from an old rich family, revealed her passion for the gustatory arts. She entered the scene quietly, via small private dinners while slowly growing her catering business. But her love for Italian cooking, discovered while in political exile in New York with her family and honed in Italy via a short immersion, shone.

In 1997, she opened her first Cibo branch, then Café Bola, Pepato, Lusso and her floral atelier brand Fiori di Marghi. As her business grew, Forés began delving into Filipino food, catering dinners at Malacañang Palace and helping government bring the Madrid Fusion gastronomy congress to Manila. Her Asia’s Best Female Chef award from The World’s 50 Best organisation, “opened doors for me globally and allowed me to fulfil my mission to help promote our country’s cuisine, cultural heritage and beautiful produce”.


7/30 Elbert Cuenca

Elbert Cuenca
Elbert Cuenca

Owner and founder, Steak Room Concepts, Inc

“Oddly enough, I believe my big break came when Restaurant12 shut down in 2004. That allowed me to realise and learn from all the mistakes I made,” says restaurateur Elbert Cuenca. In 2007 he opened the widely successful, specialised dining concept, Elbert’s Steak Room. “This is what established my name in the industry.”

The owner of Elbert’s Pizzeria and a partner in Metronome, he says: “I endeavour to help educate and elevate our diners’ level of appreciation for quality, not just with cuisine, but in terms of service as well. I involve myself with restaurant projects that hopefully raise the bar of the Philippine dining scene.”

Rather than operating with a costly set-up, he prefers a more personal approach and is committed to happy clients. “I like to personally run the show and interact directly with everyone on my team and with most of my customers. I tell my staff that we should never be motivated by money, and that we should instead be motivated by other people’s happiness. Money is the reward, the validation that we accomplished what we set out to do.”

8/30 Ana Lorenzana De Ocampo

Ana de Ocampo / Photography: Ian Santos
Ana de Ocampo / Photography: Ian Santos

Co-founder and CEO, The Wildflour Group

The Le Cordon Bleu graduate chef and restaurateur is one of the masterminds behind Wildflour Café + Bakery, which started the croughnuts (a hybrid of croissant and donut) craze in Manila in 2012.

“Wildflour was the beginning of a very wild journey for me and my sister Margie. We couldn’t have anticipated arriving at the places it’s brought us—from travelling for inspiration to making food that makes more and more people happy,” she enthuses. The company has since flourished, expanding to include Farmacy Ice Cream (2014), Pink’s Hotdogs (2016) Little Flour Café (2017) and Wildflour Italian (2019). Pivoting to adapt to the New Normal, the Wildflour group has also launched an in-house online ordering app as well as virtual-only brands that offer their bestsellers, party trays, gourmet pantry needs and burgers.

To de Ocampo, “making a living from a lifelong passion is more than enough reason” to keep going.

Read more: Abba Napa and Ana De Ocampo Talk About Running F&B Operations During Quarantine In Metro Manila

9/30 Bianca Araneta Elizalde

Bianca Araneta Elizalde / Photography: Juan Elizalde
Bianca Araneta Elizalde / Photography: Juan Elizalde

Restaurateur, founder and owner, The Wholesome Table

“My passion for healthy eating is what motivates me every day,” says the founder of the organic restaurant, The Wholesome Table. “My love for food goes beyond the ingredients and the manner of preparation, but all the way to how food is grown and how that affects our health and our planet.”

Elizalde has changed the way people view “healthy” food by making it more accessible and appealing. “Over the years we’ve been able to debunk the whole idea that ‘health food’ was just tasteless, boring diet food. We’ve really worked hard to change people’s mindsets about that, and what it means to be more thoughtful about the food you eat. We also helped local, organic farmers and gave them business to continue doing what they’re doing.”

Read more: Wellness Advocate And Founder Of The Wholesome Table Bianca Araneta Elizalde Shares Her Recipe For Success

This last point is equally important to her, being able to truly connect people not just through their food but how they have come to their table. “We’ve stayed very true to our values, and I think our customers see and feel the authenticity there. It’s a restaurant with a lot of soul put into it. Having regulars come back several times a week is a testimony to that, and the best feedback I get are from those who write and tell us that we’ve really changed and affected their life. That’s a powerful thing.”

10/30 Rikki Dee

Photo: Francisco "Paco" Guerrero
Photo: Francisco "Paco" Guerrero

Owner, Foodee Global Concepts

Rikki Dee’s portfolio at Foodee Global Concepts consists of 353 stores (158 Sunnies Studios & Optical and 195 restaurants), 3,800 employees, and a multi-billion revenue up from an average sales of PhP10m per day. Throw in a few office buildings, three malls outside the city and, currently, the biggest number of Michelin-starred restaurant franchises in the country and that just about sums it up.
It wasn't smooth sailing for Dee though. “Years ago, I was about to retire [after distributing the tasks of running the businesses to his four children]. But I felt I will be sending wrong signals to my next generation as they were just starting in the company. I went back to the action, this time with my children. I motivate and share a lot with them and, in the same breath, learn from them. This is what excites me day after day,” he says.


11/30 Malu Gamboa-Lindo and J Gamboa

J Gamboa and Malu Gamboa-Lindo
J Gamboa and Malu Gamboa-Lindo

General manager and executive chef, Milky Way, Cirkulo, Azuthai and Tsukiji

Having lived right next to their mother’s original Milky Way restaurant founded in 1962, J Gamboa and sister Malu Gamboa-Lindo declare they were “literally born into the restaurant business”.

Focusing on quality and authenticity rather than expansion led to the success of this family business. “Our establishments have thrived for so long because we focus on consistently bringing the highest calibre of food and service to all our customers in every meal,” shares Malu. “Many have said that our staying power is because we have created the ambience of home and happiness in our restaurants.”

Although the pandemic has affected the way they manage their operations, they are still committed to providing the best experience and have taken the time to renovate their spaces. “However, takeout and delivery will continue to remain a big part of our business,” J says.

Malu’s most important advice to young restaurant owners? “Always start with a good product that you believe in, something that you will love to sell day in day out for many years.”

12/30 Abba Napa

Photo: Francisco "Paco" Guerrero

Creative Director and co-founder, The Moment Group

Abba is the creative director and co-founder of The Moment Group (TMG), the company she founded with her two partners, Eliza Antonino and Jon Syjuco. Starting with three homegrown restaurants, TMG went on a record-breaking pace of opening one restaurant every 56 days. It now boasts 2,500 employees, 12 food brands and 45 shops including the wholly owned popular brands 8Cuts Burgers, Manam Comfort Filipino, Ooma Bold Japanese, Mo’ Cookies, chef’s table Mecha Uma and Bank Bar. It also went into a partnership with global brand Din Tai Fung, launched its cook-at- home-line Moment the Grocer, as well as its in-house delivery website supported by its own Mo’Go delivery fleet. 


13/30 Cheryl Tiu-Snyder

Cheryl Tiu / Photography: Rita Marie; Makeup: Lindsay Co-Alog
Cheryl Tiu / Photography: Rita Marie; Makeup: Lindsay Co-Alog

Journalist, content creator, World’s 50 Best Restaurants and Bars Tastehunter and
co-founder, Proclamation Gin

Through her exciting passion and field of work, Cheryl Tiu-Snyder has managed to shine a bright light on many deserving foods, flavours and finds. She says this didn’t come overnight. “It involved many years of writing about and promoting the Philippines, travelling overseas for events, talking about the Philippines and our food, and organising Filipino food events and pop-ups,” she shares.

There’s a devotion to these islands that gives her body of work both depth and personality; it helps that she uses her platform to highlight the new yet deserving. “I like to shine the spotlight on the non-commercial, to introduce an audience to a small business or a cultural aspect not known in certain parts of the world,” she says.

Not only has she been recognised internationally as a writer and host, but she’s also the co-founder of Proclamation Gin, a local spirit brand that capitalises on sampaguita as its main botanical. She is also the founder of Cross Cultures, an events and consultancy agency that promotes food culture. “There is so much creativity in our country, I think that once lockdown is lifted and it is safe to travel again, we will have a lot more people willing to try and explore not just our cuisine but [also] what Filipino chefs and Philippine-based chefs are doing.”

“Having a purpose or mission of doing a ‘greater good’, one where [I sought] to help out others instead of [myself], often motivates [me] to keep pushing even when the going gets tough,” Tiu-Snyder concludes.

Read more: Cheryl Tiu, Nicole Ortega & Friends Share Family Recipes

14/30 Micky Fenix

Micky Fenix
Micky Fenix

Food writer, editor, book author and columnist

“This is my country and yet I didn’t know enough about our culinary culture,” shares the food writer Micky Fenix about what motivated her to pursue her career after publishing the book, Philippine Cuisine: Our Country’s Heritage. “I discovered that we have a diverse cuisine with similarities and differences. My writing about those celebrates that diversity which makes our cuisine very interesting.”

Fenix is one of the most respected food writers in the country; her column “Country Cooking” in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, has been running weekly for many years now. She also chairs the Doreen Gamboa Fernandez Food Writing Award and is the president of the Food Writers Association of the Philippines.

15/30 Claude Tayag

Photo: Francisco "Paco" Guerrero
Photo: Francisco "Paco" Guerrero

Food Writer & Chef 

“Having been born and raised in Pampanga where the food culture is quite strong, I had been cooking since school days” says Claude Tayag. Known for his restaurant Bale Dutung, Tayag’s culinary journey officially started in 1988 when, he says, “I unfurled my apron to the public at Larry Cruz’s Ang Hang Restaurant.” The road has been speckled with many highlights, among which were a month-long cooking stint at the Prince Albert Rotisserie of the InterContinental Manila back-to-back with French resident chef Cyrile Soenen. And of course, Claude’s Dream, a buco-pandan dessert that found its way on to the menus of many food establishments. 

16/30 Ige Ramos

Ige Ramos / Photography: Stanley Ong:
Ige Ramos / Photography: Stanley Ong:

Food writer and cookbook designer

“I cook books!” often declares the award-winning book designer and food writer. Ige Ramos is the chief creative officer of IRDS, which runs the Republic of Taste Food Network, a platform for his publishing, book design and independent research project in food history and comparative gastronomy. The former president of the Association of Culinary Historians of the Philippines, active member of Slow Food and founding member of the Philippine Culinary Heritage Movement heralds the importance of food as a way to bridge communities. In his column for Bandera, he says, “It’s all about understanding and acceptance. After all, food is an effective tool in diplomacy.”

He hopes for a more unified front in the local food landscape. “I would like to see a spirited, bright, international Philippine food scene with a lively cultural exchange of ideas shared openly and selflessly. We should not be territorial or tribal about our food.”

17/30 Felice Prudente Sta Maria

Felice Prudente Sta Maria / Photograph: Lito Sy courtesy of RPD Publications
Felice Prudente Sta Maria / Photograph: Lito Sy courtesy of RPD Publications

Food historian

“Food appreciation is an inroad into the larger realm of national cultural appreciation,” shares the author and food historian Felice Prudente-Sta Maria. “Having a historical food narrative to refer to is essential to appreciate who the Filipino is and should continue to be.” Published in 2006, her book The Governor-General’s Kitchen: Culinary Vignettes and Period Recipes, 1521-1935 pioneered the food history genre in the Philippines, its popularity leading to its reprint in 2011 as well as to her second title, The Foods of Jose Rizal in 2012.

“Food history is commonly perceived as the origin of dishes and the collecting of old recipes. But the scope goes beyond that,” she expounds. “My study of food is to find out who the Filipino is, not only what we Filipinos harvest, cook, eat and drink.” While she lauds the growing awareness of Filipino cuisine across the world, she stresses the importance of developing local pride. “As global competition competes for global followings, countries need to step up promoting their cultures to themselves, especially the new youth. Strong country cultures make for exciting, unique and engaging contemporary expressions with which to captivate the world. The formula works for the food realm.”

Her last book, Pigafetta’s Philippine Picnic: Culinary Encounters During the First Circumnavigation, 1519-1522, launched with equal acclaim as her previous works.


18/30 Alex Lichaytoo

Alex Lichaytoo
Alex Lichaytoo

President, Bacchus International

Quality is key when it comes to Alex Lichaytoo’s philosophy. The avid wine collector first found his passion importing Grand Cru wines for friends 25 years ago. “Our big break came when Shangri-La Makati Hotel asked us to open a temperature-controlled wine shop. This made us feel more serious about this potential business,” Lichaytoo reminisces.

The established purveyor, who’s been knighted with the Cavaliere dell’Ordine della Stella d’Italia (Order of the Star of Italy) and French Mérite Agricole, provides the local food industry with not only the best of wines but quality ingredients and the latest in kitchenware. “We’ve always wanted to inspire chefs to realise that quality of ingredients is the number one consideration if you wanted to create world-class cuisine, whether it’s in the cookware, wine glasses, tools or ingredients,” he says.

As fine cooking is still a growing interest in the country, Lichaytoo stresses that it’s not always about price points—but about the true enjoyment of a dish. “Create dishes that are so good that people will dream of your food even when asleep. This way they will continue to support you and [will] also bring their friends over.”

Read more: 10 Years Of Paradise With Bacchus International & Shangri-La Boracay

19/30 Jojo Madrid

Jojo Madrid

Managing partner, Premium Wine Exchange

“To start a wine business, you need to be passionate about it,” he says. “I’ve been a wine enthusiast since the mid-90s and was always interested in starting a wine importation and distribution company,” says self-proclaimed wine nerd, Jojo Madrid. The dream is now a successful business and Madrid, along with his three partners—Eric Recto, Fred Uytengsu and Jeri Jalandoni—and their entire team at local importer Premium Wine Exchange Inc have indeed proven their incredible passion to this mission. Madrid, who’s now on his way to gaining his Level 4 WSET diploma, says: “[We want] to be the best wine shop in the Philippines. That means giving customers access to wines only available in the best wine stores or restaurants around the world.” Though the company had begun importing premium California wines, it has since expanded to include top of the line European wines as well. These days, they’re able to supply all their customers with delicious drinks from Burgundy, Champagne and Napa. “[We’ve] established a wine portfolio that is truly world-class [and] comparable to some of the best retailers in Singapore, HK and New York,” he says.

20/30 Mark Ocampo and Kelly Go

Mark Ocampo and Kelly Go
Mark Ocampo and Kelly Go

Co-founders, Auro Chocolate

A love for chocolate isn’t anything unusual, but Mark Ocampo and his partner, Kelly Go, took their passion to new heights. As co-founder of the award-winning Auro brand, Ocampo has seen and tasted his fair share of chocolate. “Auro combines all of our interests and advocacies”, he says, “from building brands, sustainable sourcing, empowerment of farming communities and eating.”

Since the start, the partners’ goal has been relatable: to create something they themselves were addicted to. “We [also] wanted to bring chocolate back to the Philippines and create something meaningful [and] show our appreciation for the people who grow them,” Ocampo adds.

Slowly, the two have been opening Filipino eyes to the wonders and artistry of the humble cacao bean. “We want to change the notion that chocolate is merely used for desserts, [that] it is also an ingredient that can be used to enhance any savoury dish.”

21/30 Romy Sia

Romy Sia
Romy Sia

CEO, Healthy Options Group

The man behind Healthy Options has a very straightforward mission: it’s to, quite literally, bring healthy options into the hands and onto the tables of Filipinos around the country.

Romy Sia says that the beloved all-natural products store was born out of a very personal mission. “In late 1994, our son, Sean, developed a terrible food allergy and the doctor advised us to only feed him food without any artificial colouring, flavouring, or other chemical additives,” he shares. It was this search for “clean” food that gave birth to Healthy Options.

Now, with 33 stores around the country, Sia can attest that the search is not so frustrating anymore. “Educating and empowering people to take control of their health has always been my motivation and inspiration.” Now, at time when the importance of health has been put at the forefront of our lives, Sia shares that Healthy Options has only managed to reinforce its original message to their customers. “The medical frontliners help people to stay alive in the hospitals. Healthy Options helps people to stay away from the hospitals.”

22/30 Olive Puentespina

Olive Puentespina
Olive Puentespina

Founder and cheesemaker, Malagos Farmhouse Cheeses

This renowned Filipino cheesemaker has won the Asean Women Entrepreneur Award in 2018 in Bangkok for her world-class artisanal cheeses at Malagos Farmhouse. Olive Puentespina, her husband and her in-laws are all part of the Davao-based family business, the Puentespina Group of Companies. Under this umbrella are the award-winning Malagos chocolates (which has earned 44 international accolades to date), the Malagos Farmhouse and the Malagos Garden Resort, among others.

Read more: What to Do When You Only Have 36 Hours in Davao

Her cheese journey began in 2005, in her garden with three of her goats. This pursuit has taken her to train in the United States. She’s also been taught by two Swiss cheese masters. In many ways, she’s found her life’s purpose in the udder-belly of her beloved animals. “Watching milk turn from liquid to this unctuous mouldy, smelly morsel that tingles in your mouth is just so satisfying,” she laughs. The businesswoman now manages 32 employees, 350 goats and a multifaceted business model.

“I have been campaigning for going local to help save the economy. This goes hand in hand with my project of bringing back Filipino flavours to our table to help save native fruits, vegetables and crafts.”


23/30 Ernest Escaler

Ernest Escaler / Image courtesy of Gourmet Farms
Ernest Escaler / Image courtesy of Gourmet Farms

Founder, Gourmet Farms

“In the early Eighties, I decided to try and convince local consumers to shift from instant coffee to freshly brewed with our roasted beans under the label Gourmet Coffee,” Ernest Escaler recalls. At the time, most roasted and ground products in the Philippines were imported from abroad, ironic because the country grows coffee.

Years later, Escaler decided to convert a two-hectare orchid farm in Silang, Cavite into an organic vegetable farm now known as Gourmet Farms. Not long after, he opened Gourmet Café at the farm, which soon drew visitors by hordes, mostly coming from Metro Manila. “There were very long lines of customers waiting to be seated.”

Escaler finds happiness in seeing workers gladly serving loyal customers a fresh cup every single day. Even amid challenging times, he developed products such as pre-cooked meals, natural herbal teas and ginger extracts, all delivered to customers’ doorsteps. He advises young chefs and restaurant owners to be passionate in knowing their clients and serving them what they need. “We have recently marked our 40th year in the business. We have not resorted to advertising and rarely done promotions. We owe our success to our good products and a passionate team which produces them,” he says.

Above all, Escaler humbly believes that he owes his success to a higher being. “Of course, we also thank the Almighty for steering us through our life.”

24/30 Chit Juan

Chit Juan
Chit Juan

Author, councillor, Slow Food South East Asia,
president, Philippine Coffee Board and
co-founder, ECHOStore

Long before sustainability had become word-of-mouth, ECHOstore Sustainable Lifestyle was already promoting conscious food production and consumption. After joining the slow food movement in 2012, ECHOstore has become a crucial presence in the food industry. “That people are now conscious about what they eat and that somehow, we have influenced them in thinking about where their food comes from [motivates me to do what I do],” Chit Juan shares.

Initially, they began as a café serving guilt-free dishes that would give customers an idea on how to use the ingredients they sold at the store. However, the pandemic prodded them to shift online.

“We remain true to our mission—to be the access of producers to market and to give consumers a reason to eat well and live well,” she adds. Partnering recently with the international organic farmer organisation Naturland, Juan promises more healthy products to be available—all for our and the planet’s future.

25/30 Hindy Weber

Hindy Weber / Photography: Sheila Catilo for Heyjow
Hindy Weber / Photography: Sheila Catilo for Heyjow

Regenerative farmer
Co-founder, Holy Carabao Farm,
Fashion designer

They wanted nothing but the best for their family’s health. So after scouring markets and groceries for nourishment and not finding everything suitable, Hindy Weber and her husband Gippy Tantoco decided to grow their own food at home. This delighted Weber because she has “dreamt of becoming a scientist studying and helping wildlife”. Called to her destiny, she began Holy Carabao with dear friend Melanie Teng-Go.

Weber says, “We are two mothers who will not compromise our products and principles for the sake of a buck. We grow and make food that we ourselves trust and feed to our children. Also, we have the highest respect for our people and our planet. I admit this is not always the easiest and quickest path [but] Melanie and I cannot do business any other way.”

After the food industry shifted online, Holy Carabao followed suit. She says, “The game has changed overnight. We [saw huge companies] take over, but at the same time, the changes are also in favour of small enterprises like ours. We keep our business small because the quality is better controlled. [There] is less of a burden on the environment and it is easier to connect with our customers.”

Apart from her admiration for the environment, her appreciation for all children drives her to offer better nourishment. Next up for Holy Carabao is Holy Carabao School, an online/hybrid curriculum for children for farming and ecology.

26/30 Cherrie Atilano

Cherrie Atilano
Cherrie Atilano

Founding farmer, president and CEO, AGREA Agricultural Systems International, Inc

“Growing up in a farm added to my holistic understanding of the situation of the food producers. This propelled me to always be involved in more inclusive food production and be a voice of local and global sustainable food systems,” Cherrie Atilano shares. Years later, Atilano fulfilled her vision and was once even invited to Switzerland to deliver a talk about the future of food and inclusivity in front of 250 experts who were twice her age. Since then, Atilano has continued to promote food accessibility and locally sourced food.

This dedication led her to start two initiatives amidst the pandemic, namely Move Food Growcery and the Agrea Rescue Kitchen. “We are working with 30,000 farmers across the country,” she says. “We make sure we do things out of love and enthusiasm [while bearing in mind that we work to fulfil our mission] to help more farmers.”

Atilano encourages aspiring chefs to have the same deep sense of sustainability even during difficult times. She imparts, “I see [the food scene] utilising local ingredients and consumers looking for healthier options [and experiences] that are good both for humans and the planet.”


27/30 Olivia Limpe-Aw

Olivia Limpe-Aw / Image courtesy of Destileria Limtuaco
Olivia Limpe-Aw / Image courtesy of Destileria Limtuaco

President and CEO, Destileria Limtuaco

The fifth-generation chairman and CEO of Destileria Limtuaco has pushed the 168-year-old distillery to greater heights. One of only two Filipinas on the Forbes list of Asia’s Power Businesswomen for 2020, Olivia Limpe-Aw introduced several exciting products using Filipino ingredients: Paradise Mango rum liqueur, Amadeo coffee liqueur, Manille Liqueur Collection (basic ingredient, calamansi and dalandan), Dragon Fruit wine and Very Old Captain Artisan-crafted Rum (basic ingredient, molasses). In the process, she brought Philippine craft spirits to erstwhile untapped middle-class. Limpe-Aw remarks, “You not only do your country proud; you also help the local farmers by bypassing the middlemen.”

Read more: Basking In The Great Outdoors With Manille Liqueur de Dalandan

Limpe-Aw, who remembers being introduced to various liquors and spirits early on as part of her training for the leadership position, follows an illustrious ancestry to whom she is most grateful. She says, “I am sincerely and profoundly thankful to the four generations before me for all the hard work, sacrifice, passion and dedication they had put into the business to develop the company into an institution in Philippine commercial history.”

She also promises her forefathers that she “will continue the company’s legacy, and train and prepare our next generation the way they did”.

28/30 David Ong

David Ong / Photography:  Eunice Sanchez
David Ong / Photography: Eunice Sanchez

Co-founder and Mananging Partner, The Curator, Oto, EDSA BDG (Beverage Design Group)

A barista, bartender and all-around foodie obsessed with crafting fine beverages, David Ong has played a major role in elevating the coffee and cocktails scene in the country.

Ong works with his friends who share the same passions and the joy they have for their work has shone through, with The Curator making it to Asia’s 50 Best Bars list six times. “The peak for me was in 2019 when both The Curator and Oto made the list!” Ong exclaims.

Read more: Where To Drink And Be Merry: The Philippines' Best Bars of 2020

While The Curator is a café-speakeasy with a quiet hidden backroom bar that comes to life at night, Oto is one of the Metro’s most frequented nightlife spots. “I think that our contribution is based on the fact that we’ve always stuck to our own guns,” Ong shares. To him it is an endless journey to improve their craft, both through execution and innovation. He is proud to have played a role in setting “some sort of standard”.

29/30 Monica and AJ Garcia

Monica and AJ Garcia
Monica and AJ Garcia

Co-founders, Don Papa Rum

Don Papa was the brainchild of our co-founder Stephen Carroll, while he was vacationing, looking at the vast sugar cane fields.” shares co-founders husband wife team Monica and AJ Garcia. That was 11 years ago; today Don Papa Rum brings flavours of the Philippines to the corners of the globe.

“Part of the genesis of Don Papa included the opportunity to really showcase our local rum-making heritage on an international scale, particularly in the premium rum segment. ” AJ expounds.

On top of developing a beverage that tastes fantastic, AJ believes that standing out on the shelf is quite vital. The team worked tirelessly to create a beautiful brand, one that clearly has no problem competing on a world-stage.

At the core, Don Papa strives to promote all that the Philippines has to offer. “Having the freedom to create and innovate and be able to decide on the direction of how we want our brand to go is quite liberating” Monica shares.

“The fact that the landscape is always changing, especially now with the pandemic, gives me motivation. We have not and still do not rest on our laurels.”

30/30 Matthew and Laurie Westfall

Matthew and Laurie Westfall
Matthew and Laurie Westfall

Founders, Full Circle Craft Distillers

“There is a growing demand for honest, handcrafted products. The consumer palate is evolving, and the level of knowledge—on the difference between industrial, mass-produced alcohol and artisanal handcrafted spirits—is growing by leaps and bounds,” declare Matthew and Laurie Westfall, founders of Full Circle Craft Distillers.

This has been their vision all along—to explain the value of craft, promote locally made spirits that are exquisite and authentic, and place the Philippines on the global spirits map. They explain, “Full Circle is inspired by three threads: a grandfather’s legacy, the rich history of the Philippines and the wondrous rich botanicals found across the Archipelago.” Their world-class spirits crafted on state-of-the-art German copper stills at their distillery caught the attention of gin connoisseurs globally and won them two gold medals at the World Gin Awards in London.

Read more: Local Mix: ARC Botanical Gin

  • Words Christine Andas, Ryanne Stephanie Cheng Co, Isabel Francisco, Chit L. Lijauco, Maritess Garcia Reyes, Stephanie Zubiri


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