Connecting for the future – GulfToday

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The Imaginarium (roof deck) of the Bangkota Philippine Pavilion at Expo2020 Dubai during the “Fiestavaganza” for the latest Philippine food products and services.

Mariecar Jara-Puyod, Senior Reporter

Connecting for the future and together breaching the mischief of the Novel Coronavirus (COVID19), come the optimism and zeal to seize opportunities at hand.

Consider the case of two Filipinos in the UAE. They are Sandbox Middle East chief executive officer Lito German and Shanice Gourmet Restaurant managing director Shanice Michaels, who, alongside 10 other well-established in-demand food manufacturers from their native land; and, with the expert assistance of the Philippines’ Department of Trade and Industry-Philippine Trade and Investment Centre (Dubai), recently presented to the world value-laden Filipino entrepreneurship by way of the Expo2020 Dubai.  

“Fiestavaganza,” for Filipinos definitely celebrate albeit constraints and disparities, was German’s idea. It was held at the “Imaginarium” of the Bangkota (Coral Reef) Philippine Pavilion.

Extremely happy from the background was Mangrove Café (Bangkota Philippine Pavilion) executive chef Andrew Paderes of the food & beverage market developer Filfood, organised a few years back from Abu Dhabi, the purpose of which is to promote and push the global acceptance and recognition of authentic and spiced-up Filipino cuisine.

It was Paderes and several Filfood co-members who concocted the “Fiestavaganza” finger foods, pasta and Filipino fare like the Kare-Kare (Philippine stew of rich and thick peanut sauce) using the manufactured food products of meat, egg fish skin, chicken, ice cream, vegetable-and-fruit-based chips, Philippine lemon, dried fish, vegetarian balls and patties of Delimondo, Arce Dairy, Frabelle, Juizi Calamansi, GreenFoods, Saint C, OSH, Plantation Prime, and Veega, including Shanice, homegrown from the UAE and out of the pandemic since 2020.

Said the 11-year UAE resident: “I am very happy. It would no longer be difficult for me to source out our calamansi (Philippine lemon) that completely brings out what exactly Filipino food is in terms of taste and texture like the Kinilaw (the Philippines’ Ceviche or raw seafood dish) and the Pancit (any traditional Philippine noodle dish).”

“As a chef in a foreign land, it really is frustrating when you need ingredients which are (unavailable). Like why are Vietnamese ingredients readily available. The point is authenticity and for it to happen, we must have authentic products in the market,” Paderes said.

Referencing to the entry of the new products, a few of which are a tweak of food varieties originally from other countries, he quipped: “We can parallel or even go better with other brands. I know some of these new products are already half the price of what is now in the market.

We can be competitive. We are very competitive. My dream is for our cuisine to be appreciated by all discerning palate for our food is acceptable, enjoyable and memorable.”   

Paderes said the Sandbox Middle East-FilFood partnership, complete with the taste tests for the “Fiestavaganza” took place about a month back.  German who came into the Dubai-based company, after decades of being in the automotive industry as he was also a motoring and car racing columnist for the Metro Manila-headquarter-ed “Manila Standard” said the new management team “pivoted” the company: “COVID19 came.

The company used to handle the events and promotion of Philippine food imports. So why not us directly going to the food manufacturers and producers back home, now.”

The edge of the company itself is it being Filipino-owned and managed.   “I am a Filipino. I grew up with the Philippine brands back home and know them very well. We started with the brands owned and operated by families we knew and admired. That way, we were dealing with products we adored from families we love,” said German. He cited Delimondo, Arce Dairy and Frabelle whose owners are Katrina Ponce Enrile, Don Ramon Arce Sr. and Dona Carmen Arce, and Francis and Bella Tiu Laurel, respectively.

On the local front and from Dubai, grateful for the opportunity given by Sandbox Middle East was professional singer Shanice Michaels, 15 years in the UAE: “It is them why I am here. The first to be down due to the pandemic was the entertainment circuit.

They were sourcing out the importation of (dried fish) gourmet.”

Pointing out the abundance of dried fish in the UAE particularly in Sharjah, Dubai and Ras Al Khaimah as well as in Oman, Michaels now supplies a variety of dried fish gourmet selling like hotcakes, an irony as there have been other nationalities so vocal against Philippine dried fish: “It is a sell-out among the locals and Europeans.”

“She is a magikera wizard in the kitchen,” said Michael’s eldest and sidekick Arvin who used to work in the hospitality industry but stayed in the Philippines for six months as a result of the COVID19 lockdown.

German said the ultimate goal is to introduce and bring in more uncommon yet competitive and upscale Philippine-made goods and services for all nationalities in the Middle East:  “Again, we started with our personal network and expanded from there. Spain is our first market outside of the Middle East due to our strong affinity with the country—primarily because my wife and I have a home there.

In the time we have spent there, we have fallen in love with the people, the culture, and of course, the amazing Spanish cuisine. This has given me some market insights in terms of their preferences, and which Filipino products would be popular over there. From Spain, it would be a matter of jumping to neighbouring countries like Greece, Portugal and Morocco.”

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