Food Diaries: Cheryl Tiu on Her Life of Food, Writing, and Crossing Cultures

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If you consider yourself discerning about the many dining choices and food events in Metro Manila and abroad, you have probably stumbled along the blog of Cheryl Tiu in your online search of what's new and good out there. Or you might have crossed paths with the lady herself dining at a Michelin-starred establishment or the latest restaurant opening in the city. Her followers travel through her writing too or have lived vicariously through her Instagram posts from different parts of the world. A lifestyle journalist who wears many, many hats, Cheryl has a strong passion for food and travel, and an equally voracious appetite to share all of her experiences through writing.

Cheryl Tiu dining in Red Rooster (Harlem, New York)
[photo by Rita Marie]
 

White wine. On a castle. Overlooking the Rhine River.

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She's a publisher, an editor, a lifestyle journalist, a contributor, an author, a columnist, and a blogger for her personal website, among other things. It seems as though this multi-media personality has too much on her plate, yet she breezes through event after event, cooking up something new in between her deadlines, flying off to another city, and arriving for yet another food adventure with the brightest smile, and occasionally with a glass of wine in one hand. If you share Cheryl's belief that food is the universal language, and that it is the best and most accessible way to exchange cultures, then her passion project Cross Cultures is your next best meal waiting to happen.

 

I sat down with Cheryl before partaking a special eight-course menu created by Andrew Walsh of Cure in Singapore and Nicco Santos of Hey Handsome, here in the Philippines. It's her first event this year for Cross Cultures and told me days ahead how she is excited to be bringing to the country Chef Andrew Walsh. “His food is really really good,” she says, “just underrated, hence bringing him to Manila!” I trust her keen taste for food, and all the more I get excited about dinner. For two nights she whisked around the restaurant, making sure everyone is enjoying their experience, and just as the successful four hands dinner ends, she shares about her extremely food-packed days to come -- with Madrid Fusion Manila happening this week, and more Cross Cultures events to follow suit.

 

It was great fun to work with such talented and YOUNG teams (ages 22-28!) from Cure in Singapore and Hey Handsome in Manila, for our latest Cross Cultures collaboration event. Mad respect also to leaders of the pack Andrew Walsh and Nicco Santos for your dexterity and maturity. For 2 nights, we were all *ONE team.* ************************************************ Cross Cultures is about exchanging cultures but it is also the sharing of culinary experiences and talents between chefs and cooks, countries and continents-- in order to build a global community. We all went home a little wiser and more inspired. ************************************************ Thank you to everyone who dined with us (part of the proceeds will go to Action Against Hunger), and also to our event partners: Sommelier Selections, Teeling Irish Whiskey, Makati Diamond Residences, Lumee/ Beyond the Box. #CureXHeyHandsome #crossculturesbycheryltiu

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Before Cheryl gets busy with more food, travel, and dining events, I sneak in a quick chat with the Cross Cultures founder to talk about all things food.

Author: I personally find it exciting to interview a fellow writer about all things food. While you have been writing for publications since you were a teenager, how early on was food a major role in what you've been writing about and featuring?

Cheryl Tiu: "Actually to this day, I still consider my beat lifestyle. That was what I grew up writing about in the various platforms that I do, and I guess I would say my practice. I still don’t consider myself a “food writer” although I know I’m often labeled as such. I just happen to really enjoy eating and somehow ended up writing about it a lot. I guess when you’re passionate about something, people can really feel it."

Tell us about your earliest food memory.

Apparently, my parents said it was so difficult to get me to eat. Haha. They would have to bribe me with books and a swimming pool. Now the problem is I can’t stop eating!

Were there people who influenced you with writing and with food when you were growing up?

I wrote a lot of fiction and short stories and songs (I was in 2 rock bands) when I was younger, so writing has always been there. But there have been a few people who have helped me refine my writing: my English professor at Ateneo de Manila University, Exie Abola; and my editors at various publications: Pam Pastor, Pierra Calasanz-Labrador, Millet Mananquil, Sari Yap and Anna Sobrepena.

When I was an assistant and associate editor at Lifestyle Asia, I somehow got assigned the food section because I loved to eat and it kind of just grew organically from there. I remember one of the first food blogs I read which I thought had excellent writing was Lori Baltazar’s Dessert Comes First, and that inspired me. She also became one of our contributors for the magazine so I was happy to work side-by-side with such talent.

You are a woman of many hats, and publish your work on so many platforms. How are you able to multi-task and find the right platform for certain food and travel content you want to write about?

That’s a really good question. I think when you begin writing for any platform or publication, the most important thing is to know your audience. I would always tell my writers before to remember that they aren’t writing for themselves (that’s what journals and diaries are for), but their readers.

My blog cheryltiu.com is the one that’s closest to my heart, hence most personal and where I sound most like myself. I would never write about anything I didn’t truly like there. For Lifestyle Asia, as it’s a luxury lifestyle magazine, so I’ll do content that seems fit for the niche AB audience—and we always write in the third person; for Philippine Star, content that would appeal to the entire country; for Forbes.com USA, something that’s more relevant to an international audience.

 

I didn't buy a single thing while I was in Hanoi but I came home with a wealth of experiences, lessons and memories. One of my most favorite was biking around Tay Ho or West Lake, Hanoi's largest lake which spans 17km.. I don't have any of those action biking shots as you guys know that in Vietnam, it's literally do or DIE as soon as you get on the streets! Being one with all the buzzing motorbikes and cars was both thrilling and sometimes scary (especially when we merged into the highways!), and I've also never gotten so many stares in my life.. overdressed for a bike ride, maybe? Lol. Many thanks to Donald Berger and his team at Don's Bistro for lending your super cool retro Japanese bikes (they are available for rent as well.) What an experience!!

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What inspired you to come up with your events platform Cross Cultures? How was the seed of the idea planted?

When I was in Ethiopia last June, I received messages like "What on earth are you doing there — charity work?" "Please come home in one piece, I heard there's war there." "Is there even food there?" "Isn't it famine over there?" And I realized there were so many misconceptions about the place because it was so far away, and unfortunately, not everything on the news is accurate. I mean, Ethiopia is one of the fastest growing economies today; it is so safe, people are so kind and polite, and not only is there food there, but it's delicious! I wanted to bring it to the Philippines and share this experience with Filipinos since we don't have a proper Ethiopian restaurant here.

The idea of Cross Cultures kind of stemmed from there. I realized that through food, we can bring together chefs and cooks, countries and continents, and hopefully create awareness, dispel misconceptions and preconceived notions, and help contribute in building a more global community.

Can you share with us how the experience is like, from conceptualizing a Cross Cultures event to knowing who to collaborate with and work with, etc.?

It’s really about bringing in new cultures (Ethiopian, Kenyan, etc.) and cuisines to the Philippines, and vice versa (bringing the Philippines overseas—so far I’ve only done one—Pepita’s Kitchen and a cast of Filipino sous chefs in Hong Kong, but I hope to have more!) As for choosing, it’s simply as basic as me thoroughly enjoying their cuisine (or if I’ve not tried it, it’s by someone who’s career I’ve followed and respect).

 

To be honest, there’s a lot of options out there. I also go for chefs and restaurants who are easy to work with, reliable, responsible, and professional. People have to realize that being a chef or opening a restaurant isn’t just about the food anymore. There’s a lot of elements that come into play—service, attitude, character, reputation. As for the match, a lot of is calculated gut feel—like I just see who’s bagay but at the same time see if their kitchens can handle respective requirements.

What is one of the most memorable encounters you've had with the top chefs of the world?

My first kilig moment was in February 2014. I had attended a Four Hands charity dinner by Andre Chiang of Restaurant Andre and Joan Roca of El Celler de Can Roca at the former’s restaurant in Singapore. I met Joan and interviewed him before the dinner, and blogged about it on www.cheryltiu.com right away. The next day was Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants awards ceremony at Capella Resorts. When Joan Roca saw me, he told me he loved my blog! I almost fainted then—I was like seriously, the chef behind the No. 1 restaurant in the WORLD with THREE Michelin stars loved my blog! That was my kilig moment.

Moving on to that, I later attended several conferences and ceremonies in Europe. With El Celler de Can Roca being No. 1 restaurant in the world for years consecutively, the event organizers were always trying to ward off the Roca brothers from press and crowds for their privacy. Joan would always recognize me and wave at me, so the event organizers would be like, “Okay fine, you can go,” when they saw that we really did know each other. And since then I probably bump into him twice a year at a conference somewhere in the world! He’s the nicest, humblest guy, and since then I’ve been lucky to be connected to his lovely wife Anna and son, Marc. It truly is a family affair!

Aside from bringing into the country the cuisine and food culture from different parts of the world, you also champion Philippine cuisine in many ways and means. Why do you think our food has only been recently picked up by other countries?

It’s really just about time. We’ve all worked really hard to build up our country and our cuisine, and when people meet Filipinos who talk or present about food at international congresses and festivals, hear about Filipino food festivals, read about our food in news and media, chefs and foodies who have visited our country to eat and explore our produce share about it back at their home countries—it all just finally came together, I think. There are a lot of chefs and people in the F&B industry also pushing to up our dining scene and our food. And everyone who travels overseas—we are all ambassadors of our country. So in my opinion, it’s just a combination of all our efforts from all these years and all I can say is—FINALLY!

What do you think is the next food trend that Manila will embrace? What do you think is a food trend or cuisine that Manila should embrace?

Filipino food. And using more Filipino produce. I think the mentality that imported is always better should be eradicated.

If you had only one day to tour someone around your hometown to eat the best local food, what will be the itinerary?

My staples so far have been Filipino food at Manam, Sarsa, and Abe; then Toyo and Gallery Vask for elevated Filipino food. If they’re here on a weekend, I’ll take them to Salcedo Market or Legaspi Market. And try to get them to eat balut, too!

What is your most recent food discovery?

That Jollibee's Chicken Joy and Spaghetti pairs well with red wine! It was our post-service grub after our recent Cross Cultures pop up with Cure and Hey Handsome.

What is your favorite cuisine to eat?

Mexican, Indian, Ethiopian, Japanese, Chinese (dimsum), Middle Eastern.

What is your favorite dessert?

Gulab jamun. My favorite chocolate in the world is Purdy’s Hedgehogs (from Vancouver). Anything with chocolate works. I don’t like fruits.

What is your favorite drink?

Rose champagne! And sparkling water.

What is your favorite Filipino dish?

Sisig.

What can you never give up eating?

Chicken wings. Sisig. Tacos. Dumplings. Angulas/gulas.

Do you have a personal wishlist or dreams about Filipino food? Can you share them with us?

Okay, there’s this thing when people travel to the US and they try Filipino food at a restaurant there, and they will say, “oh it’s not authentic like it is at home.” Firstly, they have to keep in mind that the people who created these restaurants in the US are Filipino-Americans. They have cooked and created their respective restaurants based on how they were raised. For example, as a Filipino family living in California or New York, they might have a sisig rice bowl or an adobo rice bowl because people in the States eat and run; they don’t have the luxury of time as we do here; or like if they serve fried chicken with waffles instead of rice.

Of course, the confluence of influences will be different from a Filipino restaurant having been started by a Filipino born and raised in the Philippines—in the Philippines. My dream is for people to remember that being “authentic” or “authenticity” is now relative to a person’s time, place, background, and experience. I mean, these guys are already doing what they can to make Filipino cuisine accessible to non-Filipino palates. This mentality is what’s going to keep us from progressing.

For someone who will be experiencing a Cross Cultures dining event for the first time, what can they expect and what do you hope will come out of each meal?

You know, I just hope they have a really good time. They come in like they are going to a restaurant—but it’s event-style, we often do share tables so people can make new friends. Hopefully, they come out learning a little bit more about a new culture through the chefs and their cuisine. We hope to educate as well. Also, integral to our core is service. We are an events platform and it's very important to us to deliver a special dining experience to all our guests. There are a lot of backend elements that come into play before any event can come into fruition, and on the front end, we will always try our best to make sure that our guests have a wonderful, memorable time. 

 

Cross Cultures (@cross.cultures) was founded to promote the exchange of cultures through food, with a larger goal of removing misconceptions and boundaries-- with the hopes of building a more global community. But integral to our core is also SERVICE. We are an events platform and it's very important to us to deliver a special dining experience to all our guests. There are a lot of backend elements that come into play before any event can come in to fruition, and on the front end, we will always try our best to make sure that our guests have a wonderful, memorable time. Thank you Dedet de la Fuente for capturing this moment. #CrossCulturesHK #crossculturesbycheryltiu #42nddavis #kennedytown #hongkong #cheryltiutravels #delicious #yummy #instafood #waitress #beautiful #multitasking

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What is next for Cross Cultures, and for yourself – what are you looking forward to doing next in the food and travel scene?
I want to have more Cross Cultures events overseas, showcasing our Filipino food and cuisine overseas. My ultimate dream is New York City!

Among all your recent travels, what are the meals that have stood out?

Albert Adria’s Enigma (an overall experience!) and Tickets in Barcelona; Llama Inn in New York City; Disfrutar in Barcelona; Neolokal in Istanbul; Candlenut in Singapore; JAAN in Singapore which how has more British influences—a rarity in “fine dining”; Cure in Singapore; Cosme in New York City; Quintonil in Mexico City; Suhring in Bangkok; El Huequito (a little hole-in-the-wall taco stall) in Mexico City; Danish hotdogs at Steff Houlberg in Copenhagen; The laksa in Singapore Airlines’ business class lounge, and the dan dan mien at the Cathay Pacific business class lounge—so good!

If you can host a dinner for anyone famous, dead or alive, who do you want to feed and what would you serve him/her?

Umm, I’ve never thought about that! Maybe Jared Leto. Pinoy food for sure. Sisig, lechon, crispy palabok.

You get to pick your final meal on earth. What would be your 'Last Supper'/'Death Row' spread?

Chicken wings and sisig!

[photo by Rita Marie]

Cheryl Tiu blogs on her website www.cheryltiu.com, and you can read her articles on Philippine Star, CNN Travel, and Forbes USA. For more information about Cross Cultures, visit their Facebook page (/crossculturesbycheryltiu) and follow on Instagram (@cross.cultures ). Follow Cheryl on Twitter (@cheryltiu) and Instagram (@chertiu).

Additional photos courtesy of Cheryl Tiu.

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