MANILA -- With the recent debacle on freebies, entitlement, and all the negative comments surrounding social media influencers, one can easily get disillusioned at the concept of collaborating with anyone described as an "influencer."
Amid all these though, Novotel Manila Araneta Center and one of the most influential food bloggers in the country, Masarap Ba?, launched a joint project dubbed "Masarap Nga! Meet and Eat!" at the hotel's Food Exchange outlet.
Running until April 7, "Masarap Nga! Meet and Eat!" is a buffet that combines the culinary tastes of Masarap Ba? with the creativity of Novotel’s chefs, as the blogger challenged the chefs to create dishes highlighting her top picks of products from local small and medium enterprises for the Food Exchange spread.
With more than 230,000 followers as of this writing, Masarap Ba? is known for her short, humor-filled, and frank reviews on food, as well as her advocacy for saving stray animals (a percentage of the sales will be donated to the Philippine Animal Rescue Team). She is also known for being anonymous, and preserving that anonymity while doing this collaboration was no easy feat, as Masarap Ba? herself details in a special online interview with ABS-CBN News.
Q: Why did you think of doing something like this?
A: For the SMEs, I really think they deserve this. Na-witness ko kasi talaga 'yung pag-unlad ng business nila after I featured them. Very inspiring stories. And I'd like to empower not only them, pero lahat ng SMEs na hindi porke SME or small time, hanggang dun lang sila. Kayang kaya din nila sumabay sa global standards.
For the Kakultos (or followers of the blog), I want them to enjoy our favorite Kakulto food all in one place na safe, comfortable and unli-food. Nakakasawa na din kasi 'yung mag-ikot sa bazaar. Gusto ko mag-enjoy talaga sila with their loved ones.
Why Novotel? Madami din kasi akong personal favorites sa Novotel like their corned beef, Indian station, gelato etc. OK din ang location dahil medyo gitna ng metro.
Q: How long did it take to arrange this? What was the most challenging part for you?
A: Less than 6 months, I believe. Most challenging part would be 'yung pasa-pasa ng info dahil I couldn't be there personally to talk with the Novotel team. Buti I have a PR friend who volunteered to help. Challenge din makipag-coordinate with many people talaga.
Q: From what we researched, all the food that was created by Novotel underwent food tasting by the SMEs and you as well. How hard was it to arrange that? Did you give some notes to the chefs on possible things to do for the dishes?
A: Yup, they arranged a tasting day for my ‘Tikimizers’ and SMEs, then sent me food separately para maka-try din ako. Basically, I submitted them a list ng SMEs na gusto ko isama then mga chef na nag-screen. Fortunately, all of them pumasa. I gave the chefs freedom na to create the dishes
Q: Do you have any plans of repeating this or doing something similar soon?
A: At first wala dahil medyo challenging pero after day 1, I got a lot of requests na kung pwede ulitin daw at dapat laging may ganito. May mga willing na venues na din na gusto mag-host. Nakakaloka. So let's see. I have a lot of ideas na gusto ko i-try.
The buffet rates start at P1,588 nett (lunch), and P1,688 (dinner) with an 5% Kakulto discount when you present an image of an online voucher that’s available in Masarap Ba?’s Instagram page.
Here's what you can expect at the buffet.
1. SME products
Featured SMEs include (in alphabetical order, product in parenthesis): Auro Chocolate (Dark Chocolate), Benedicto Kitchen (Roast beef, Baked Salmon), Beth’s (Chicken Galantina, Embutido), Buenlago (Indie Sauce), Cake Shots (Black Label Chocoholic, Tiramisu, Bailey’s Red Velvet), Cheche’s Gourmet (Tuyo w/ Salted Egg, Pes-Tuyo), Daddy Mikk’s (Chilli Crunch, Garlic Crunch), Eddy’s Old Chicharrones, Gng. Bukid (Peanut Butter), Half Saints (64% Dark Chocolate Tart), La Petite Fromagerie (Truffle Cream Cheese), Le Sucre Club (Dreamcake), Mad Meats (Homemade Bacon), Mango Grill Manila (Big Cheese Cassava Cake), Mishee’s (Binagoongan Flakes), Papa Bear (Chili Oil), and Tamago Chips (Salted Egg Potato Chips).
2. Benedicto’s Kitchen Roast Beef
Melt-in-your-mouth sounds cliché, but it describes this roast beef perfectly. Photo by author
3. Le Petite Fromagerie’s Smoked Salmon Roulade
Salmon stuffed with truffle cream cheese spread. This author had to do some waiting to taste this silky treat as it was one of the quicker ones to disappear in the buffet. Photo by author
4. Marinated Barramundi in Papa Bear’s Chili Oil
This is a low-key delicious dish beside Food Exchange’s famed corned beef, and the very popular Benedicto’s roast beef. The marinade of garlic, herbs, Cambodian black pepper, and Papa Bear’s Chili Oil highlighted the buttery robust flavor of the fish without overwhelming it, which is not an easy feat. Photo by author
5. Beef Kare-Kare with Household Gng. Bukid Peanut Butter
This kare-kare might be paler than the usual but it packed quite a creamy punch of peanut flavor. Photo by author
6. Pizza Napolitana Style with Cheche’s Gourmet Tuyo
Move over anchovies! This pie was simple, straightforward, and tasty with cheese, tomatoes and the salty goodness of tuyo. Photo by author
7. Aglio E Olio con Daddy Mikk’s Garlic and Chili Crunch
Right beside the Indian section of Food Exchange, the pasta station has many options. This author’s favorite was the Aglio E Olio which stayed true to its name, as each bite was filled with garlic flavor with just a hint of spice. (Bacon lovers should not miss having a plateful of Linguine Amatriciana with Mad Meats Smoked Bacon too— another umami bomb!) Photo by author
8. Sisig Paella with Eddy’s Old Style Chicharrones
Paella done right in a buffet is always a crowd pleaser. Add some chicharon on top and you’ve got a porky fiesta! Photo by author
9. Beth’s Embutido
Embutido is something that I’ve always associated with home and celebration. This embutido might not be traditional, as it’s made with chicken, but it checks in all the right places so much that it should make many feel a "Ratatouille" moment come on. Photo by author
10. Pumpkin in Coconut Milk with Mishee’s Binagoongan Flakes
The flakes by itself suprisingly wasn’t too salty. They added a wonderful layer of umami to one of this author’s favorite ways to eat pumpkin. Photo by author
11. Beef Stir Fry in Buenlago Kitchen’s Hot Indie Sauce
This Filipino XO sauce is sweet, spicy, salty and umami-rich (thanks to bagoong). While the Indie sauce went successfully with a lot of things in the NovotelManilaxMasarapba menu including seafood and fried rice, this author enjoyed it best in this customize-it-yourself-stir-fry dish, where I added copious amounts of mushrooms and onions. Photo by author
12. Tiramisu Cakeshots
A wallop of rum and Kahlua in a cupcake. While the dose of alcohol may not be for everyone, this author easily finished hers, as it was welcome palate cleanser after a rich feast. Photo by author
13. Auro Chocolate Mousse
Using Auro’s Dark Chocolate from Davao, this dessert was a spoonful after spoonful of just the right balance of extra smooth sweetness and bitter chocolate. Photo by author
14. Half Saint’s Dark Chocolate Tart with Himalayan Salt
A tart that’s decadent and unapologetically dark and bitter, the 64% dark chocolate filling was a balanced with an almond sugar crust, and some Himalayan salt. Best paired with a cup of sweet coffee.
15. Le Sucre’s Chocolate Dream Cake
What hasn’t been written about this cake that started the cake-in-a-tin trend? Best eaten when it’s just about molten, if you haven’t tasted the original, the buffet presents the best time to try it. Photo by author
16. Mango Grill’s Big Cheese Cassava Cake
While the Food Exchange buffet already has a wide selection of Filipino desserts, do not forget to have a slice or three of this cassava cake goodness! Served heated in a melty-gorgeous state, this had us going back for more despite being stuffed. Photo by author