When we think of organic produce, we go back to the children's folk song "Bahay Kubo," and the dish that usually comes to mind are variations on pinakbet. In the same vein, when we think of farmers, we imagine a middle-aged man browned from the sun. The Manila Peninsula’s dining institution Old Manila steps away from these stereotypes as it collaborates with Holy Carabao Farms to introduce a new way to eat your organic veggies.
First up, are the farmers involved: There are still the sun-toasted buri-hatted men tending the crops, but they are under the leadership and direction of two dainty-looking women who look as if they are more at home toting designer bags and sipping specialty teas rather than toiling with the soil.
Hindy Weber-Tantoco is a society fashion icon while soft-spoken Melanie Teng-Go is a University of Minnesota grad who also took studied to become an Electromagnetic Radiation Specialist at the Institute of Building Biology and Ecology.
At the press event, the pair looked stunning in their chic and crisp outfits, yet there they were, the ladies who lunch who brought us the ingredients for dinner.
When you hear their stories of how they founded Holy Carabao, it is then that you realize they are just like any other moms, the ones who want the best for their kids. “Hindy started Holy Carabao because she wanted to offer better food for her family. That was around 2007, when organic farming was still not a thing. She began by growing vegetables in her backyard, which she also began offering to friends. I joined in a few years later, because we had a farm lot that we can plant on,” Melanie shares.
The concept has taken off, because of their passion to produce healthier veggies and fruits and largely because more people are now aware of the benefits of eating organic. They offer door to door deliveries of the season’s harvests, for households and restaurants alike. “It has grown a lot,” Melanie laughs. “We used to have to deliver produce ourselves. Now we have a service to do that.” There are still challenges along the way, especially with a product with so many variables including our climate, but these ladies are determined to put more local organic choices out in the market.
Speaking of choices, their produce is not limited to the usual high-value crops that other organic farmers supply. They look into edibles include what our lolos and lolas used to eat a lot of, which are not necessarily included in the lyrics of our favorite childhood song about gulay. They are looking to preserve more heirloom produce too. “Everyone is into things like kale, but we have leaves that are cheaper and just as nutritious, like our alugbati,” Melanie points out. and gestures to the cornucopia of their heritage vegetable products that were incorporated to the dining centerpiece.
These products were put to good use by Old Manila’s Chef de Cuisine Allan Briones with dishes that offered pleasant surprises. The starter for the set meal that goes for P 3,850 was a poached Canadian lobster with banana heart, crab roe, cassava crisp, and kaffir lime. It was surprising to see the garnish of pansit-pansitan, a weed that grew abundantly in my childhood backyard (and probably yours, too).
The starter set was followed by a roasted vegetable tartlet with tomato, carabao milk cheese, beetroot and basil crème. As it was a little chilly in the room, the chicken consommé with heritage white-corn flan, green papayas, kangkong and a crackling was a welcome treat. The group overwhelmingly liked the execution of the mains of delicate smoked halibut fillet (with long beans, oyster mushrooms radish, heirloom puffed adlai and cashews) and the grilled Berkshire pork tenderloin medallions that were served with squash ravioli, bacon, mustard seed, pickled yacon, and tarragon butter.
Dessert was an Instagrammable affair. When the chocolate “buko” was brought out, everyone reached for their camera phones to snap the cold treat that was wrapped in a Davao milk chocolate shell to resemble that tropical fruit fave.
The special menu, which runs until June 2, serves to highlight not only the chef’s prowess in working with local ingredients, but also the Holy Carabao Farms mission of creating awareness to encourage more people to look into what ends up on their plate. With choosing to go local and sustainable, you are not only more assured about the quality of the produce that you eat, you also lessen the carbon footprint that goes into your meal preparation. It also helps to support our Filipino farmers, encouraging them to continue working with the land because there is a market for their harvests,” says Melanie.
For more information about the Old Manila and Holy Carabao Farms collaboration, visit The Peninsula Manila’s official facebook page or call (02) 887-2888 locals 6748, 6749, or 6694. To find out about Holy Carabao Farms’ delivery service and fun family activities, visit their official facebook page and their website, holycarabao.com