Filipino food has been touted as ‘the next big cuisine’ for over a decade now. With a flavour profile that is unfamiliar, yet unique, Filipino chefs and restaurateurs have had to overcome many obstacles to get their dishes in front of Western diners. “Filipino food is where East meets West and everything else in between. On taste, it is sour-salty-sweet. It is simple, yet complex,” says Roni Bandong, founder of RoniB’s Kitchen, a Filipino food company that was awarded a star at the prestigious Great Taste Awards.
Though born and raised in the Philippines, Bandong has been living in the UK for a number of years. After realising that Filipino cuisine was still an unknown in her new home, she went on a search for Filipino products in local Asian stores and very quickly noticed that they were aimed at Filipinos instead of a wider clientele. She made it her goal to raise her beloved cuisine’s profile and properly introduce it to the British public.
In 2016 Bandong participated in Kirstie Allsopp’s Handmade Christmas show. After competing against dishes from different countries, Bandong’s Filipino chicken relleno, a baked chicken dish stuffed with chorizo, black olives, and ground pork, won her the ‘Best Alternative Christmas Dinner’ prize and put Filipino food into the spotlight. Nowadays, Bandong can still be found at the stovetop surrounded by the savoury aroma of garlic, soy sauce, vinegar, and bay leaves.
She is continuously cooking up new additions to her line of sauces, marinades, and condiments that are made from family recipes but with a British twist. “I believe I have four types of customers: the expat, world travellers, the gourmet, and the culinary explorers,” she explains. From an adobo sauce that captures the essence of the succulent national dish to award-winning black bean chili oil, Bandong’s products help anyone explore the flavours of the tropics in the convenience of their own homes.
We chat with her to find out what it felt like to become a Great Taste Award winner, how to elevate simple dishes and some common misconceptions about Filipino food.
What are some of the misconceptions people have about Filipino food?
Just because we are Asian, British people always think Filipino food is spicy hot. Also, when something is cooked with coconut milk like adobo sa gata, they call it a ‘curry’.
Did you always know you would be an entrepreneur?
I think I did, but was always very cautious. This is only my second time to go full-time as an entrepreneur. As a kid, I was always thinking of ways to earn money so that I could fund my love of comics and books. Weekends were a treat for me because I got to go to the bookstore. My first deep-dive into being an entrepreneur was back in Manila. It was around 1995 or 1996 when I launched TransMedia Company with a friend. We were the first to introduce large-format ads on buses. Levis’ Mr Boombastic was our first advert.
How did it feel when you found out you were a Great Taste Award winner?
It was an amazing feeling! I logged in to check the results and I had to read it, probably 10 times. I was ecstatic!
Do you look up to anyone as a culinary inspiration?
I do not have any particular person but my culinary inspiration is every home cook, chef, food producer, butcher, fishmonger, and grocer who is passionate about food.
Can you tell me more about your current product line?
My current product line consists of Adobo Sauce, BBQ Marinade, Black Bean Chilli Oil, Black Bean Chilli Paste, Garlic Chilli Oil, Garlic Chilli Paste, Kalamansi Marmalade and Tamarind Jam.
What are some of your favourite ways to elevate simple dishes?
Use quality ingredients. Depending on the dish, I may cook various ingredients in different ways, then put them together, like using the sous vide method to tenderise the meat component. Add elements like a tuille, if applicable to the dish, or sprinkle micro herbs.
What does luxury mean to you?
Quality, organic ingredients. Artisanal and/or specialist products because the passion and quality of the producer shines through. On another note, luxury to me is being able to and travel, eat, and shop anywhere, anytime. But it also means having time for myself.
Finally, could you share some of your favourite dishes that utilise your products so that we can all bring the Filipino spirit into our kitchens?