When tragic news, such as the murder of a Norwegian by his Filipina wife or the kidnapping of a Norwegian by a Philippine militant group, hit the country, most people don’t remember the names of the perpetrators; they just remember where they’re from. While I don’t believe Norwegians pin the crimes of a few to the entire race, it somehow casts a shadow to the almost 12,000 Filipinos in Norway by mere association.
On June 11, 2016, Filipinos from different organizations in Oslo are working together as one, mirroring to Norwegians who we really are as a people. This 118th Philippine Independence Day celebration is the biggest Filipino event of the year in Norway. Rightfully so, let’s put the spotlight on a couple of the event’s participants. This couple behind the first ever Filipino restaurant in Norway, and beacons of Filipino pride are Chef Reverdy Pineda and his wife Abelene Garcia-Pineda.
Read the Q & A below and find out what they are doing for the love of country, culture and food. PLUS let us know if you agree with their intriguing theory about why Filipino food in Norway doesn’t enjoy the same popularity as its Asian neighbors. If you are interested in putting up a Filipino food establishment in Norway, Rev and Abelene share the struggles they face below.
MFB: Please tell us more about your Filipino heritage. What brought you to Norway?
AP: Both Reverdy’s father and mine came to Norway in the early 1980’s as working immigrants in the North Sea and Mechanical Industry, respectively. We came as family immigrants a few years later.
Reverdy’s parents are both from Poblacion, Muntinlupa City. Rev was only ten years old when he moved to Norway. He adjusted very well. At that young age, learning a new language wasn’t a problem. He easily made friends both at school and in the neighborhood.
MFB: How did you get started in food? I see that you have had a series of business/companies set-up in Oslo, please tell us about them?
AP: Both Rev’s mother and father are good cooks and bakers. They prepared purely homemade dishes. This passion was passed on to Rev. After ungdomskole, or high school, Rev’s heart was already set on pursuing cooking classes. At that age, he already dreamt of managing his own restaurant one day.
Upon graduating from Oslo Kokk og Stuartskole, he worked in several restaurants as restaurant and head chef. Later on, we established our own business and opened the very first Filipino family restaurant in 2000 in Oslo, Lamesa. We operated it for about two years with the help of my family. Unsatisfied with Lamesa’s turnout, Rev decided to give restaurant business a break. He set up a manpower company that lasted for almost nine years.
Recently, Rev finished an advance baking course at UFM Cooking and Baking School in Bangkok while I was posted there at the Norwegian Embassy in 2015.
MFB: What are the concepts for Bread N Butter & Cusina Catering?
AP: Rev returned to his true calling- the kitchen, in 2013. Although he left the food industry, he never stopped cooking homemade meals through those years.
Bread N Butter is a fusion of Asian and Scandinavian baking techniques. Rev improvised recipes to create freshly- baked Pinoy bread using ingredients available in the local stores of Oslo. His aim was to bake Pinoy bread with Norwegian quality of freshness and presentation. Our bestselling products among the Filipino community are pan de sal, ensaymada and pan de cocco. Among the Norwegian customers, pan de coco is the most exotic because of the sweetened coconut. We launched our first products in Mathallen in Oslo, November 2014.
Cusina Catering is another fusion concept. We feature bread, buns or wraps filled with Filipino “ulam” or viands. Our target is the Norwegian market. This is an easier way to introduce Pinoy food to the Norwegian public.
MFB: Please tell us about your involvement with Filipino Associations in Norway.
AP: I actively volunteer to help out in the Filipino community in Oslo and often get involved in many events. As the chairperson of the Filipina Alliance Volleyball Group (FAVG) in Oslo, I have formed three all-Filipina teams in the Norwegian Volleyball series with a total of 30 players. I am also the head of all the volleyball tournaments within the Filipino community since 2009.
In 2013, I was one of the project leaders to work on a united Philippine Independence Day celebration in Norway. With FilCom and the Philippine Embassy, I helped bring together all the organizations and groups in Oslo to celebrate this occasion as one. This took place in one of the most prestigious venues for festivals in Oslo, Youngstorget.
When Typhoon Yolanda struck the Philippines, I was one of the project managers of the first fundraising concert event in Oslo for Yolanda victims, in cooperation with FilCom, the embassy, Folketeatret, and Norwegian artists like D’sound. All proceeds were donated to Red Cross, UNICEF and Norsk Folkehjelp.
MFB: What do you think is the Norwegian public’s general perception of Filipino cuisine?Are there Filipino restaurants in Oslo?
AP: In 2000, Norwegians were not familiar with Asian food in general, especially Filipino cuisine. That is one of the reasons why we closed down just after a couple years. I think the Norwegian’s general perception of our food is “unhealthy”, fatty, meaty and saucy. There is one Filipino eatery in Oslo at the moment. But they are primarily catering to the Filipino palate. Presentation is carenderia-like, a Philippine food-stall-type of eatery.
MFB: Where does Filipino food stand in the Oslo food scene? How does it compare to the popularity of other Asian cuisines, i.e. Thai?
AP: I think we are more or less 5 000 in Oslo. Filipino food is only seen during the Filipino events. However, Bread N Butter participates in Norwegian and International food events, such as International Restaurant Day, Food market in Mathallen in Oslo and Christmas food market in Grunerløkka, Oslo.
Thai and Vietnamese food dominate the Asian food market in Norway. Filipino cuisine is invisible.
Thai is very popular in Oslo because of the growing tourism, trade and industry between Norway and Thailand. Personally, I think tourism plays a big role in boosting Filipino food in Norway. The Philippines has never been marketed as a vacation paradise for the Scandinavians, unlike Thailand and soon, Vietnam. I think there is a lot of concern about safety, corruption and kidnapping incidents involving foreign tourists in the Philippines.
MFB: What do you think is taking Filipino cuisine so long to get going?
AP: Our country needs to be seen and be visited a lot more. Food is a huge factor for tourists. Norwegians long for Thai food right after a relaxing vacation in Thailand, for example. So again, tourism is the main key to be seen and be known in Norway.
MFB: What are the greatest challenges you face as the owner of Bread N Butter? What do you consider as your greatest achievements?
AP: Our biggest challenges are to survive in the market and be able to create products of equal or better quality than other international baked products in Oslo.
Achievements: Feedback from our clients, especially from Norwegians, about how deliciously different our products are and positive comments about quality, taste and texture.
MFB: What advice can you give aspiring Filipino restaurant entrepreneurs in Norway?
AP: Study, research and analyze the market before opening a restaurant. Target not only the Filipino market. Think quality in the Norwegian way. Familiarize yourselves with rules and regulations.
Quality control of raw materials and regular reports to Mattilsynnet, the Norwegian Food Safety Authority, can be very challenging. There are many requirements that you should abide with, like drafting daily routines in black and white to qualify, especially for bread production.
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