When London-based Filipina entrepreneur and Maynila Supper Club co-founder Roni Bandong received an invite to join a cooking competition, she sent in an application, but didn’t raise her hopes too high. This was no small-time cooking competition after all. It was a nationwide televised event on Channel 4’s primetime TV series Kirstie’s Handmade Christmas! She knew what the odds were of being selected out of a slew of applicants.
A week before the shoot, Roni received the news: she was in! Panic set in.
It was one of the most nerve-wracking experiences of her life. On cook-off day, Roni was so nervous, she arrived on set an hour and a half before call time.
With only two and a half hours to whip up and plate their best Christmas alternative to traditional British holiday fare, the cooks scrambled in an unfamiliar kitchen. Roni just made it in the nick of time. She prepared the Filipino chicken relleno (baked chicken stuffed with chorizo, black olives and ground pork), which presenter Kirstie Allsopp called a knockout and Glasgow chef Jimmy Lee judged as the WINNER.
Photo credit: Inquirer.net
Let’s meet the woman who victoriously showcased Filipino food on UK’s national TV and who continues to actively promote the cuisine in London through supper clubs and events.
MFB: Where in the Philippines are you from?
RB: My father is from Pangasinan and my mother is from Tarlac but I grew up in Laguna and Alabang. In my working years, I lived in Makati City.
MFB: When and why did you immigrate to the U.K.?
RB:I came to the UK in September 2002. I’ve always wanted to live and work overseas, specifically in Europe, so when the opportunity came and with my parents’ blessing, I grabbed it.
MFB: What was the move to the UK like for you?
RB:The move was daunting because I didn’t know anybody in London, well, except for my British friend, who convinced me and helped me make the move. I didn’t have family or friends in London, so I had no support system. It was difficult. There was so much adjusting required. There were times when I felt alone and lost, but I had to pull myself together to survive.
MFB: Tell us about Maynila.
RB:The concept of Maynila started around 2011, when Charl Asuit and I met at the founding of the University of the Philippines Alumni Association UK (UPAA-UK). After every meeting, we would all go out for a meal. We decided where to go alphabetically, from A, B, C and so on. When we reached F, we thought Filipino! But there was nowhere we could go. That was how Maynila was born.
Kamayan Feast: Maynila Supper Club, London
We talked about it for almost 3 years. We even went to New York to do our research on Filipino restaurants: what dishes they served, service, customer profile, marketing, and anything we can learn. While we were doing our research, pop ups and supper clubs suddenly became popular in London. This trend made us execute our plan of bringing modern Filipino food to the British public by working with Filipino chefs living in London. In April 2015, we launched our inaugural pop up, where we did 71 covers in 2 sittings in one night. It was a baptism by fire! We followed this up with a Kamayan Night and Noche Buena.
Kamayan Night: Maynila Supper Club UK
In 2016, we decided to do the food ourselves as this gave us more flexibility. We will, however, still work with Filipino chefs wanting to collaborate with us to do pop ups. We also launched the Walton Supper Club and expand to food festivals.
This year, Maynila is busy with the Walton Farmer’s market every first Saturday of the month, Walton Supper Club every second Saturday of the month, Chefs Across Continents Pop Up on March —where I team up with my co-contestants on Kirstie’s Handmade Christmas to cook an eight-course tasting menu from four countries in three continents. Maynila will also be found in various food festivals in and around London.
Chefs Across Continents – Roni Bandong with Carine Ottou, Dare Oni, and Natalie Griffith
MFB:Please describe the Filipino food scene in London?
RB: The Filipino food scene is slowly coming up on the radar with the opening of Romulo Cafe last year and the various active groups doing supper clubs. It is bubbling and about to explode. All that is needed is opening more brick- and-mortars to send diners to.
MFB: How are Filipinos viewed in London?
RB: Oh, this is a tricky question and I will answer this based on my experience living here. If you ask an average Brit about Filipinos, they would associate us as to nursing, care giving or looking after children as a nanny. I think this is because these are the common occupations of Filipinos in the UK. Of course, we have those in the corporate world, either as regular employees or expats and they are well regarded by their colleagues.
MFB: How is Filipino food viewed by the general public?
RB:Filipino food is generally unknown in the UK. Those who know are those who have Filipino friends. But the average Brit will have no clue. Some of them can’t even find the Philippines on the map!
MFB:What do you consider as the greatest challenge in promoting Philippine cuisine in London/UK?
RB:The greatest challenge is making it known and making it readily available to the British public. Appearing on TV shows or joining cooking competitions are good publicity and can help up the profile of Filipino food faster, but we need more PR and places for people to go.
MFB: If you could only eat one Filipino dish for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?
RB:I will go for sinigang. This is my comfort food. This brings me home.
Salmon sinigang by Roni Bandong
Connect with Roni Bandong:
Instagram: @britnoy09 and @eatmaynila
Twitter: @negosyante101 and @eatmaynila
by Jacqueline Lauri of My Food Beginnings – a Filipino food anthology project
Bringing people together through food and stories