Cheryl Tiu’s Cross Cultures brings the world to us — one forkful at a time
FEAST WITH ME - Stephanie Zubiri-Crespi (The Philippine Star) - September 23, 2015 - 10:00am

Most people don’t know that I, in fact, have a university degree in History and Geography and that learning about people, societies, cultures and the landscapes that shape them are things that I love and live for.

I’ve always felt that you can tell a lot about people and where they’re from by what they eat and how they eat their food. Is it full of succulent seafood or are the dishes rich and meaty because they are nomadic herders? Is their land bountiful with prime fresh ingredients, resulting in a simple, clean cuisine, or is it full of heady spices or pickled and preserved ingredients? Do they use utensils or their hands? Do the men eat ahead of the women or do they eat all together? Are the dishes meticulously rationed or are they bountiful platters meant for sharing?

As MFK Fisher so poignantly put it, “Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly.” It is a moment when we bare all, when we are most vulnerable and when we are most ourselves.

One of the people I hold most dear, a kindred spirit, Cheryl Tiu, has taken these principles a step further creating an ingenious platform of events where people can really dig deeper into the plates and the stories behind them – Cross Cultures.

Cheryl is a familiar face at food and lifestyle events and definitely a powerhouse in the media world, carrying important positions like publisher and editor at large of Lifestyle Asia. On top of that she contributes to CNN Travel, writes a regular column for Forbes.com USA and for The Philippine STAR so aptly named “In Between Deadlines,” and managed to co-author the Wallpaper Guide to Manila.

Recently she has decided to take a step back, relinquishing her publishing duties in order to focus on her blog, www.cheryltiu.com, and to really channel her energy into projects with principles she firmly believes in, which for the most part is promoting the Philippines to the world and now bringing the world to the Philippines — one forkful at a time.

Last Friday we were treated to a very special experience, a firsthand encounter with Ethiopian food during the first of many events organized by Cross Cultures. It was a collaboration between Cheryl and Helina Tesega of Eat Ethio, who flew to Manila to showcase her home country’s cuisine in a fresh, modern way in order to truly highlight the individual ingredients and flavors.

The result was an evening of discovery: the stunning photos that Cheryl took during her trip to Ethiopia, the introduction to the magical African beauty secret, Marula oil, entrancing Ethiopian jazz with exotic, haunting melodies that Helina’s fiancé, Scott Albon, played in the background and, of course, the food. The unusual earthy, fragrant and hot mix of spices that was both familiar and yet completely unique… when my eyes were closed I drifted off to faraway lands saturated with color and a people who are equally as vibrant. Let’s not forget the history that is as rich as a pot of doro wot stew, starting with the ancient, powerful trading Kingdom of Aksum and the longstanding Abyssinian Empire that lasted from 1137 to 1974.

Yet today I find that we tend to know so little. That, ironically, despite the fact that we are so connected through the Internet and social media, we are in fact so disconnected, receiving information in a more selective manner, seeing only what we choose to see or what is presented to us — like fishing out only the things that we like to eat from a big pot of soup rather than taking things and appreciating them as a whole — every bit of spice, mirepoix and garnish melting together.

I’m truly grateful for people like Cheryl and Helina who are so passionate about learning and promoting cultures, breaking prejudices and forging meaningful connections through one of most enjoyable possible ways: food.

I talked to Cheryl about how this all began, along with an exciting announcement on what’s coming next from Cross Cultures by Cheryl Tiu.

THE PHILIPPINE STAR: You’ve always been into travel and food but what gave you the idea to take it a step further with Cross Cultures? How did it all start?

CHERYL TIU: When I was in Ethiopia earlier this June, I received messages like “What on earth are you doing there — charity work?” “Please come home in one piece, I heard there’s war there.” “Is there even food there?” “Isn’t it famine over there?” And I realized there were so many misconceptions about the place because it was so far away, and unfortunately, not everything on the news is accurate. I mean, Ethiopia is one of the fastest growing economies today; it is so safe, people are so kind and polite, and not only is there food there, but it’s delicious! I wanted bring it to the Philippines and share this experience with Filipinos since we don’t have a proper Ethiopian restaurant here.

The idea of Cross Cultures kind of stemmed from there. I realized that through food, we can bring together chefs and cooks, countries and continents, and hopefully create awareness, dispel misconceptions and preconceived notions, and help contribute in building a more global community.

For our first event, Cross Cultures x Eat Ethio, I just posted on my personal Facebook and Instagram accounts and within 24 hours, we sold out, and had a long waitlist! Initially, we were just supposed to be 75 pax, but I really wanted to accommodate everyone so after reconfiguring the kitchen situation and restaurant capacity (in the end, we took up all three restaurants — Gallery Vask, Curve and Vask), we were able to stretch it to 90 pax. Now Cross Cultures has its own Facebook (crossculturesbycheryltiu) and Instagram (cross.cultures) accounts, so people can find out about our events.

Tell me a little more about your fascination with Ethiopia. How did that start? What first piqued your interest?

I’m always looking to try new cuisines, especially those we don’t have here. I first had Ethiopian cuisine in Amsterdam in 2006 when I was an exchange student traveling around Europe. I loved it. Then in New York in 2009, Capetown in 2014, London last June and then the motherland, Ethiopia a few weeks later! I love tearing off pieces of injera with my hands, and then using them to pick up the meats soaked in their rich, spicy stews called wot — it’s just really delicious. And I love their communal way of dining — they share everything, just like we do in the Philippines.

How did you meet Helina? Tell us that story and how you decided to work together.

I had been stalking her on social media for quite some time already, haha! As I have always been a fan of Ethiopian cuisine, I somehow stumbled upon Eat Ethio. What drew me to them is that we have the same philosophy — the same one that Cross Cultures was founded on — that one of the best ways to get to know or gain insight into a new country or culture is to taste it! I invited her to Manila to cook, and she told me Eat Ethio is more than just food; it’s also a movement for Ethiopian culture. They like to highlight the roasting of their single-origin coffee as Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee and an integral part of their culture, and her fiancé, Scott Albon, DJs Ethiopian jazz during their dinners, so even better!

Right now Cross Cultures is about exposing other cultures to people here in the Philippines. Do you see it going the other way as well? Are we expecting any international events?

Yes! I’ve always been an advocate of Filipino talent — from food to fashion to design — and I really try to support them on the various media platforms I’m involved in. Through Cross Cultures, I hope to dispel any prejudices or misconceptions people may have about Filipino food. I am already in talks with a couple of people overseas; it’s just a matter of setting the date and farming out logistics.

What’s next for Cross Cultures? Where do you see it going?

Cross Cultures is really about building awareness and creating a more global mindset, beginning with food and hopefully branching out to other parts of culture. For example, during our Ethiopian dinner, we also launched Marula Facial Oil, which comes from the marula nut from South Africa and Madagascar. Apart from being the new “it” oil, favored by Vogue, Vanity Fair, Elle, Allure and Cosmo because of its superior anti-aging properties, we loved how the brand celebrates Africa and its women, because the marula trees are actually owned by women and they have provided fair-trade wages for over 7,000 women, to allow them to support their children and keep them within the safe environment. I love likeminded partnerships that help make the world a better place.

My next event is in less than two weeks — on Oct. 6! I am bringing Asia’s No. 1 restaurant, Gaggan, to cook in Manila for a collaboration dinner with chef Chele Gonzalez of Gallery Vask. I have always been a fan of Indian cuisine and, just like Filipino cuisine, it’s not the top-of-mind cuisine when you think of Asia. I have always admired what (chef) Gaggan Anand is doing, trying to put it on the world stage, and not just as comfort food, but also as fine food. This is similar to what Chele is doing with Filipino food at Gallery Vask, so I think this will be a stellar collaboration. Plus, both of them are disciples of Ferran Adria at El Bulli! As it’s a very small dinner, reservations can only be coursed via email to crossculturesbycheryltiu@gmail.com, as it’s a first-come, first-served basis and I want to be fair to everyone.

What do you hope people can get out of coming to these events?

It’s really to open our minds, dispel misconceptions and create a better understanding of the world. It may sound cliché but it’s a small step towards world peace — well, I hope. Cultural relevance is so important to me and I really hope that it’s something we can all practice.

What’s next from CherylTiu.com? I know you’ve been very focused on this lately?

A couple of other platforms have approached me for projects but I’m the type of person who doesn’t like to count her eggs until they are hatched, so let’s see! I’m a firm believer that what’s truly meant for you will always fall into place seamlessly.

 

 

 

 

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Helina Tesega shared some delicious Ethiopian recipes that you can find on www.thegypsetters.net.

ACIRC COM CROSS CROSS CULTURES CULTURES ETHIOPIAN FOOD HTTP MEDIA QUOT STRONG
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