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Bacolod City, Philippines Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Kusinata: A place for
foodies, nature lovers

Musician Gerry Grey and his banker wife, Lucille, who have for years beenquietlyhelping the Ataindigenous people of SalvadorBenedicto in Negros Occidental, have launched a new social enterprise that has been attracting foodies and nature lovers.

Kusinata, a restaurant in BarangayKumaliskis, Salvador Benedicto, 48.5 kilometers from Bacolod, is a must-visit place for its food and fantastic view.

It is perched on the side of a cliff overlookinglush mountains and theMalatan-ogfalls that are sometimes shrouded in mist. On a full moon the mountain turns silver and if there is a passing cloud one can see a rainbow, Gerry says.

Gerry says Kusinata, for kitchen of the Ata, is a social enterprise advocacy focused on operating a livelihood training center fortheIPs,who are provided with jobs.

Tapping indigenous ingredients from the forest where the Ata IPs dwell, chefs Jay Grey, Ynandel Rosario, David Dadivas and John Marck Aquino have come up with uniquedishesofinternational standards at Kusinata, he says.

Jay, the son of Gerry and Lucille, who trained under multi-awarded chef Tony Boy Escalante at Antonio’s Breakfastin Tagaytay, runs Kusinata.

Gerry and Lucille became aware of the Ata IPs because of Jay, whothrough his campaign to save the environment, befriended them.

Jayand his Ata friendsforage the rainforests in search of edible flowers, berries and endemic plants.

Among the garnishes they have found in the wild for their dishes areagnaya, petchay-petchay flowers, and pagampangleaves, Jay says. The indicator for us that they are edible is that the birds eat them, too, Jay says.

A best seller at Kusinata is the PinausukangSili, a local fresh water eel smoked in coconut husk, served on dill-garlic rice, tomato, eggplant, pagampang leaves, pickled radish and red onion, glazed with soy-honey and garnished with petchay-petchay flowers from the forest.

They also serve yellow currybudbud, laswa lasagna, pork sisig, watermelon and lettuce salad, and because Salvador Benedicto is famous for its pineapples – pineapple pork adobo and French toast with pineapple flambé.

“We believe in the buy local, sell local and hire local principle,” Gerry says.

“This is one of the foundations of social entrepreneurship, where we help people communities, protect the planet through environmentalism, and stay sustainable,” he says.

Gerry says they welcome volunteer help from professionals, and lately a wave of chefs have made a big difference.

In fact, when Kusinata recently held a workshop for the Ata IPs on “Strengthening Self-Esteem Through Service”, little did they know that the these shy, quiet and humble indigenous people, through mentoring by chefs, would be first runner-up in two categories in the recent Tanduay Rum Culinaria cooking festival in Bacolod City, Gerry says.

RevielVillapana,22, an Ata forest guard of the North Negros Natural Park, via his Black Pig Liempo with Rum-Batuan sauce qualified for the finals of the cook fest and eventually won the silver, with his Smoked Fresh Water Eel with Rum Risotto.

“Reviel has never entered any cooking contest nor has he had anyformal culinary education. His entries showcased ethnic cuisine using local endemic sources from his mountain barangay,” Gerry says, adding that he was mentored by chef Ynan, formerly of Seda Capitol Central hotel.

The silver winner in the dessert category was, JolitoPandac, 20, whose dream is to become a policeman. The winning entry of Pandac, who was mentored by chef Jay, was hisCaged-Goodbood with Honey Ginger Glaze that showcases how the ordinary sticky rice dessert,budbud, can be elevated to international standards, Gerry says.

Gerry, who also heads the Juan Pisan Inc. social enterprise, and Lucille havealso held fundraisers for numerous skills training, medical missions, literacy and environment advocacy campaigns for the Ata IPs.

The Atasare smart people, who, because of discrimination, have been deprived of education and opportunities, Gerry says.

Many of them are very poor, and because they eat rice with a lot of salt, suffer from hypertension, he adds.

Gerry says they also welcomevolunteers who can help the Ata IPs with livelihood projects, renewable energy, solid waste management, organic farming, and herbal alternative medicine.

Meanwhile, for the Greys,Kusinata is another way of making a difference for the Ata IPs, that at the same time, showcases good food and the importance of saving the environment.

Kusinata is open Fridays to Sundays and holidays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and those who wanttomake reservations may contact Chef Jay at 0995 915 9229.

Gerry says arrangements can also be made for large groups to dine at Kusinata during the week.*

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