Interview With A Trailblazer: How Pinay-Owned Filipino Fusion Desserts Is Changing How You Think About Filipino Food
Our Interview With A Trailblazer series shines the spotlight on the amazing talent of Filipinos and Filipinas everywhere. Want to see more of this series? Click here to see our other trailblazer stories.
We first met Rechie Valdez and Susan Perras, founders of Toronto-based Filipino Fusion Desserts back in July 2017. We were in the midst of organizing our first-ever Fair Trade, Fashion, and Philippines event and were looking for up-and-coming Filipino food businesses to collaborate with us.
Through the grapevine of Filipino entrepreneurs in Toronto, we connected with Susan and Rechie and knew immediately that we wanted to work with them. Their passion for food and sharing Filipino culture was right up there with ours. A year later from our event, people still rave to us about Rechie and Susan’s specialty cannolis, piped fresh with Filipino flavours like calamansi and pandan cream. Yum!
We’ve admired these ladies for quite some time, not least because their food is tasty and inventive but because they’re also two kick-ass Pinays who are leading successful businesses. And they do it all while staying connected to their roots and giving back to the Toronto Filipino Community.
Filipino Fusion Desserts founders Susan Perras (Left) and Rechie Valdez (Right). We first met them at our Fair Trade, Fashion, Philippines event back in July 2017. Photo credit Kevin Ramos.
With this June being Toronto’s first-ever Filipino Heritage Month, we could think of no other people better fitting for our Trailblazer Series this month. Read on to learn about Rechie and Susan’s journey.
First, tell us a little about Filipino Fusion Desserts. How did it come about?
Our desserts are Filipino inspired modern and classic artisanal desserts that are all made from scratch. Each of us own our individual baking businesses and had met at The Cake Collective (commercial kitchen) where we bake. I (Rechie) had made ube macarons one day, and it immediately caught Susan’s attention. We discovered we were both Filipino and had a common desire to share our love of Filipino flavours with everyone else. Filipino traditional desserts can be difficult to recognize or understand to anyone that hasn't grown up with it. So, we thought it would be best to make our flavours more accessible by fusing it into traditional or western desserts that are more easily recognized.
Both of you come from really diverse cultural backgrounds. How do your backgrounds come through in the type of food you make? For example, do any Jamaican flavours come through in Susan’s foods? Or does Rechie’s upbringing in Zambia influence the kind of flavours she uses?
Ube cheesecakes, one of Filipino Fusion Deserts specialty
3. Why did you specifically choose fusion? Is there something fusion food communicates that ‘authentic’ cuisine doesn’t?
Fusion enables us to reach a broader audience of people who are not exposed to Filipino desserts, food, culture or flavours. Authentic cuisine is amazing, and we both love it so much. We wanted to find an outlet that allows all people a level of comfort when trying flavours and desserts from the Philippines. Some people may look away at our foods and flavours simply because of the way it is presented. Adding our flavours into recognizable desserts and modernizing it was a great way for getting people to try the things we love. Once they give our products a chance, they get hooked.
4. You both started this business together while still holding on to your full-time jobs and balancing other responsibilities. What advice do you have for others who want to embark on similar paths?
Owning any business big or small is challenging. Here are a few tips:
- Time Management: Time management and planning are essential to ensuring you are able to juggle all of your existing and new responsibilities. It’s important to stay well organized and to plan ahead. Things can get overwhelming. When planning, take time to think of all possible outcomes including possible problems. Always try to be as prepared as you can. If something happens that you were not expecting, it’s good to keep calm and try to find solutions on your feet.
- Passion: Having passion for what you believe is extremely important. This will help you get through the toughest of times. When you have passion, you will have drive that will make you feel like you can conquer anything you put your mind to.
- Believe in Yourself: If you believe in yourself, nothing can stop you. Other people can doubt you, judge you, or criticize you for what you are doing. If you listen to your own voice, focus on your purpose, and truly believe in your capabilities then you can withstand the toughest of times/circumstances.
- Family comes first: It’s important to take time for yourself and your family. Shut it off. One tip is to put your phone on silent or just put it away all together so that you can really focus on the people you are with. It’s important to recharge your batteries because when you are your best self, you are your best entrepreneur.
In general, our advice to anyone interested in pursuing their dreams (in any industry), is to go for it. What’s the worst that can happen? You will learn about yourself, it will enhance your skills/abilities by putting what you love into practice, and most importantly, you will enrich the lives of others in a way that only you can define. Dream big, but afterwards, capture your vision and your goals. It all starts with a plan, and it starts with you.
Based on our country's history, Filipino cuisine really is one big mix of cultures from all over the world. Is there something about Filipino cuisine and flavours that lends itself particularly well to fusion?
Filipino dessert flavours are incredibly delicious, and for the two of us, when eating these flavours, it reminds us of our childhood and our home. We love the idea that you can modernize and infuse all different kinds of flavours into different desserts. As you mentioned the cuisine is one big mix of cultures. This may be why this concept works so well.
Pastillas from Filipino Fusion Dessert
Are there specific chefs or individuals who deeply influenced your journey?
For the both of us, it’s actually our combined life experiences as a whole that has influenced our business. This includes family, food, culture, friends, work, media/television, etc. One person in particular that motivated us is Filipina trailblazer Nicole Ponseca, owner of the beloved restaurants Maharlika and Jeepney in New York. She enabled us to see the possibilities.
What’s the most underrated Filipino dessert or food in your mind?
Filipino desserts in general are underrated in other cultures, so we're hoping to shine a light into Filipino culture/flavours to gain more traction and interest from those individuals who are not as familiar with Filipino desserts.
However, if you are accustomed to Filipino desserts, then we would say that some desserts that don't get much attention are suman, palitaw and turrones de casoy.
You said in another interview you did that you both have a book full of dessert ideas waiting to be created. What’s one of those desserts you’re most excited to make?
We're launching several of them this summer during the Filipino festivals. We're excited to launch our premium ube/vanilla ice cream. It's delicious, creamy and extremely satisfying. We're introducing our ice-cream through our new product called "Halo-Halo Banana Split". You can enjoy a banana split, a scoop of premium ube and vanilla ice cream, while enjoying the goodness of topping it off with halo-halo ingredients. Come visit us at the summer festivals to try it out. Our schedule is always posted on our Events website page.
Where do you see Filipino Fusion Desserts heading in the future?
We've learned a lot in our one year of business, and heard a lot of feedback from our customers/followers. We want to expand both our product selection and the accessibility to them. Eventually, our goal is to open our own Filipino Fusion Desserts store; however, we like to leave ourselves open to new possibilities.
Follow Susan and Rechie’s journey through Filipino Fusion Desserts’ website, YouTube, Facebook and Instagram.
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