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Meet the ‘Culinary Environmentalist’

Susana Pascual Guerrero inspiring leadership style led to the establishment of some of the country’s best restaurants, coffee shops and events venues since 1988. As the president of The Cravings Group (TCG), she received numerous awards such as the Best in Segregation Award and Special Citation for Sustainability from the Zero Basura Olympics, the Grand Master Garbology Award from the QC-Environment Protection and Waste Management Department. Annie Guerrero, to her friends and family, is the founder of the Center for Culinary Arts (CCA , Manila) in 1996, the pioneer culinary institute in the Philippines. CCA has graduated over 1,000 chefs who are manning   top culinary positions in the best hotels, resorts, restaurants, cruise liners, catering facilities, industrial catering companies and leading multinational companies. Born to be the queen of the kitchen, Annie Guerrero is recognized as a Certified Culinary Professional by the International Association of Culinary Professionals,  having been a graduate of the College of Home Economics at the University of the Philippines.  Her passion for food churned hundreds original recipes and countless versions of other recipes. As of date, she has eight self-help books on culinary and environmental matters to her name. Aside from her professional endeavors, Annie Guerrero serves as the president and founder of the Culinary Education Foundation, a corporate social responsibility organization that teaches underprivileged women “the essential skills to help them make a decent living.”  The women receive training on the basic culinary skills, organic farming, recycling and bee farming. To set a good example, Annie Guerrero (AG) shares to Manila Standard Today (MST) her insights on her endeavors revolving her culinary feats and her advocacy: MST:  What made you embrace the advocacy for the environment? AG:  My advocacy for the environment started when I met the late Odette Alcantara, who was an eminent environmentalist and mover.  She was a fairy godmother of sorts to me, and through her I met people who share the same passion and eventually became my close friends like Luz Sabas, Narda Camacho, Tony Oposa and many others. Still, I considered myself early on as an advocate for Mother Nature even when I started Cravings as a small restaurant and bakeshop in Katipunan in the late 1980.  I believe that it is the best policy especially when you work in the kitchen since I don’t like the idea of food going to the garbage can, or preparing food that consumes too much energy and materials and produces a lot of wastage. I believe in the saying, “Waste not, want not.” MST:  Was it easy/hard for you to integrate your advocacy to your business/professional endeavors? AG:  Ideally, it should be easy, but of course when you’re in the business of selling food, you always put a premium on quality and safety.  Of course, it is inevitable for a restaurant business to have wastage, but as much as possible, we at Cravings Group want to promote an environmentally sound kitchen, with lesser wastage or, at the very least, make use of that wastage into something that can still be useful in another form. That is why my specific environmental advocacy is Zero Waste.  We teach our employees to learn by heart and employ green practices not only at work but also in every aspect of their lives. The Center for Culinary Arts (CCA), Manila, our culinary school, is probably the first school in the country to introduce Green Chefmanship as a subject for our professional courses.  But even before that, we teach our students the value of using the right amount of ingredients and reducing kitchen wastage in their stations, of saving energy while cooking or preparing food, or minimal use of packaging.  That is why many of our graduates become environmentalists in their own right, as they have incorporated it in their own kitchens. At the same time, I started Annie’s Garden in several sites like Antipolo, Escopa and even on Cravings’ building in Katipunan, where we started and continue to maintain a rooftop garden, growing organic vegetables, herbs and even our own honey which people can buy. MST:  Please share updates or recent achievements with your green projects/programs? AG:  At present I am the president of Zero Waste Philippines, an environmental group that promotes waste reduction in the Philippines.  As a member of the organization and many other groups before it, I have always been an active participant in many environmental causes, but it is zero waste that really interest me. We are also proud that we were able to introduce green practices in CCA and Asian School of Hospitality Arts (ASHA) and incorporate them in the students’ classes.  Our chef instructors and school staff even studied Green Chefmanship before they implement it in their classes.  For example, a chef-instructor deducts points whenever a student creates too much wastage in his work station or forgets to segregate garbage at source by not bringing waste bins to laboratory classes. We have started many endeavors, but sometimes it is disheartening that both the government and society are apathetic to zero waste.  We have encountered local leaders like barangay chairmen and councils who would put down our streamers and ignore our projects simply because they think it is a waste of time.  But you know that politics, from the national up to the barangay level, always has a hand in this.  If they think it would not involve some form of revenue-making, they would not even take a second look.  Going after government officials can be very tiring and sometimes fruitless, too. Nevertheless, I am always hopeful that despite these stumbling blocks, we hope to gain more supporters by promoting environmental awareness and education. MST:  Which green projects/programs you are most proud of? AG:  The first project would be Annie’s Garden, as we were able to grow organic vegetables even in urban settings.  Now, vegetables like romaine lettuce and garden herbs like basil, tarragon, rosemary and sage grown from these gardens augment our restaurant’s ingredients demands.  They are growing in pesticide-free garden soil made rich by our vermiculture farms.  Some of our guests who visit our gardens are surprised that we were able to maintain not only a garden, but also a butterfly and bee farm on our rooftop garden in Katipunan. Another would be our Super Manangs project, where we are able to provide supplementary income to indigent women and their families by providing them venues to earn through handicrafts making. The Super Manangs create bags, baskets, decorations, bracelets from old newspapers and magazines and other “found” materials. For the past four years, I was able to write two books on environmental education, “An A-Z Guide for a Green Pinoy” in 2010 and “An A-Z Guide for a Green Chef,” last year.  Now these two books have become a Bible of sorts to many young environmentalists.  I am also pleased that the Asian Development Bank (ADB) even bought 100 copies of “An A-Z Guide for a Green Chef” which they would distribute to all of their branches.  At least we are assured that a major global institution like ADB is willing to support our advocacies. MST:  What would you advise to companies who are about to embark their CSR programs? AG:  First, make sure to choose the advocacy that is close to your company’s heart, and as much as possible, support it all throughout.  Don’t adopt an advocacy that you cannot sustain till the end; not only would it appear as insincere, but also it would reflect as a mark of inconsistency on your CSR thrust. Also, make sure that you live your advocacy fully, and be a good example to your employees so that they would follow not because they have to, but because they want to.  Because in the end, CSR is not just about building a good image or reputation for yourself a nd your business; it is also about being a good citizen of your country and setting a good example to your fellow Filipinos.
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