MERCATO CENTRALE'S THE NEXT BIG FOOD ENTREPRENEUR!
Over the years, Mercato Centrale has evolved from being just a simple food market, to becoming a haven for budding food entrepreneurs. We’ve been lucky enough to give opportunities to home-based cooks with their own creations or heirloom recipes.
We’ve encountered so many great entrepreneurs with huge dreams and awesome stories!
For example, before Bakmi Nyonya, last year’s winner, became a Mercato fan-favorite, its owners were just serving to friends, family, and Bible study mates! Like many of the other contestants, they started with humble beginnings like this. It was only until the owner’s grandfather, whose dying wish was for her to finally start her food business, passed, that she sent in her application to NBFE without hesitation.
On September 25, Midnight Mercato finally relocated to its new home at the corner of 25th Street and 7th Avenue, in front of The Forum, South Global, Bonifacio Global City.
Mercato Centrale is the biggest night food market in the Philippines where Manila foodies can enjoy home-based food goodness with the backdrop of the mural of art duo Cyrcle from LA, “Between the Lines” (or popularly known locally as the Spaceman).
From the organizers of the popular night food market Mercato Centrale, the BELLYSIMA! Food Fair is a launchpad for passionate up-and-coming food entrepreneurs to share their gourmet, artisanal food creations alongside healthy and organic food products with equally passionate foodies and food enthusiasts!
Some foodies usually go on a staycation this long weekend, so make sure not to miss this Bellysima food trip this Independence Day Weekend at Glorietta 5.
Here’s what you can expect and the confirmed list of participants with layout:
(Text by Paul Wenceslao, Photos and Video by JR Velasquez)
One bright idea, as the old adage goes, leads to another, and in the case of the Filipino food enthusiast, a family favorite recipe or an odd combination of ingredients scrounged up in the cupboard can perhaps lead to the next local food craze. Mercato owners, RJ Ledesma and Anton Diaz, made this a possibility by holding an annual competition for every budding food entrepreneur: The Next Big Food Entrepreneur.
Mercato Centrale, operating a popular chain of food markets all across Metro Manila, came as the battleground for the recently concluded competition, in which every aspirant was welcome to submit an application – in the hope of winning P100,000 as start-up capital along with a six-month free stay at Mercato.
For the past three years, The Next Big Food Entrepreneur has produced a slew of new food businesses coming from various places in the country, and this year’s batch of semifinalists is no different, if not more diverse. There were students who aspire to be full-fledged food entreps, an Indonesian food enthusiast, several individuals who luckily chanced up on the competition’s ads, and a Pinoy Masterchef winner.
“This year’s edition of The Next Big Food Entrepreneur offers a lot of diversity. A large number of creative savory meals were featured,” explains Abbie Sinjian, Experience and Event Manager of the Mercato group.
The food served by the participants ranged from flavorful Indonesian cuisine to the artfully stylized version of the local snack turon, much to the delight of Mercato’s owners as well as those who sampled the food from different booths during the competition’s awarding ceremony last Friday, December 19.
“We had a hard time selecting the winners, since everyone did a wonderful job and served really good food,” Sinjian added. True enough, each of the booths have the potential to make it big in the Philippines’ bustling food industry.
The 2014 TNBFE Winners
Being selected as a semifinalist in The Next Big Food Entrepreneur, which subjects participants to actual selling at a couple of food markets, is already considered a win for the budding entrepreneur. After all, booths get to showcase their wares to the buying public, observing how their products perform after making adjustments to both the food and the booth display. It’s the proverbial first step to establishing a food business.
A total of 14 participants made it to the contest’s semifinal round, all of which having dainty booths and serving noteworthy cuisines. The competition was expectedly stiff, and four came out as the big winners: Bakmi Nyonya, Bigorots, Turonne de Manila Café and Hunger Buster.
The Next Big Food Entrepreneur Winner 2014 series:
Text by Paul Wenceslao, Photos and Video by JR Velasquez
Mercato Centrale, the country’s premier chain of food markets, has served as a launch pad for a plethora of successful food establishments, such as Manang’s Chicken, Spring and Chuck’s Grub among others. Recently, it held a competition for budding food entrepreneurs, doling out a much needed avenue for them to flesh out their gastronomic ideas: The Next Big Food Entrepreneur (NBFE).
This year’s roster of participants, coming up with a diverse lineup of savory delights and desserts, were given an opportunity to showcase their food creations and test the market, and many of them were able to leave good impressions to the buying public. In joining the Next Big Food Entrepreneur, everyone’s a winner; however, in the spirit of competition, there were four that stood out.
The Next Big Food Entrepreneur Winner 2014 series:
Emerging as the overall winner of The Next Big Food Entrepreneur, Bakmi Nyonya impressed both the judges and the buying public with their take on Indonesian food – they serve Indonesian noodles topped with mushrooms, herbs, spices and one’s choice between beef, pork and seafood.
Complementing the noodles are servings of large shrimp dumplings and spiced rice topped with spice sambal. According to Bakmi Nyonya’s co-owner, Gershwin Garcia, they are working with the different layers of flavor, each one being a vital component to one central taste.
“What’s startling about our noodles is that the overall flavor changes whenever different kinds of toppings are added,” explains Gershwin. “Our bakmi goes well with almost every entrée.” He went on to narrate animatedly how a fellow TNBFE participant’s dish, adobong pusit, perfectly blended with his bakmi noodles.
Triumph and having a keen eye for detail are the keys to success for Benguet band vocalist, JR Royol. After all, stringing together words for songs and meticulously minding the taste of cooked dishes are never easy tasks. Royol, however, isn’t one to back down from a challenge, and that challenge required him to trade the microphone for cooking equipment for a while and come up with an array of cuisines based on his roots in Benguet and his sheer love for food.
Prior to joining and winning “Master Chef Pinoy Edition,” Royol has got the Sous-vide method of cooking down pat, and wound up developing yummy dishes, such as the YOLO Humba and his own version of Chicken Pinikpikan (which he proudly calls “Perfect Cooked Chicken”). He has been eying Mercato for a long time, since he views it as a makeshift R&D department for his cooking.
Upon knowing about The Next Big Food Entrepreneur, joining the competition is a rather easy decision. “Paying customers have no bias; in fact, unbiased feedback is sometimes better than sales,” explains Royol. This line of thinking combined with his succulent creations made him an early favorite to win the competition.
Who would’ve thought that a regular afternoon snack such as turon could be tweaked and stylized to become an artisanal meal? Danz Semilla, a food enthusiast, didn’t think of it as a possibility, at first. It just so happened that the game of chance landed on his lap, literally, when he had an extra portion of cookies & cream-flavored butter cream and a saucer of turon.
Creative juices were churned out of Semilla’s mind, as he imagined how the seemingly odd pair would taste like, and alas, he stumbled upon a good idea. Upon mixing turon and butter cream, his taste buds were entranced, so much so that he started building on the idea, taking into account his love for eclairs and turon as well as the unyielding charm of artisanal desserts. The rest is proverbial history. He, then, thought of opening a food store.
Snacking on his new creation, as it happened, was not enough. In truth, Lady Luck would again dab her meddling fingers into Semilla’s life one day while he was going through Facebook. He chanced up on ad for The Next Big Food Entrepreneur at a time when Mercato was nearly done taking in all the participants for the competition.
College is the breeding ground of young entrepreneurs, as students learn the fundamentals on how to come up with a business concept and make its products quite tempting to its target market. Such is the case with Erika Cantor and her friends, owners of the burger booth Hunger Buster. A refined and classy lady, not a lot of people would suspect Cantor as a purveyor of grilled delights in Ateneo de Manila. Well, in this case, big surprises can come in stylish packages. And Hunger Buster’s burgers do pack a wallop in taste and value for money.
Hunger Buster started as a business idea in a class in Ateneo wherein participants are supposed to put up a small business and sell items to students, faculty and other customers. Cantor and her friends – Kenneth Chan, Eries Chan, Brett Monsanto and JC Carlos – unlike the average college slacker, saw this as a challenge not just to get good grades, but to actually make it big on the business front.