The name Kusinata is a portmanteau word derived from the blend of words ‘Kusina’, which means kitchen, and ‘Ata’, one of the indigenous tribes in the Philippines. The Atas (or to some dialects: Aetas, Agta, or Ayta) are one of the earliest known settlers in the country. In the modern-day setting, they are living in mountainous areas around the archipelago.
This unique ethnic fusion concept was conceived from Chef Jay Grey’s college research paper about the indigenous peoples on the island of Negros. Now spearheading as Kusinata’s resident Chef de Cuisine, he works closely with our Ata brothers and sisters, providing them culinary skills training and jobs where they work as hosts, cooks, and servers, adding great value to Kusinata’s diverse and vibrant team.
Since it opened almost two years ago in the Municipality of Don Salvador Benedicto, they have become known for its ever-surprising, taste buds-teasing menu, thus their fearless introduction of transportive flavors, like the Tamalata, a redefined version of the Mexican Tamales and Shakshuka, their own take and style of this famous Mediterranean dish.
Kusinata’s advocacy is not only centered on the Ata indigenous people but also on supporting local produce, sustainability, and nature preservation. Kusinata is also tapping products from farms toiled by Atas to be used as ingredients for the restaurant’s food and beverages.
A weekend meal with the family at Kusinata is truly an amazing back-to-nature gastronomic experience whilst enjoying the majestic canvas of the Malatan-og Mountain and the Malatan-og Falls. They take early table reservations for Friday to Sunday, 8am – 5pm; but if you missed to book or you just happen to pass by the area, walk-ins are welcome too.
Last January, a convoy of high school classmates (now lifelong friends and brothers even), headed for a Recollection (spiritual retreat) at Manggapuri Villas in Don Salvador Benedicto, a quiet, mountainous town in the northern part of the province. We travelled for about thirty minutes from Bacolod City, where we assembled and had lunch.
For many of us, it was the first time we saw each other since March of ’95, our secondary school graduation from Don Bosco Technical Institute in Victorias City. While some stayed in Victorias and Bacolod, some went to universities in Manila and Cebu. We all sort of “moved on with our lives”. Over the last 25 years, we have traversed our own adventures, romances, sagas, soap operas, and fairy tales, so to speak.
Quite a number of our batchmates are based overseas but we try to organize an occasional catch up over food and drinks either in Manila or in Bacolod. But that day, January 29, was no ordinary day. We have reunited once again after twenty-five years—our Silver jubilee.
We weren’t complete though as others can only come later for the alumni homecoming and the unforgettable affair we organized in a hotel ballroom to pay tribute to our former mentors, which, to us, was the highlight event of what our batch has prepared for our turn to host.
The event we organized was entitled, “Our Teachers, Our Heroes.” It was a very rare moment that we got to party with our past teachers and they came in superheroes costume, too. There were fun games, contests, lucky draws (every one of them won something), singing, and dancing. We’re glad that they really enjoyed their time with us, but the truth is, we enjoyed it more. And as the title suggests, they are indeed our heroes and we will always be grateful to them. Always.
Manggapuri has spectacular views, that’s a given, but the hotel resort was most appropriate for our Recollection because of its undisturbed atmosphere and it has its own charming chapel on top of the property. One of the facilitators was also a batchmate of ours, and he invited two other priests to have a talk and share some modern life lessons from the scriptures before he officiated the mass. Saint John Bosco must be so proud.
The venue was booked entirely for our batch from afternoon until the morning of the following day. Manggapuri has seven rooms of varying sizes and it can comfortably accommodate up to 42 guests. It is a stunning venue for weddings, debuts, team buildings, staycations, and other special events. Guests are welcome to bring their own tents.
Another great and important facet of Manggapuri is, of course, the food. The kitchen crew is spearheaded by Chef Lito Manlait. He has been with the family of the owners of Manggapuri for over twenty years. All the dishes that were served for our merienda, dinner, and breakfast were simply delicious. Snaps to Chef Lito and his very friendly, accommodating, and helpful team.
Manggapuri faves:Tablea – which they grow in the family’s hacienda; Puto Maya – with hints of ginger, sugar, and salt; and the Beef Trotter in ginger and tanglad (lemongrass).
As mentioned earlier, that was no ordinary Recollection and get-together for all of us. We bonded together like brothers. Nobody was above anyone and everybody showed each other equal amount of love, acceptance, and respect–just as how Don Bosco treated the youth, all youth.
We were blessed with glorious weather, brilliant facilitators, terrific venue, picture-perfect skies and sunset, fantastic food and spirits, and the very memorable experience of togetherness while reminiscing all the happy, naughty, and funny high school memories. What a lovely celebration of friendship, love, and camaraderie! That won’t be the last time for sure.
Don Bosco – Victorias Batch 95 aims to continue its outreach programs and civic initiatives across the country. Find out more HERE.