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No travel to the Philippines is complete without a pasalubong. Inspired by this concept, Rica Buenaflor founded QueRica, a Filipino brand that celebrates the pili nut, one of the world’s finest hand-harvested nuts.
“The unique taste and story of the pili nut make it an extraordinary Filipino product. An epitome of fine Filipino gastronomy,” she said. “QueRica aims is to make the pili nut synonymous with the Philippines and to elevate the way Philippine products are viewed in the world market.”
Uplifting her roots
QueRica’s beginnings are rooted in Buenaflor’s culinary journey, which began in 2015. Her cooking skills were honed under the guidance of esteemed mentors at the Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, where famous chefs such as Julia Child and Giada de Laurentiis learned their way around the kitchen.
Just like Child who brought French cuisine to American consciousness, Buenaflor utilized French techniques on Filipino dishes after getting her Grand Diplôme in 2022. This would lead to her “Aha!” moment when she saw the potential of the pili nut after using it in one of her creations.
“It thrives in unique weather conditions; it’s a superfood, especially with its high healthy fat content,” she explained. “And the Philippines is the only country in the world that can produce the pili nuts in the quantity and quality that we are known for,” she explained.
Bicol, Buenaflor’s home province, is responsible for more than 80% of the country’s pili nut production.
A cut above the rest
Buenaflor got the name QueRica from her nickname and a popular Spanish expression describing delicious food.
“‘Qué rica’ means ‘how rich’ or ‘how tasty’ in Spanish. We chose this name because it is my name, and it is an expression that can be used to describe our pili nuts,” she explained.
Buenaflor shared that what makes pili nuts from Bicol special is how they grow on volcanic soil which is rich in nutrients and minerals. Pili trees thrive in warm and humid climate.
“The terroir, seasonality, and uniqueness of the pili nut can be likened to premium and luxury products like champagne, truffles, caviar, and foie gras. It is really so special.”
Seeing how special the pili nut is, specifically its taste and texture, she decided to open QueRica last year.
But Buenaflor does not stop there. Further elevating the humble pili nut, she prepares the nuts in the style she was taught at Le Cordon Bleu. “You have to taste our products to understand why our pili nuts are a cut above the rest,” she said.
A tough nut to crack
Despite her enthusiasm for her products, Buenaflor observed that Filipinos do not see the value of the pili nut, with many seeing it as a lowly product. Buenaflor and her team took it upon themselves to educate their market about how special the nut is.
“We have a national gem,” she enthused. “It’s hard to grow and process the pili nuts that’s why they are not cheap. In fact, Filipinos find our products expensive. But when we introduced them to the foreign market, they find so much value in them.”
The pili nut’s seasonality and reliance on natural harvest are other challenges. “But these are also what makes it so special. There’s only so much ‘human intervention’ that can be done. Mother Nature plays a big role in the availability of pili nuts,” she said.
Promoting Filipino pride, one pili nut at a time
Despite these challenges, Buenaflor presses on with QueRica, as her business allows her to dabble in her two passions: the culinary arts and bringing pride to the Philippines.
When asked what is to be expected from QueRica in the years to come, she said that it is her dream for her pili nuts to be a major player in the global food scene, found in the same specialty stores where you buy truffle, foie gras, champagne, and caviar. “Pili nuts deserve to be positioned this way,” she enthused.
With Buenaflor on her way to fulfilling her dreams, she advises people who want to pursue a local business to believe in their product, be steadfast, and never give up.
“Local business is the most rewarding in the sense that you feel that you have contributed locally and your scope of influence can be felt by those around you, those that matter the most.”
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Editor’s Note: BrandedUp is designed to provide you with insightful, inspiring and educational content created by PhilSTAR L!fe in collaboration with brands like Que Rica.