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Inside the Filipino hotel buffet championing culture and social responsibility

Kusina is a prime example of an upscale establishment driven by its advocacy to give back to the community

Photos by Samantha Ong

From the get-go, Hilton Manila’s Kusina was intended to be more than just a Filipino buffet restaurant. It was created to be a champion of culture and a medium for the hotel’s corporate social responsibility to support the local community. “It’s all about making sure we‘re giving back to our community,” says executive chef Dennis Leslie.

Kusina is located on the third floor of Hilton Manila
A SUSTAINABLE START

At the start of its conception, when Kusina was nothing more than an idea, the plan was to make sure every facet of the restaurant was filled with meaning and impact. From the interiors to the recipes, each detail was painstakingly thought out to create a true Filipino experience.

Kusina’s plates are all sourced from local potters, the mats are recycled from rubber tires and old leather cuts, and the glasses are made from upcycled wine bottles. This is all partnered with tribal patterns, tiled floors, and wooden furniture found in the buffet restaurant, completing its sustainable, Filipino aesthetic.

As for the ingredients, Kusina sources its vegetables from Casa di Don Bosco, a farm in Balete, Batangas that aims to transform the lives of underprivileged children under its care. “It’s a double-whammy for us, a double-positive story because we’re helping Don Bosco by giving them income and we’re also getting organic produce in return,” explains Leslie.

The buffet includes several sections such as the Salad Bar, which serves fresh products sourced from local farmers, and the Dampa Paluto or sea kitchen
Kusina’s Panaderia section offers a wide selection of bread, pastries, and desserts
HERITAGE RECIPES

When it came to the menu, it was a no-brainer to zero in on Filipino cuisine. “We really wanted to focus on celebrating traditional Filipino recipes and getting that across to our customers in the most presentable manner,” says Leslie. “It’s all about [pushing for] local and supporting the country as well.”

As upscale as Kusina might seem at first glance, there’s a comforting vibe that permeates the air, partly thanks to wooden furniture that create a cozy atmosphere matched with a menu full of Filipino comfort dishes. “It’s like you’re going to your grandma’s house for dinner,” says Leslie. “Even the decorations have some sort of element tracing back to the culture and heritage of the Philippines and the food reflects that, too.”

Kusina is a collaborative environment with a menu borne out of the collective recipes and experiences of the chefs under Hilton Manila’s umbrella. For example, the kare-kare and lechon come from the family recipes of executive sous chef Patricia Mesina and senior banquet sous chef Lord Carlo Bayaban, respectively, giving new depth to the establishment’s menu and driving its heritage advocacy home.

What makes it all the more laudable is that every dish in Kusina is cooked as authentically as possible, without preservatives or MSG. “Our stocks are made from ingredients, and not from a packet. It’s something we’re really proud of,” says Leslie.

Hilton Manila’s executive chef Dennis Leslie
QUINTESSENTIALLY FILIPINO

Leslie is also proud to say that their take on Filipino cuisine sticks to the original recipes as much as possible. “There are so many twists. We’re moving so far away from the original [recipes] that nobody even knows what the original is anymore.”

One apparent move that retains that stronger sense of tradition is their dampa-style seafood section. Guests can choose from the day’s fresh catch and then pick how they’ll be cooked, in true dampa fashion.

The dampa section has a wide range of fresh catches that guests can choose from

Leslie has high hopes for Kusina’s future as regional private dinners are currently under works. “As we grow and develop, we want to focus on strengthening our positioning in this field by doing a lot of regional dinners [and] focus on regions in the Philippines,” he says. This will come in the form of a private experience for guests who can witness chefs and cooks from around the country prepare their heritage dishes right before them.

At its core, Kusina is an establishment with a message to support the local economy embedded in every detail. “We’re not just talking about being sustainable, we’re not just talking about supporting local, we’re not just talking about reducing food miles—we’re serious about it,” says Leslie. “We try to make sure that what we say is what we do as well.”

In partnership with Resorts World Manila 

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