MANILA -- Steering an airplane across the sky was the job of Gabriel Mendoza, a pilot for Philippine Airlines (PAL) before the pandemic affected many things worldwide.
Since Mendoza, who served as a second officer for PAL, comes from a family of pilots, he has been traveling extensively since he was a kid. Hence, he was exposed to different cultures through the years, which gave him the advantage to also learn about global cuisines.
“Every time I had a layover, I would explore the cities, try out various restaurants and cuisines,” Mendoza told ABS-CBN News. “Looking back now, those adventures influenced my taste and preferences.”
Mendoza was also inspired to prepare unique dishes from time to time. He associates his flair for certain dishes to a particular song, that allows him to concoct delectable food.
“For some reason also, I easily get stimulated by things around me,” Mendoza said. “Music, colors, experiences, words. Like when I heard Lea Salonga singing her cover of Jose Mari Chan’s ‘Can We Just Stop and Talk Awhile,’ that inspired me to make a mushroom risotto with parmesan crisps that looked like corals, because the song triggered an undersea vibe for me.”
Mendoza got to appreciate good food because of his frequent travels as an airline pilot, that brought him to different parts of the world and explored different cuisines. Yet, he was never a “picky eater.” He always welcomes every new dish in front of him.
“I can eat everything,” Mendoza said. “Food always makes me happy, especially when I see my plate is clean empty. But I have learned to be more adventurous with my food choices.
“In a restaurant, given a choice between the familiar and the novel, I will always go for the new or unfamiliar, because I like to be surprised by food.”
“I have always loved food growing up,” Mendoza continued. “For some reason, I always gravitated to people who also love food. To be honest, it was really more of a passion, I never thought of it as a business. I just got a kick out of people loving the food I made for them.
“Like during the pandemic, I would serve food for some friends as a way to brighten up their day, without bothering to charge for it. Even before the pandemic, I’d brew coffee, mix cocktails and bake or cook for family and friends when I felt like it.”
In August last year, Mendoza had this craving for a pie and cookies he tasted in New York in one of his trips there. He decided to make his own version and replicated it eventually.
It didn’t take long before Mendoza ventured into his first food business, Crack.Ph. “I also like eating out and replicating recipes of food I like,” Mendoza said. “So, I gave the pie my own twist and decided to share it with my friends who ended up loving them.”
Friends and relatives gave Mendoza positive feedback. “That encouraged me to make some more pies and cookies for people I wanted to cheer up,” he related. “But I was losing a lot of money, so later on, I decided to just charge for the ingredients.
“People around me encouraged me to charge more, so I’d have some more income since I wasn’t flying so much then. I set up the Instagram account @crack.ph to document this adventure and sell the pies and cookies through it at the same time.”
Mendoza’s concept of a crack pie came from a New York restaurant. “I’ve never really thought of pies specifically, but when I did have my first crack pie in New York about a year ago, I didn’t know what it was about it,” Mendoza allowed.
“Everything – the flavors, the texture – about it made so much sense. It was all kinds of emotions, sensations popping out with each bite.”
His curiosity was further piqued after he watched a documentary that made him start his crack pie business. “The heartiness and warmth that pie gave out was so in line with [Christina] Tosi’s down-to-earth, endearing personality. She generously shared the recipe online.
“I thought to myself, this is exactly how I want my food to be: An extension of myself. So I gave the pie my own twist, my own take. It’s the same with the New York style chocolate chip cookies we bake.”
Mendoza’s Crack.Ph initially started through orders and deliveries. Eventually, he also plans to expand to a small diner where the pies will be served or perhaps even a just kiosk or counter, where the pies can be displayed.
“Someday, when this pandemic is over, it might be safe to open a real store,” Mendoza said, “But right now, we’re really just enjoying trying to connect with our customers and keeping up with their orders for our pies and cookies online.”
So far, Mendoza has been pleased with the reception he received for his products. “The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive and supportive,” he offered. “We have had to add another baking day just to keep up with the steady stream of orders.
“We bake Mondays for deliveries starting Tuesdays. Then Fridays again, so some clients can enjoy our pies and cookies on weekends. Our order cut-offs are the days before baking day.”
Aviation will always have a special place in the heart of Mendoza. “I met a lot of great people in those four years, with memorable layovers like New York,” he disclosed.
“Adventure-wise, New York has always been a great place to me, but if I had to choose when it comes to food exploring, I’d have to go with Sydney and Melbourne that offer variety of flavors and quality cuisine.
“Every day in those cities manage to surprise me with new experiences with food, like one day I’d be eating a meat pie with the most luscious buttery crust and an ox tongue, uni dish the next.”
While through this pandemic, Mendoza is now focused on his Crack.Ph venture. “As an introvert, I always struggle to communicate with people, but with food, everything comes out naturally,” he admitted. “Food is universal. It’s as straightforward as it could ever get. Food is the love language I use to connect with people.”
Mendoza will apparently continue to connect with people through the love language of food, especially when the pandemic has abated.