Those of us old–or cool—enough to have listened to Deadeye Dick’s now-classic “New Age Girl” rock ditty know that the song’s main character Mary Moon is vegetarian. And that it is sung quite tongue-in-cheek, as if the vocalist is trying to say he can’t be one, but he’s still the star, period.
Fast forward to this 18-year-old new millennium, and the legend of Mary Moon is still alive (remember, she would outlive “all the septuagenarians”), and it’s not so ironic anymore. Vegetarians do exist, and their tribe is increasing.
They don’t eat meat. They don’t like the bone (if you mean it literally, We don’t know about the suggestive part). But some do love singing on the (micro) phone.
Increasing by the day and campaigning for a meatless society in an ever-more relevant tone, vegans and vegetarians have figuratively elevated themselves from just some self-styled girlfriends of rock stars to being the rock stars themselves. Clearly, it is a pack of significant shifters from the life of excess famous musicians are known for.
In the past few years, Manila has been a key concert spot for globally recognized performers with the same no-to-meat credo. The list is practically a constellation of stars: Coldplay, Third Eye Blind, Panic at the Disco, Jason Mraz, Charlie Puth, Ariana Grande, One Direction’s Harry Styles, and just recently guitar guy genius Ed Sheeran and this generation’s pop king Bruno Mars.
Amazingly, one vegetarian restaurant in an unassuming corner of Jupiter Street in Makati City has catered to all these international stars aforementioned: Corner Tree Café. Though the restaurant isn’t a full vegan place, it’s one that delivers delicious comfort food sans the meat. Its owner, Chiqui Mabanta, somehow saw the need for a fine, vegetarian place long before Manila transformed into a concert hub that it is today.
Well, the early bird catches the worm. Well, in this case, the music stars.
Thus, Corner Tree Café, offering Pinoy dishes, sandwiches, salads, pizzas, appetizers, desserts, and specially formulated drinks, took the advantage of its world-class reputation in satisfying the craving of choosy palates afforded by modern pop icons. The plot simply made it into a go-to-brand among their kind.
“I have been obsessed with vegetarian food as a cuisine since the late ‘90s, having been exposed to it in cities like London, Brighton, San Francisco. It was an exciting world and it was uncharted territory,” shared Chiqui whose team, in just a couple of weeks’ apart, recently catered to two of this decade’s biggest draws: Sheeran and Mars.
Corner Tree Cafe was established in May 2009 in a quaint location in Makati City, crucially not inside a mall. Chiqui’s group was turned down by big malls because, apparently, these giant commercial complexes didn’t feel that Filipinos were ready for vegetarian food (remember the failed Bodhi enterprise in SM Malls?). This turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
“For a decade I was waiting for someone to open one in Manila. No one did so I decided to do it myself,” she looked back.
For many vegetarians, picky personalities or plain foodies, the main point of being plant-based in their dietary choices is that innate love of animals, and/or the respect for the flesh and the condemnation of all forms of cruelty. Rock icon Joan Jett pointed out that there’s no difference in eating a bloody steak and slitting and cutting her dog open. Grande herself expressed that she loves animals more than some people. She also stated that a plant-based diet expands life and makes one happier.
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Promoting health is another key point in embracing a plant-based diet. It’s not a coincidence that the legendary vegan Sir Paul McCartney has not been reported sick or has outlived most of his contemporaries.
For Chiqui, knowing that you are helping the planet in reducing pollution and toxic chemicals, greenhouse gases, and saving water by going on a plant-based diet makes the effort no doubt a noble cause. It was a long struggle for her to get the business off the ground. But with big-name stars now among its fast-increasing clientele, it sure made the payoff worth the wait.
A couple of them, celebrity jazz guitarist Stanley Jordan and Nathalie Emmanuel of “Game of Thrones” fame, actually went to Corner Tree Café themselves. Former US Vice President and Nobel laureate Al Gore, a “rock star” in his own right, even prepared snacks himself with the help of the CTC crew.
Iconic music act Morrissey, famous for his “Meat is Murder” cry, has even his whole crew come in to the country in full vegan regalia.
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Chiqui knows taste is king for people refraining from meat. But that doesn’t mean the fun of eating has been taken out, as well. She argued, “If I am going to give up meat, the food better be good!” It’s this singular objective CTC has constantly set its sights on.
“I enjoyed experimenting, and so did the cooks I hired. It was their first time to eat food without meat, and they enjoyed it.”
It helped that she herself had been a meat-eater for a long time. The dishes had to stand on their own and be excellent. By doing so, she was able to introduce a new kind of dining experience among residents of Manila and visiting concert artists from across the pond.
She further stressed, “I wanted meat-eaters to feel welcome and not miss the meat. Today, I would say around 80% of the diners are meat-eaters who come not necessarily for health reasons, but simply because they like the food. I am proud the cafe has achieved that.”
Asian agricultural studies have shown that Filipinos are among those who consume the least amounts of fruits and vegetables. With the proliferation of cheap, Western-based fast-food joints that churn out more chicken, pork, and beef dishes than the livestock industry can naturally supply, a vegan/vegetarian diet has traditionally been seen more as a “whim” of the moneyed elite.
Yet, that kind of myth is now rapidly being debunked, with vegan restaurants with middle-class priced fare now sprouting from various key corners of the megacity. CTC, being one of the first of these dining establishments, has taken the lead in encouraging individuals to make the dietary switch, having come up with recipes both sumptuous and competitively priced.
“One day,” Chiqui continued, “when there is higher consciousness among people in Manila about this special diet, we will go completely vegan. Our job now is to get people in the door and experience meals without meat and usher them into a meatless world.”
The world-renowned celebrities CTC caters to have become instant endorsers not only of her business but more importantly of the whole concept of a plant-based diet. It is a thoughtfully chosen lifestyle that should influence their legions of fans, at least here in Manila, in leading a compassionate, earth-friendly society.
By eating no meat, these stars and their entourage have effectively given the defenseless, hapless animals a voice the whole world can’t help but listen to.
(Editor’s note: Although Corner Tree Café did, indeed, cater to all the aforementioned artists and bands and their entourage, it has not been confirmed if the celebrities themselves are completely vegan/vegetarian. It has been confirmed via other sources that all members of Morrissey—including the production crew—are vegan. So are Ariana Grande and Al Gore. The rest are still to be confirmed.)
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