There is so much vitriol and hatred on social media these days. I’m not sure why, but it’s a relatively recent phenomenon that’s perhaps fed by a lack of appreciation for facts, a lack of critical analysis, a lack of accountability and the bravado that comes with a veil of anonymity. I personally don’t have a facebook account, and never have, but our Managers in our Cebu office have asked me to post a “reply” as our Zubuchon facebook account is hot and heavy at the moment with all kinds of vitriol…
Apparently, it all started with my totally innocuous brief instagram post the other day with a photo of our Manila menus with the caption “Our Manila menus have just arrived… and the work site is crazed!”
A few hours later, a well-meaning instagram follower must have read my post and decided to spread the news (not necessarily in this order, as I don’t track these things so intently) and a post went up on Yummy.com’s page, then Spot.ph contacted me to ask a few questions and they posted an announcement on their page, then booky.ph posted a revealing post that tracked down our restaurant address to the number of the street (a fact even I was unaware of until then), then ABS-CBN.com, then MB.com (Manila Bulletin), then several other apps and sites, then the following morning, a post on Inquirer.net.
LET ME BE CRYSTAL CLEAR. WE NEVER CONTACTED THESE PUBLICATIONS OR WEBSITES TO ASK THEM TO POST AN ANNOUNCEMENT OR PHOTOS. WE NEVER TALKED TO ANY OF THESE OUTLETS EXCEPT SPOT.PH THAT INITIATED CONTACT WITH ME BY TEXT TO FACT CHECK. WE NEVER PAID NOR HAVE WE GIVEN ANYTHING IN KIND TO THESE OUTLETS AS FAR AS I KNOW, AND I DO NOT PERSONALLY KNOW THE PERSON WHO CONTACTED ME FROM SPOT.PH. Zubuchon is GRATEFUL for their unexpected posts that have apparently been broadcast to some 500,000+ people who follow their feeds, websites, pop-ups on facebook pages, etc. And if only 1 in 10 people even vaguely glanced at this exposure, then a whopping 50,000 people in and around Manila (and elsewhere) have presumably heard that Zubuchon plans to open in Manila soon… And all that mileage for FREE. Thank you social media.
So how did booky.ph get so much detailed information when we never gave them any? Apparently, they read the instagram posts I wrote, they read our Facebook page, they intelligently searched instagram high and low for another reader who had posted a photo taken in front of a tarp at our Makati construction site. They messaged that person and asked for an address. The person replied it was Talisay street. If you google Zubuchon Talisay street, you are led to a mynimo job posting our HR people placed to hire staff that identifies the specific street address of our upcoming restaurant. So you see, while some folks are so sure there is a conspiracy of some sorts, some simple sleuthing leads to facts and likely hypotheses as to how information (and in this case totally factual information) is obtained, mostly with the click of a few keys on your computer or phone.
These social media posts almost all used the same photo of a plate of our lechon, taken WITH attribution from our facebook page. None of these sites (except Spot.ph) contacted me or our GM to cross-check facts or details, nor did we have any input into their choice of words. And honestly, I don’t even really know why this is news, it must have been a slow news day. WE DID NOT FEED, REQUEST, SOLICIT any social media exposure, though I repeat, we are certainly pleased they saw fit to mention us… But these were their headlines, which are the apparent source of the brewing maelstrom:
Yummy.ph : “Zubuchon is Making Its Way to Manila” — factual
Spot.ph : “The 5 Emotional Stages of Discovering That Zubuchon is Opening in Manila” — Catchy and unusual, perhaps some might think a bit OA, but it’s their choice, no?, and it is based on the writer’s opinion, as well as a factual claim that we are opening in Manila.
booky.ph : “Cebu’s famous Zubuchon opening in Manila Soon!!!” — “FAMOUS” is perhaps a word that has gotten knickers in a twist. Famous is defined on Dictionary.com as being : “having a widespread reputation, usually of a favorable nature; renowned, celebrated” So for whatever reason, booky.ph chose this adjective, WE HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH IT. But when someone calls you famous, are you supposed to punch a gift horse in the mouth? Of course not, you accept it quietly and graciously. WE have NEVER ever referred to ourselves as being FAMOUS. Ever.
ABS-CBN.com : “Cebu favorite Zubuchon to open in Manila” — “FAVORITE” is another adjective raising the hair on people’s necks. Favorite is defined as “preferred before others of the same kind”. We had NO SAY in anything that ABS-CBN.com chose to write. And “favorite” is an adjective they chose, WE HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH IT. So if you have a beef with it, take it up with ABS-CBN. We have NEVER ever referred to ourselves as being a FAVORITE or CEBU FAVORITE. Ever.
Primer.com.ph:“It’s Confirmed! Zubuchon to open branch in Manila.” — factual
Inquirer.net : “Cebu’s famous Zubuchon to Open Branch in Makati” — “famous”, same issues as booky.ph above.
The unexpected social media coverage that apparently originated by my posting a photo of our menus on my personal instagram account has apparently stirred up a hornets nest. And my goodness, the vitriol (defined as “cruel and bitter criticism”) is spewing like the sulphuric acid that they used to throw at people in 1800’s Great Britain. To attack and throw acid on someone is also known as vitriolage, I learned something today.
So let me address the key issues as I see them, and those that our staff feel I should reply to:
1. ARE WE THE “FAVORITE” OR “FAMOUS” CEBU LECHON? As I state above, we never claimed it, we never said it, we never wrote it anywhere in our Facebook, website, materials, interviews, etc. NEVER. So if you have a beef with the adjectives used, take it up with the folks who wrote the pieces. And if it bothers you that someone describes something as such, dig deep to figure out where that feeling comes from and what to do about it. As Mayor Osmeña apparently posted today on Facebook “the one thing we learned is that Cebuanos don’t like being told what their favorites are” or something to that effect. I wholeheartedly agree. Thanks Mayor Osmeña, and so happy you dropped by at lunch two weeks ago at the Ms. Universe swimsuit event at Jpark Hotel. We hope you enjoyed the lechon skin at Zubuchon. We know you love all kinds of lechon, from all of Cebu’s best purveyors. :) If there is anything to be learned from this brouhaha, Manila press should be wary of declaring what provincial folks preferences are, lest it seem like Imperial Manila is dictating something to the understandably proud Cebuanos. Sensitive, are we?
2. DID ANTHONY BOURDAIN DECLARE THAT HE ATE “THE BEST PIG, EVER!” in Cebu. Yes, he did in 2008, but which was aired in February 2009. And he wrote it in a book I still have on my bookshelves. And he said it on camera for an episode that was played for a global audience of 180+ million people. And actually, he was kind enough to say something nice about the Cebuano lechon he tasted on at least FOUR SEPARATE RECORDED OCCASIONS:
“Best Pig, Ever!”
Anthony Bourdain, 2008 (program aired Feb. 2009)
No Reservations, Philippines
On the hierarchy of pork he’s eaten around the world: “Puerto Rico’s lechon is great. In Bali, the lechon is even better. And in the Philippines, the lechon is slightly better than that. It’s the best of the best.“
Anthony Bourdain, October 2009
Interview by Frank Bruni of the New York Times
Food & Wine Magazine Blog
“…it doesn’t get better than that…”
(referring to the roast pig he ate in Cebu)
Anthony Bourdain, 2013
Interview in Promo clip for Parts Unknown, CNN
“I had really fond memories of the last time I had lechon in the Philippines. In fact, not to kiss your ass, but it is the finest pig I’ve ever had.”
Anthony Bourdain, 2016
Parts Unknown Episode filmed in Manila
So while you may/may not care or agree/disagree with him, he SAID it. And it was a boon for Cebuano lechon. It was a boon for Filipino food. It put the city and the dish on the global stage like never before. I received over 500+ emails requesting more information about it in the months that followed. We hosted several local and international TV hosts who visited Cebu in the wake of Mr. Bourdain’s visit. No matter what you feel about Mr. Bourdain, what he did and said about Cebuano lechon was kind, positive and helpful for Cebuano and Filipino food. Period. Did you not want that for the food from your beloved home province? Did you do anything to advance Filipino cuisine 8 years ago before it was cool and chichi to do so? Did you agree to host an unknown stranger who emailed twenty times beforehand and explain and answer anything and everything they asked (before they disclosed who it was?). Did you prep your place of work for a visit that included 8 crew members and four cameramen? Did you spend the money to show them the best food you could personally muster? Did you give them a tour of a local dried fish market and previously visit it three times and try and learn as much about dried fish as you could so you were prepared? Did you do this all proudly with no expectation of anything in return? Probably not.
The exact same recipe for the lechon we served Mr. Bourdain is the same recipe we serve at Zubuchon today. And it wasn’t until nearly a year after we started to sell lechon, repeat a YEAR AFTER in 2010, that we sent Mr. Bourdain a message to ask his permission to use his quote “Best Pig, Ever!” and he graciously and quickly replied just a few hours later, that we could, of course, use the quote. We aren’t bragging, we are simply using a factual quote from a well-thought of culinary ambassador with global experience. And an extreme penchant for pork. Why that riles people is for them to figure out. Surely if he said that about any other thing he ate on his Philippine trips, those folks would be proud to state it as well. What’s it called, a crab-like mentality? And honestly, I would have thought by now, 8 years later, he would have found another pork dish that would have pleased him more than our roast pig that we served him on a balmy afternoon on a hill just behind the Cebu State Capitol…
3. BASHERS SAY, “ZUBUCHON ‘IS NOT’ a CEBU LECHON”
So what, pray tell, is a “CEBU LECHON”?? If one goes back just 30 years, few if any Cebu lechons used MSG, a flavor enhancer, and a shortcut instead of a myriad of natural, locally grown stuffing ingredients. I have nothing against people who like MSG, I am simply stating that Cebu lechons of yore didn’t have it at all. Cebu lechons from the 1960’s and before that had a paler skin, and if darker, were likely painted with a liquor popular in local towns, like Talisay lechons, for example. Go back 100-200 years and you realize soy sauce was more of a luxury, probably imported, and not in common use in lechons or adobo, for that matter. Go back further than that, to say the time Magellan landed, and you are talking simple spit roasted pig, with salt, possibly coconut water, some simple herbs and spices. Or at least that would be a historian’s best guess, not counting documentary proof from Pigafetta, Magellan’s chronicler. So what version of Cebu lechon are you referencing?? And why LIMIT IT TO ONLY ONE version? Who is to say that is the ONLY VERSION?
Besides, we created ZUBUCHON, precisely because we wanted to do our own version of a lechon. Not just to copy and do what others were already doing well. To innovate, to go back in time in some senses (no soy sauce, no msg, just coconut water, etc.) yet tweak it a little bit by adding rosemary and using a bit of olive oil. What is so odd with that? The name was taken from a 16th century map, which we actually own, that refers to the island as ZZUBU or “ZUBU” when we registered it. So even there, we reference the past, and try to ring true to it, with a modern twist, as I have repeatedly written. So no, our intention was not to make the same old, same old, which millions of folks love, but it just wasn’t our intention. So we called it ZUBUCHON. And you know what, I think it has every right to be referred to as a Cebuano lechon if you wanted to. Certainly just as much right as a lechon that is stuffed with green onions, garlic, a cup or two of MSG, lots of salt, brushed with bottled soy sauce and roasted over coals. Who said the latter type is the only lechon worthy of being referred to as a CEBU LECHON? It might be more popular, but it has no exclusive right to the moniker Cebu lechon. None. It’s like saying there can be only one version of Adobo.
Folks who bash so vociferously should perhaps note that Carcar lechons are often stuffed with pasyotes, or epazote, a marijuana looking like herb that came with Mexican sailors brought over during the galleon trade some 300-400 years AGO. Do you hear the bashers saying that’s an odd herb? That Carcar lechon isn’t worthy of being called a Cebuano lechon? Grow up. Take off your blinders. Broaden your minds. Educate yourself. Study some history. It’ll make your arguments more credible, substantial and believable.
4. “THE ONLY FOLKS WHO EAT AT ZUBUCHON ARE TOURISTS.”
This is one of those apocryphal assertions that will be believed by folks who think Elvis is still alive, the Loch Ness monster is real, the world is flat, and that all foreigners, outsiders, people unlike “us” are evil. Where does this lack of logic and xenophobic behavior come from? We have run Zubuchon for nearly 8 years now, and so you must understand we are in the best position to know our customer base. Here it is:
– Roughly 20-25% of our restaurant guests are local and foreign tourists. Of that figure, roughly 2% are foreign tourists, and say 23% or so are Manila or other provincial based tourists. We are proud of this. We are so happy guests come from all over the place. And we don’t automatically think tourists have bad taste, which is what haters seem to suggest when they say we only serve tourists who couldn’t possibly appreciate well-prepared food.
– That means, a solid 75-80% of our restaurant guests are locals. And they are locals who have come back to us time and again. Otherwise there is no way we could have opened up 8 restaurant locations in just 5 years. Bashers only need to visit our SM mall locations to see if their bizarre assertion that 80-100% of our guests are blonde and blue eyed, or only speak Tagalog, Ilocano and Chabacano. :) Seriously. Tsk. Tsk.
And better yet, when locals bring tourists, you should hear what they say, they sound downright proud to be hosting them for a meal at Zubuchon. So while you may wish to make yourselves believe no one like you eats with us, then we are happy that no one like you eats with us. We are happy to serve the guests who happily come to eat with us. We will never make everyone happy, nor will we satisfy the myriad of personal tastes that abound in the province. Duh.
5. “MR.BINAMIRA IS NOT CEBUANO”
This one makes me laugh. And makes my grandmother turn in her grave. First of all who cares? Is it not possible for a non-Cebuano to excel at making a Cebuano dish? The logic is so flawed one would be forgiven for thinking intelligence, or lack of it, is an issue. Does Margarita Fores, a friend, an Ilongga, self-trained cook not have a right to excel at Italian food and become Asia’s Best Female Chef? Is the best rated restaurant in the country not run by a Spaniard at the helm of the kitchen, serving Filipino inspired dishes? Does the Chef at Antonio’s, another highly rated restaurant and also an Ilonggo I believe, not make brilliant continental inspired dishes? Are not some of the top restaurants in Cebu, frequented by many of the upscale bashers run by non-locals serving local and international fare? Should Mr. Gokongwei not excel in food, real estate development and airlines in Manila just because he is originally from Cebu? Should the Gotianuns not likewise run a real estate conglomerate based out of Manila because they are from Cebu? Are the Aboitizes evil for having moved their corporate headquarters to Manila from Cebu and control business all over the country? Of course not. That’s just absurd. ABSURD.
For the record, I was BORN in Cebu, which technically makes me Cebuano. I moved to Manila and grew up there. I went to school in Manila, then to university and graduate school abroad. I lived and worked in places like Singapore, Jakarta, New York, London, Riyadh, Mumbai, Melbourne, Vienna, Hong Kong, Hanoi, Bangkok, Washington, DC, etc. I moved home in 1995 and started to spend a lot of time in Cebu in 2000 or so. My father was a Patalinghug, of the Opon (Mactan) Patalinjugs. My grandmother used to say her family went back several hundred years on the island of Mactan. There certainly are enough mayors and civil servants in that family, and roads named after them. My mother was a Veloso-Abueva, her mother from another established Cebu family, tracing her roots back to the Velosos who have lived here and Leyte, etc. for centuries. It’s a huge clan by now, I gather, and includes a rather infamous member of late. My wife’s family is Cebuano in roots as well, and is related to several of the folks that bashers might refer to as true blue CEBUANO. My wife, daughter and I hold Philippine passports, and never anything else (unlike the significant number of wealthy folks including Cebuanos who hold dual citizenship for convenience). So I am curious just where this concern about my being Cebuano or not is relevant or useful??
6. “ZUBUCHON MUST SPEND MILLIONS AND EMPLOY A BATTERY OF MARKETING/PR EXPERTS AND FIRMS”
Hahahaha. That’s the funniest thing ever. Our marketing department consists of one young wonderful staff member for nearly 15 outlets (restaurants, kiosks, drive-thrus). She also happens to have won the best song/songwriter award for a Visayan pop artist two years ago. And she is paid a modest salary. She does all our posters, Facebook posts, radio ad placements (she wrote and sang our Zubuchon jingles herself), packaging, stickers, menus, etc. with the help of our GM. We have an outsourced graphic designer, who did our logo 8 years ago, and does work for us to this day. We have NEVER employed an ad agency, a PR person, etc. We do not pay bloggers for posts, but we have hosted bloggers local and foreign, mostly at the request of the DOT, and we have also hosted television shows, movies, documentaries. We buy newspaper ads very rarely, usually to announce a new store. We have appeared in over 20+ newspaper and magazine articles, and NEVER ONCE DID WE PAY FOR THEM unless they were explicit advertisements. So you see, folks who think we actually spend money for the coverage we have gotten, WE DON’T. Doesn’t that just burn you up in a big way? This most recent vitriolic brouhaha is going to actually HELP us, despite your attempts to jointly push down Facebook ratings, leave vitriolic messages to dishearten our employees, etc. Because in the end, most publicity is good publicity. And all I did was put ONE INSTAGRAM post with a copy of our menu the other day. Now that’s a PR lesson for the PR professionals. How to get a message to 500,000 people for zero pesos. SAY THAT AGAIN, ZERO PESOS. :)
7. WHAT ZUBUCHON THINKS IS IMPORTANT TO US. Not what you think should be important.
1. We helped bring positive attention to Cebuano lechon. We innovated and charted our own path. We developed a new brand. We upped the ante with respect to lechon dining in Cebu. Before we opened, how many lechon restaurants were bright, airy, clean, air conditioned, frequented by locals and tourists alike? How many followed after us? Be honest. We introduced menu items and new products that are widely copied today. We re-introduced old products and dishes that we took inspiration from those who came before us.
2. We buy as much of our ingredients locally as possible. We use only backyard raised pigs. No commercial piggery pigs. We use as much local stuffing ingredients (except a few herbs and olive oil) as possible, spending upwards of PHP500 in stuffing/ingredients for each pig. We do not use ADDED MSG, and while that may turn off a large chunk of the market, that is WHO WE ARE, and there’s lots of room for other purveyors who prefer the MSG route rather than achieving flavor the old-fashioned way. If they are so proud of it, why don’t they scream “WE ADD LOTS OF MSG” to our lechons so locals and tourists alike will know that’s what they do??
3. We treat our people right. We have paid fair wages and all benefits from the beginning. We are 82% permanent staff, not ENDO. We have had NO BROKEN SHIFTS SINCE WE OPENED FOR BUSINESS. We don’t pay piecemeal like others who might pay say PHP50-100 a lechon they cook. (But if they burn it, they fine staff and sometimes make them pay for it.) We have relatively low employee turnover, more training than most places, and we gainfully employ nearly 300 staff members who in turn support over 1,200 family members. So in short, we have employed lots of Cebuanos very decently.
4. We try to provide good customer service. And while we often have shortfalls in this area, we do try harder and train more than we ever have before…
5. We are proud to be a Cebu-born and based company, and we look forward to opening our first restaurant in Manila.
6. We are NOT the biggest lechon company in Cebu, by far. In fact, we are only 4th or 5th in terms of lechons cooked. But we never aspired to be the biggest. We just aspired to do things our way, the best way for US and our clients. And we know we will only ever appeal to a small proportion of the dining population. We are happy with that. Not sure why others can’t be too. Whatever did we do to you to earn the vitriolic responses you so proudly place on our Facebook page, for others to see and know that you are so angry…
So before bashers get smug about throwing stones left and right, I ask the simple question, “Why Doesn’t Everyone Just Strive to be Better, not BITTER?”
Innovate and invent and create better products.
Raise the quality and standards of everything that you do.
Employ more people and employ them well — pay better, no broken shifts, pay all SSS, Philhealth & Pag-Ibig on time.
Build local brands rather than just look to everything imported.
Think of more productive and positive ways to spend your time.
Actually do something that benefits others who need it more than you do.
Be proud of what’s good, not denigrate others to make yourself feel more superior.
Understand what factual, logical and defensible assertions are.
Finally, I have always been asked by interviewers, friends and family what constitutes a great lechon? And my answer, and I think I have been quoted on this on more than one occasion, has always been… “Any lechon that is properly sourced from more natural surroundings, is stuffed with fresh ingredients (no MSG, my personal preference), and cooked with love over natural coals, and eaten while the steam still rises from its butt, is a great lechon.” I have enjoyed great Filipino lechons in Bacolod, Cebu, Bohol, Manila Legazpi, Palawan, Mindoro, Boracay, Quezon, Batangas, Manila, Tarlac and Ilocos. And great international lechons in Hong Kong, Singapore, Bali, Madrid, Barcelona and Lisbon. And no, I NEVER, EVER said Zubuchon was “the best pig, ever”, Mr. Bourdain kindly said that for us, multiple times. Thanks again, Tony. You and I seem to be pissing off a lot of petty, envious, illogical folks lately. :)