Until she began selling soups, spreads and dips from her kitchen two months ago, Johanna Garcia worked in government and the corporate world. A stint at Landbank led to a job in the finance department. But her longest stay—six years—was at HSBC where she was SVP for communications and corporate sustainability.
“For a long time I enjoyed what I was doing, but last year I began noticing that I wasn’t as excited and passionate about my job. That’s when I started my blog (www.realgirltoykitchen.com),” Garcia said. In it, she chronicles the minor victories and tiny mishaps in her compact kitchen in her condo at Bonifacio Global City.
Although she wasn’t sure at the time—it was August 2012—she knew that if she left her day job she would be doing something that revolved around or dealt with food.
Not many people know it, but before she started working at Landbank 10 years ago, Garcia was already selling her bottled dips and spreads at bazaars. She managed to continue her sideline during her early days at Landbank, but had to give it up when the workload in the office became heavy.
She learned to cook by herself when she moved to the US after graduating from university.
“I never really cooked until I lived in Manhattan. I was always so busy, so the only time I was able to do any cooking was maybe once a week. I also taught myself to cook because I enjoyed entertaining, having friends over,” she said.
Fast-forward to 2013. Before Garcia tendered her resignation at Landbank, friends and Facebook contacts already knew that she was cooking up something. The result was Real Girl Toy Kitchen, a selection of kitchen essentials made almost exclusively with organic ingredients: two soups (Roasted Pumpkin and Roasted Tomato); Spicy Chili Con Carne; three sauces (Basil Pesto, Chimichurri and Puttanesca); two dips (Hummus and Black Olive Tapenade); and two mains that need to be ordered three days in advance (Moroccan Chicken with lemon and olives, and Lamb Stew with rosemary).
“It’s basically food that I would eat myself,” Garcia said.
“As people grow older, they usually want to eat healthier or will opt for healthier options,” she pointed out. “Many people complain that they don’t have time to spend cooking at home. With Real Girl Toy Kitchen soups, dips and sauces, they can quickly cook up some whole-grain pasta and top it with the basil pesto or the olive tapenade, or they can quickly steam some fish and spoon some puttanesca over it.”
Garcia is proud that her customers who are mostly friends and friends of friends—it has still all been by word of mouth, she said—are willing to experiment with her products. She gets a lot of repeat business now because she is willing to forego a sale if a customer is not satisfied.
“If I get any complaints, I’m perfectly willing to replace the product at no extra cost. I am more interested in cultivating repeat customers,” she said.
Fortunately, there haven’t been many complaints since she makes it a point to use the best ingredients she can find or which her suppliers can provide. For her soups, she makes her own chicken stock using the chopped-up backs of organic chicken.
“You can really taste the difference between canned chicken stock and stock you make yourself,” she said. “My mother, who is a very picky eater, can tell if the stock used came from a can, was made with a bouillon cube or was made from scratch. I always make sure she samples all of my products. If she says it’s good, then I’m confident it is really good.”
To this end, she does not scrimp on ingredients. The herbs and mushrooms she uses are all organically grown while the beef in the chili con carne is “organic, grass-fed ground beef.”
Unlike commercial pesto that sometimes uses cashews in place of the traditional and more expensive pine nuts, hers is made the classic way—with organic basil, extra-virgin olive oil, garlic, parmesan and pine nuts.
The only canned item she uses are canned Italian tomatoes because the quality of fresh local tomatoes is inconsistent; sometimes they are too sour.
“I said that I liked entertaining at home, and I do because I am able to control what goes into the food I prepare,” Garcia said. She admits that organic food comes at a premium, but then the quality is always better. “Like I’ve always said: Pay your grocer, not your doctor.”
Listening to Garcia talk, one can tell that she has found her new passion. More than making a profit, she wants to give Filipinos healthier food options. She credits her years in the corporate world for preparing her for life as a real girl in a toy kitchen.
“I want to be the Trader Joe’s of the Philippines!” she said, referring to the US West Coast grocery chain stocked with healthy and organic food options. “I want to recreate that time when people sat down to eat real food, a time when they weren’t so busy or tired to cook. With my kitchen essentials, I hope to make life easier for them.”
For inquiries, call 7999120, e-mail [email protected] or visit www.realgirltoykitchen.com.
PHOTOS BY RAOUL J. CHEE KEE