On the eve of her food launch at Misto restaurant at Seda Vertis North, where she is director of sales and marketing, Cinty Yñiguez was still working at 12:30 am, yet managed to make it to the Quezon City hotel bright and early at 6 the next day to help set up the venue. Come the event proper at noon, she remained sprightly and on her feet, preparing food bowls for guests from behind the plexi glass-shielded buffet counter until 2 pm. “And she’s in heels!” marvels PR maven Berry Marfori.
Cinty’s source of energy: plant-based cuisine, much like her sumptuous, curated spread served at Misto’s buffet for lunch and dinner from Thursdays to Sundays.
Call it a vegetarian’s dream, a far cry from the limited options and cardboard taste and consistency of veggie dishes from back in the day. At the pasta station, it’s easy to go overboard on the spinach lasagna, eggplant parmigiana, truffle mushroom tagliatelle, and red pesto fusilli. All delicious and meat-free, they get even the carnivores’ stamp of approval. Ditto with the Asian station, which includes yummy pad thai, fried vegetable spring roll, pak choi with sesame and sweet chili glaze, green curry, and crab cakes (one of the few non-vegetable entrees in this buffet, along with grilled fish and shrimp skewers).
The soup station was really tempting—picture yourself going back for second helpings of French onion soup, ramen, or laksa, all prepared with a delectable vegetable stock base.
But those will have to be savored at another time. The goal was to sample as many dishes from each food station and still have enough space in the tummy for a hearty Buddha Bowl. Think of it as Mongolian barbecue minus the meat: After choosing your grain of choice (white rice, brown rice, adlai, quinoa), you then have your pick of a wide range of plant-based toppings.
There’s no right or wrong combination: Avocado, bean sprouts, carrots, caramelized red onions, chickpeas, red cabbage, roaster garlic, sautéed medley of mushrooms, snow peas, marinated tofu, chia seeds, flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, black and white sesame seeds, and roasted cashews and pine nuts give your Buddha Bowl a mouthwatering mélange of textures, tastes, and healthy nutrients.
Wait staff served shooters of bright-colored, freshly blended veggie-and-fruit drinks. The favorite was the refreshing spinach and kale, perked up with a citrusy combo of apple, orange, and pineapple. For dessert, a chia seed pudding, with its light and creamy consistency and sprinkling of fruit bits, was a pleasant palate-cleanser. But don’t refuse when the server offers you a bite-size vegan apple pie topped with vanilla ice cream.
Long before today’s trendy plantitos and plantitas, Yñiguez was the OG, harvesting her own veggies and experimenting with plant-based cooking way before the practice was in vogue. “I’ve been an advocate of healthy eating for about 20 years,” she says.
She’s also a certified yoga teacher, and taught private and group classes while working as hotel executive in Singapore and Hong Kong. The latter was where she earned her Certificate in Clinical Nutrition at Hong Kong University.
A plant-based or plant-forward lifestyle doesn’t necessarily mean eliminating animal protein
When she returned to the Philippines in 2015, she introduced healthy eating gradually to what was then a niche market. Two years later, she founded Naked Foods, a brand of handcrafted, preservative-free plant-based savories, sweets, and condiments.
“Nothing abrupt or drastic,” she says of her early game plan. “It was just all about eating well and shifting towards more plants. A plant-based or plant-forward lifestyle doesn’t necessarily mean eliminating animal protein. It’s just a shift in mindset, in making plant sources your main dish and your non-plant sources as your sides.”
Experts have often extolled the virtues of following a plant-based diet. Rich in nutrients, it’s been credited for lowering levels of cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar, as well as keeping one’s weight down.
The Mediterranean diet, which promotes consuming an abundance of fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains, fish, seafood, and extra virgin olive oil, and eating red meat sparingly, was voted “Best Overall Diet,” “Healthiest Diet,” “Easiest Diet to Follow,” and best diets for heart health and diabetes in 2020 by the US News & World Report’s annual survey.
Still, if you want to go full plant-based, look to Yñiguez—youthful, slim, and full of energy—for inspiration. “I wanted something that I knew I could sustain, something that wouldn’t compromise my health or the quality of the food,” says this vegetarian who is near vegan status.
“Because I’ve been on this for many years, I’ve hardly had to see a doctor or take medicines, knock on wood. I strongly believe in plant-based food and I wanted to show people that they can eat a little better, that it’s accessible and available, and that it’s easy to put together at home.”