Cathy Feliciano-Chon is a self-professed “food mule”. On her travels, she has brought back everything from dried dates to canned sardines, once even carrying a clay pizza oven from Italy.
“I’m fearless,” she says.
The Hong Kong-based founder and managing director of CatchOn, a marketing and communications consultancy, Feliciano-Chon’s work has taken her around the globe, but look into the pantry of the Filipino-American, and you’ll notice she has a fondness for chilli.
“I didn’t realise I collected [chillies and chilli sauces] until I found all these,” she says, pointing to a range of pickles, sauces and powders. “I think it runs in the family. We used to have raw chilli eating contests, and we would hide chillies in food and see who would get one.”
Other Asian ingredients, such as calamansi (citrus) and tuyo, a Filipino dried fish, also feature, but in many ways her shelves are a direct reflection of her travels.
“I make sure I have space in my luggage for bringing food back and prepare plastic containers for loose items,” she says. However obsessive that sounds, Feliciano-Chon insists she’s not an overly serious “foodie”.
“Food can bring a place to you. It’s a memory of a time, and it provides cultural context. Context is important, and it’s something we try to provide when we do our Future of Food report,” she says, referring to her company’s annual summary on culinary trends.
Every Friday, in her North Point office, the company’s staff sit down together for lunch, often trying foods Feliciano-Chon has returned home with.
“We do themes, so everyone in the office can get a taste of different cultures,” she says.
Almost every bottle, box or can in her kitchen seems to tell a story, whether it’s olives from a farm she had heard good things about, a coveted brand of jam or fruit from a friend’s orchard, preserved and given to her.
“Sometimes you meet someone while travelling and they tell you about a maker or grower in their region with such passion, it’s infectious. Usually these are simple people, doing things by hand.
“It’s not about the food itself. Food is the vehicle that brings people together.”