Food has always been an integral part of Nina’s life. As editor-in-chief of a food magazine and author of several cookbooks - including a revival of her mother’s classic – Nina makes cooking accessible and relevant. Guided by her faith and devotion to Mother Mary, Nina continues her mother’s legacy by bringing joy to the kitchens of more generations of Filipino home cooks.
Briefly describe your area of expertise or advocacy. How long have you been doing this?
I was a wife, mother to four young children, and homemaker for 23 years before I actually had a real job, one that paid me a monthly salary for the very first time. Before that, I dabbled in small sidelines but nothing that would constitute a career.
I wrote a food column for a magazine for about two years, and did food styling for my brother’s show in Del Monte Kitchenomics for about two years. Somewhere in between, I co-authored The Philippine Cookbook with my cousin Ginny Roces de Guzman and developed recipes for a canned tuna company. This stint led to my invention of flavored tuna adobo for Century Tuna in 1989.
All these transpired while running a household, taking care of a growing family, and being an active parent in my children’s schools.
Little did I know that God was actually preparing me for my job as editor in chief of Appetite Magazine in 2011. It was another Maryknoller from HS 78, Sari Yap, founder and president of the One Mega Group who offered me the job. At first, I turned down the offer because I never thought I could do it, but she was persuasive and insisted that I could learn on the job. And she was right.
I was suddenly thrust into the exciting world of food magazine publishing: editorials, layouts, photo shoots, sponsors and advertisers. There were restaurant openings to attend, chefs to interview, food festivals and events to cover. Thankfully, Sari gave me free hand in re-organizing Appetite so I made it more relatable and accessible to homemakers by making sure we featured recipes from home cooks, and not just chefs. I personally selected our columnists and two of them were Maryknollers, too. I handpicked my classmate Marie Villanueva Pascual and Atty. Gabby Concepcion, both very creative and passionate home cooks. My small editorial team members were all young, passionate and talented, and Appetite slowly climbed up the charts. After producing a monthly magazine for 5 years, we graduated to producing five Appetite cookbooks from carefully selected recipes featured in the magazine.
When magazine publishing became challenging, and sponsors were looking at supporting online content sometime in 2017, I left Appetite to begin an even bigger project. Anvil publishing asked me to revisit and edit my Mom Nora Daza’s iconic cookbook, Let’s Cook with Nora. I had been using the same cookbook as a housewife, but I only used about 15-20 % of the recipes in the book.
As I went through the recipes one by one, I realized that there were some dishes I had never tried or even cooked before, and found that some recipes needed tweaking. The landscape of food was changing and home cooking was becoming more sophisticated since the 60s when my Mom first published her cookbook. Home cooks now had access to a wider range of fresh ingredients and convenience products, and they were becoming more adventurous in the kitchen. This realization moved me to make a firm decision to retest all 260 recipes instead of simply editing the book.
I bought all the ingredients from the wet market and supermarkets to know which ingredients are easy or difficult to find. Cooking each recipe myself also gave me the first hand perspective when rewriting the step by step procedure of each dish. Because of my experience in publishing, I developed an eye for food photography, layouts, and book design. Again, it was as if God had been preparing me for this most meaningful and most important work – the greatest tribute to my mother. By introducing her to the next generation of Filipino home cooks, her legacy would live on.
Among your interests, which one has been your driving force?
I believe in what my mother was trying to do early in her career when she introduced Filipino food to the global stage via her restaurant Aux Iles Philippines in Paris (1972-1983) and Maharlika in New York (1974-1976). While doing Appetite Magazine, I made sure we featured traditional Pinoy regional cooking as well as some modern twists to the classics. I also became a founding member of the Philippine Culinary Heritage Movement which has since been able to push for the official declaration of April as the Filipino Food Month.
To what would you attribute your achievement/s?
To be honest, I am not particularly intelligent or gifted in any way, but I do have great passion for what I do, and I take my work seriously – I would never do anything half-baked. My greatest motivation is the sincere desire to help other people. If I know that my work will change someone else’s life for the better – however small or seemingly insignificant – I will surely give it my 100%.
In what ways did your Maryknoll/Miriam education impact your life and profession?
I believe that my Catholic formation at Maryknoll gave me a solid foundation of Christian values, formed by the teachings of the Maryknoll sisters. We had very dedicated teachers who molded us from innocent grade schoolers into young, modern, independent, forward-thinking young women.
My devotion to Mary began as a spark in my little girl’s heart, and her presence helped soothe my worries and anxieties in my teenage years. She was even more present when I became a young adult and lived abroad in Paris and New York for four years. When I became a wife and mother, I called on her constantly, and felt her calming, loving presence.
The day after my wedding on September 8, 1988, I offered my wedding bouquet at the feet of Our Lady, the Shepherdess of Maryknoll, and also did the same when my husband Louie and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary in 2018. Mama Mary always made me feel that God was always taking care of me and was guiding me in my life, every step of the way.
Can you share a memorable experience during your years in Maryknoll/Miriam College?
Maryknoll was a second home to me where I truly enjoyed being with my classmates and learning alongside them. We were a small, closely-knit batch of only three sections and the sisterly bond with my classmates is very strong and deep.
What are some memorable experiences? Saturday Playdays in grade school. I would go to school on Saturdays to help set the table for the poor children who would come for a simple snack. I realized that I liked doing something special for others, even if it was just giving my time and effort to serve them. It opened my eyes to the reality that there were many other families who were wanting in basic needs.
Our high school Noli Me Tangere plays and choral recitations were also quite memorable because they required us classmates to work as a team, and forced each one to step up and make meaningful contributions. The late-night practices were fun and allowed us to bond and share all our girlish dreams with each other.
What career or life accomplishment makes you most proud?
I am most proud of the work I did in updating my mother’s cookbook. I am also grateful for having had the chance to be the editor in chief of Appetite Magazine the five Appetite cookbooks.
During the year I was testing recipes, I was inspired to write a Tagalog prayer in honor of our Blessed Mother. I would often pray for guidance in my work in the kitchen as I felt overwhelmed by the responsibility and pressure of updating a classic book. But I believe it was the Holy Spirit who whispered the idea of Mahal na Ina ng Kusina to me and so I proceeded to write a prayer exulting Our Lady, with all the thousands of Filipino home cooks in mind. A nun I shared it with reminded me that Mary too, in her earthly life, must have thought: What should I cook for Jesus today?
In this pandemic, I began to write some Tagalog poetry about Filipino food and ingredients. They turned out to be riddles, and so I call them “tugtong” for “tulang bugtong”. It gave me so much joy to write them and I hope people will find them amusing.
What advice would you give our students who wish to pursue the same path?
I would advise students to work hard, value their time in school, and not take their education for granted. They should realize how fortunate they are to be in a very prestigious academic institution where they are taught and guided by very good, committed teachers. Now that I’m older, I wish I took my studies more seriously when I was in high school.
In one sentence, how would you describe a Maryknoll/Miriam graduate?
A Maryknoll/Miriam graduate is well-rounded, grounded, confident, and comfortable in any social situation. She is hardworking, honest, fair, and she excels in her field. A Maryknoll graduate is a Christian woman with deeply-ingrained values and a well-formed conscience. She thinks of the needs of others and finds ways to give back to the community.