I appreciate any good food but food that delivers a kick of nostalgia is extra tasty to me. The preparation of food with an intention to make you feel sentimental takes more than making food that feels familiar. It has to somehow stimulate your sensory memory using all 5 of your senses, transporting you to a specific place in time. These foods often evoke more emotion out of me, because I usually associate the flavors with something very personal to me.
“Ice cream is a medium that takes people back to something special” according to Christy Cunanan, the creator of Cheeri Cheeri, her vegan and Filipino ice cream brand. The mission of Cheeri Cheeri ice cream is to allow its customers to connect back to something precious in their lives, all the while enjoying their ice cream. What inspired her line of ice cream the most? Time spent with her Lolo and Lola (for those not familiar, that’s Grandpa and Grandma).
Born and raised in Pasadena, Christy remembers when the ice cream man would drive around her neighborhood. “What made it so special was the rushed ritual of hearing the ice cream truck and then that challenge of convincing them to give us money to buy the ice cream. After I’d get my hands on a watermelon pop, I’d realize how much Lola and Lolo just wanted to see us happy. So you just remember these times like this and how special they were. You were never eating alone.”
These days, this UCLA alumni works a 9-5 at Disney Animation as a Production Coordinator, builds up her ice cream empire and still makes time to have 4 hour Facetime sessions with Lolo and Lola. She started embarking on her ice cream career with her first pop up in April 2017. In the beginning, her brand wasn’t vegan, but in December of 2017, after her family got hit with diabetes and cancer, she decided to take on a plant-based lifestyle. “Since my family was vegan, my product had to be as well. I have to have this ice cream reflect my family. I’d hate for people to miss out just because they’re vegan. It matters enough to have a line of ice cream knowing it’s on the healthiest side.”
Although many people think of dishes like Ube and Ensaymada when they think of Filipino food, Christy insists it’s not hard to go plant-based in this genre. “Sure, I’ve struggled with capturing butter and cheese, common ingredients in Filipino breads but through trial and error, I achieve what my Lolo and Lola say “time is medicine”. I’ve been able to replicate the identity of many traditional Filipino desserts, so we can all enjoy them.”
Her top seller is her Buko Pandan ice cream, but looks can be deceiving with this flavor. This classic dessert tends to be identified with it’s bright green gelatinous chunks. But because Christy keeps everything as natural as possible, she doesn’t do dyes. It’s white, but the flavor is still rich with a beautifully creamy texture.
My favorite flavor is her Calamansi ice cream. It’s refreshing, tart and velvety all in one. This flavor had had stakes for her to capture perfectly. “My Grandpa planted a Calamansi tree in our backyard, so I felt the extra pressure to get it correct. This is one of the most personal flavors to me” Christy told me.
When I asked Christy about the current Filipino food craze; she shared she’s very supportive of the trend but notes “there’s major ube love happening right now and that’s great, but we want you to explore the full spectrum of our food. A strong sense of identity has to be transferred to every bite.”
What customer melts Christy’s heart the most? “Grandparents! I get a kick out of when older Filipino-Americans taste my ice cream and say ‘I know what this is!'”
Get frozen in time! Christy will be scooping her famous Calamansi Cheeri Cheeri ice cream at the Girls on Food Shared Plates dinner coming up, Friday, October 5th at Industrious Century City. get your tickets here.