Christy Cunanan’s coworkers at The Walt Disney Company said her homemade ice cream reminded them of their home countries of China, Vietnam, India and the Philippines.
The memories that her food inspired eventually influenced the name of the alumna’s ice cream business Cheeri Cheeri Ice Cream, which embodies her Filipino background with its underlying stories, she said. The ice cream will be served at a pop-up event at Carmenita Middle School in Cerritos, California, on July 29 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Although many flavors are influenced by the Philippines, the company’s name was its first movement toward representing Cunanan’s background. Many Filipino names include repetition, so “Cheeri Cheeri” served as an adaptation of such a tradition, she said.
Cunanan has been making ice cream for years, giving it to family members and friends for free. However, Cunanan said she decided to take it more seriously in November 2016, promoting her ice cream at pop-up shops and events.
Earlier this year she approached Elton Keung, the creator of the first alcoholic boba drinks, in search of mentorship within the business world. She spent weekends observing his store dynamics and learning how to make entrepreneurial decisions. Keung said he especially admires Cunanan for working hard on her ice cream production and ingredient choices.
“I don’t know how other places do ice cream, but I’m pretty sure it’s not the same (as Cunanan) does it,” Keung said. “Everything she does is hand-churned and made in small batches … She uses really good ingredients.”
Although Cunanan makes her own ice cream – it takes her at least an hour and a half to develop each flavor – she didn’t always possess strong cooking skills. But she kept at it to delve into her culture and her family background, she said.
Cunanan FaceTimed her Filipino grandparents – Cesar and Loreta Cunanan – twice a week, listening to her grandfather’s stories about his childhood in the Philippines. Since her dad’s side is from Pampanga, the food capital of the Philippines, food became a significant way for Christy Cunanan to connect with her family.
She asked her grandfather what foods gave him the fondest memories, and made sure to make them whenever she visited the Philippines. Many flavors are connected to her grandfather’s favorite food stories, making Cheeri Cheeri Ice Cream a personal memoir to her grandfather and family, she said.
Cunanan said she most deeply connects with her Taho flavor, which resembles the Filipino dessert containing tofu, brown sugar syrup and tapioca pearls. Taho was one of the first desserts that Cunanan’s grandfather introduced to her when she was a little girl.
“At first I thought it was weird when I was little, but it ended up being one of my adult favorites,” Cunanan said. “Sharing that with everyone allows me to share him and share my family in a way.”
Another flavor Cunanan’s grandparents inspired her to create was based on Tsokolate de Batirol, a frothy hot chocolate in the Philippines. In the flavor, Cunanan combines the American familiarity of hot chocolate with the Filipino adaptation of the drink, resulting in an exchange of cultures within one spoonful, she said.
Cunanan also names many of the flavors based on her own past experiences. Another flavor is based on the tarty calamansi fruit, which she associates with learning the Filipino language with her grandfather in his backyard.
“I always hope that (the names) would provide some insight to how family values are in the Philippines,” Cunanan said. “It doesn’t just stop at ‘I’m eating ice cream,’ it’s ‘I’m partaking in the Filipino culture.’”
Cunanan’s aunt, Adora Chu, said she has been able to look back on her own experiences in the Philippines after tasting her niece’s ice cream. She especially remembers the street vendors, whose barbecued banana desserts inspired one of Cunanan’s flavors, she said.
“When you taste it, it brings you back in terms of, ‘Oh gosh, I remember that,” Chu said. “It just conjures up pleasant memories of my past.”
Along with sharing the traditions of her culture, Cunanan said she seeks to instill pride within Filipino youth. By allowing others to enter into her personal experiences, Cheeri Cheeri Ice Cream can start a dialogue about the Philippines and its traditions, she said.
“Nothing is more personal than your relationship with your family, and how (my family) communicates has always been through food,” Cunanan said. “(Cheeri Cheeri) is immortalizing a lot of my happiest memories.”