Life without love is like a tree without blossoms or fruit.Kahlil Gibran
Once upon a time, a handsome Frenchman from the medieval town called Romans-Sur-Lesse, an hour-drive from Lyon, was assigned by the Swiss firm he was working for to a post in Manila. He later met a charming, vivacious, pretty Negrense and a UP graduate who happened to be working for Philippine Airlines and sparks flew. They fell in love and tied the knot!
That was 23 years ago and now the couple, Pierre Marmoniere and Ria Almonay, have three love fruits, Charlotte, Ines, and Theau. The couple also has a thriving “fruity business,” making jams and jellies from our local fruits under the brand The Fruit Garden (TFG).
“Normally, Filipinos think of jams as something than can only be taken as breakfast,” explains Pierre. “But there is a wide array of ideas for jams. Jam can be part of dessert, with cakes, part of the main dish, paired with cheese, or part of a dressing. Jam is in fact exciting if you think about it. With all the flavors available, there are so many uses for it.”
Pierre started in their home kitchen, using various fruit mixtures from local produce. He bottled them and the girls helped him label the jars beautifully. His friends were initially his clients, but slowly, his extraordinary jams and jellies cooked in small batches in copper cauldrons were bought by hotels and restaurants and made their way to select supermarkets. Hotels bought them too for their buffet spreads and table offerings and breakfast menus.
Ria’s role in growing the business, as she puts it, is “as food taster, seriously, Pierre is the yin and I am the yang. He cooks, I eat. He also opened my tastebuds to foreign cooking, which I can do now. I studied French at Alliance Francaise and I can speak it now. Pierre, on the other hand, is still grappling with Tagalog!”
This year, in line with the company’s focus on social media because of the pandemic, TFG has developed a lot of new flavors. Pierre names some of them with relish. “Ube coco, peach rosemary, apricot, blueberry, mango with French spice imported from the Basque region. And then there’s espelette that goes perfectly well with cheese such as manchego,” he beams.
TFG is still pretty much a family business. The three children are active. The daughters, even if they are studying abroad, always give ideas on new flavors and one of them, who is studying design, creates all the packaging and labels. “Most of our ingredients are sourced locally but we also import,” says Pierre. “We recently took the opportunity of the guava season to produce stock of native guava jams and puree. This year also saw a surge from clients for dragon fruit jams. In fact, we have developed a dragon fruit concentrate, vinaigrette, and purée. They are exotic and delicious! Another new flavor is caramel and, believe you me, it’s to die for!”
The company has recently extended its range to fruit purée used as a pastry ingredients and ready-to-drink juices all freshly pressed. “Pierre is very meticulous in the freshness of the product,” Ria says. TFG has an array for small jars of different flavors in pretty gift boxes for the season and other special occasions. They make deliciously elegant gifts for friends of all ages and tastes. Pierre says that for the current holiday season TFG has developed such new flavors as cranberry orange, Christmas mango, Berry medley, tropical medley, and strawberry orange. “The 2020 Christmas collection has been designed around the natural beauties that can be found on the Philippine islands,” he explains. “From amazing fruits, to wonderful fishes, beaches, animals such as tarsier and even the banig fabric. Our boxes reflect the true mark of the islands.”
Ria’s dream now, aside from continuing to live happily with Pierre and their children, is “world peace, starting here, in our country!”
TFG is available at The Fruit Garden online boutique. The regular jams are available at Rustans supermarkets, Landmark, and a few independent stores such as Market Deli on P Leviste street Salcedo village and L’Epicerie Gourmande at Molito Lifestyle Center in Alabang. Some products are also available at the TFG commissary at 295 Haig street, Mandaluyong.