As a self-described “Navy brat,” and an admitted purveyor of celebrated international cuisine, Lennie DiCarlo has done her fair share of world traveling.
Still, nothing could quite prepare her for an April 2004 trip to her native Philippines, the first time she had visited the country since she was a child.
“I was overwhelmed by the poverty,” said DiCarlo, who has a large family still living in the island nation.”It truly was a rude awakening to see such an enormous gap between the upper and lower class. Because my family belongs to that lower class, I felt an obligation to help them out.”
Along with coming away from the country with a profound sense of social injustice, DiCarlo also left with another discovery — an appreciation for the indigenous Filipino sea salt on sale for culinary purposes at the local markets.
The discovery was actually made by DiCarlo’s husband, Anthony, a longtime worker in the high-end food services industry. After some consultation, the two decided to bridge their admiration for Filipino sea salt with their quest to provide a better living for Lennie’s family in the Philippines.
Aside from the obvious culinary benefits, the DiCarlos were also impressed with the sea salt’s manufacturing process — an all-natural effort that is sustainable and eco-friendly while also providing work for the local economy.
After extensive research and wrangling with various regulatory organizations, the DiCarlos were able to secure a half-ton shipment of Filipino sea salt this summer, with the intention of distributing the product in the U.S.
Because of their culinary connections — along with Anthony’s extensive experience in the industry, Lennie attended the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco and knows many of the top local chefs — the two were able to promote and market the sea salt in respected food-service circles.
With word of mouth out, the DiCarlos poured all their resources into the important All Asia Food Expo, held in Los Angeles this October. Their sea salt stand was a sensation, and demand in their product was great enough to create their own company — Xroads (crossroads) — named because of the Philippines’ unique multicultural setting.
After the success of the food expo, the DiCarlos purchased 10 tons of sea salt, to be distributed in two distinct markets. Xroads sells large bags intended for restaurant kitchens and smaller containers (distributed in hand-woven baskets, also manufactured in the Philippines) for personal use.
For the DiCarlos, who live in The City’s Marina district, Xroads has been much more than a business venture. It’s also been a way of showing their support for the Filipino community.
“We hope to use this to promote more Filipino cuisine, but also to help out as much as we can with the people there,” said Lennie, who married Anthony in 2001. “I’ve grown closer to my family there than ever before.”