Town & Country (Philippines) - - TASTEMAKER - By Pierre A. Calasanz Pho­to­graphs by Dix Perez

Tra­cie is a lot of things to dif­fer­ent peo­ple—jug­gling many dif­fer­ent hats de­pend­ing on the time and on the day—though she’s best known to the pub­lic as the travel di­rec­tor for a2a, a lux­ury travel com­pany, and cre­ative di­rec­tor for sarsa, the pop­u­lar res­tau­rant helmed by her brother, chef Jp an­glo. in be­tween, she finds time to do a bit of graphic de­sign for cof­fee-ta­ble books and even dab­bles in an­other life­long pas­sion, paint­ing.

Tra­cie grew up in Ba­colod and went to Manila for univer­sity, but only two weeks af­ter grad­u­a­tion, found her­self in new York, look­ing for a school where she could re­ally study what she wanted. “imag­ine, i was only 19, a small-town girl. and new York was so in­tim­i­dat­ing…ev­ery­one was wear­ing black! it was the pre-Gi­u­liani era, so NYC was still kinda dan­ger­ous,’’ she re­calls. she en­rolled at par­sons school of de­sign to study com­mu­ni­ca­tion de­sign (“it en­com­passes ev­ery­thing, not just graph­ics”). right be­fore grad­u­at­ing, some­one from condé nast no­ticed Tra­cie’s work at one of the school’s yearly stu­dent shows, and of­fered her a job as a pro­mo­tions de­signer. “That was my first job, it was re­ally good. i would do their ma­te­rial for events and char­i­ties,” Tra­cie says. it had other perks: “our of­fices were di­rectly be­low Vogue’s, so it was fab­u­lous! we’d go up ev­ery time there was a closet sale. it started my ad­dic­tion to clothes, which is ter­ri­ble. it’s ter­ri­ble!” she jokes.

Tra­cie moved on to do graphic de­sign for other com­pa­nies, in­clud­ing Kim has­tre­iter’s paper mag­a­zine and free­lanced for the then-fledg­ling Rad­i­cal­me­dia group; she be­lieves she would have stayed for­ever in the city if not for one life-chang­ing event: 9/11. “would you be­lieve, my mom was vis­it­ing me when it hap­pened. we were both ter­ri­fied, and i was home by the 18th.”

it didn’t take long for Tra­cie to sort out her life. Back in Manila, she was hired as pre­view mag­a­zine’s first cre­ative di­rec­tor, but then a blind date led to an­other change in di­rec­tion. she met Binky di­zon, who at the time had left his ca­reer in bank­ing and had just re­turned from sab­bat­i­cal in africa. To­gether with Jose cortes, Binky started a2a (then known as asia to africa sa­faris) as a pas­sion project. “i wasn’t al­ways in­ter­ested in africa, but on our hon­ey­moon we went to Zim­babwe, and that got me hooked. now we go ev­ery year,” shares Tra­cie, who be­came a2a’s em­ployee #3.

since a2a’s found­ing, the num­ber of filipino trav­el­ers to africa has grown ex­po­nen­tially; a2a has since ex­panded its of­fer­ings to in­clude south amer­ica and antarc­tica. con­trary to ex­pec­ta­tions, when it comes to luxe get­aways, south amer­ica is still be­hind africa, but it’s catch­ing up, says Tra­cie. “a lot of what we do is very high-end and ex­clu­sive, very pri­vate, and on those terms, the camps in africa are very posh. we want our clients to have the same ex­pe­ri­ence in latin amer­ica. Two years ago, we felt the time was right, latin amer­ica was ready. it can of­fer the same feel­ing of other worldi­ness, mind-blow­ing ex­pe­ri­ences. patag­o­nia is def­i­nitely pop­u­lar, peru, the ama­zon. iguazu. easter is­land.”

Tra­cie’s travel out­look may be global, but her palate is tuned very close to home. with sarsa, she’s help­ing more peo­ple discover the joys of ilonggo cui­sine. “it re­flects where we are from, and how we are proud of it. if we don’t, all th­ese ilong­gos will kill us! ilong­gos are so hard to please. we said we bet­ter not screw up the food,” she says. Though sarsa’s been a run­away suc­cess, Tra­cie and her brother have gone back to the draw­ing board to of­fer an even more au­then­tic ex­pe­ri­ence. “we’re go­ing to re-do a few things, change the menu, launch a new logo, a few things. That’s what keeps me busy now at sarsa. it’s a dif­fer­ent world. i re­cently went to siar­gao to learn about Jp’s pas­sion, surf­ing. it re­ally blew my mind. so you’ll see some of th­ese el­e­ments in­cor­po­rated in the new sarsa. now, i re­ally un­der­stand my brother. surf­ing cul­ture is re­ally a big part of it. i never un­der­stood it un­til i went. now i get it!”

on the sub­ject of per­sonal taste, Tra­cie para­phrases the quote by arnold Ben­nett: “Bad taste is bet­ter than no taste.” she says, “even if you have bad taste, or it is per­ceived to be bad, at least you still have taste. You know what it is? it is be­ing true to who you are. That is what’s im­por­tant. The things you put in your house, the way you dress, it should ex­press who you are… when you just fol­low what ev­ery­one else is do­ing, it be­comes a cliché. i hate clichés. They’re the worst.” «

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