Three years before the first Philippine outlet of the Mango Tree multinational franchise of Thai restaurant opened in 2010, managing director and partner Trevor MacKenzie of the umbrella company, Exquisine Global, had already been visiting the country.

“I like that the culture is easygoing,” he said when asked by DAILY TRIBUNE of his impression of the Philippines. The interview happened during his most recent visit early this October, in time for the preview launch of Mango Tree’s newest dishes featuring the cuisine of Thailand’s Northern region.

“I like that there are a lot of places to explore here,” the restaurateur-at-heart and self-confessed foodie added. He then mentioned going “quite a bit” to Tagaytay in his “probably 85” visits here and singling out Antonio’s as his favorite restaurant.

MacKenzie, a Canadian national who’s been based in Thailand for the last 20 years or so, also noted some similarities between the two Southeast Asian countries, such as the weather, “happy culture” and food. For instance, he likes the Filipino sisig — aside from adobo — because it reminds him of the Thai krapow pork dish.

He went on with his observation that “Filipino food is two-dimensional,” explaining that “it’s either sweet and salty or sour and salty.” On the other hand, he said Thai food has the four basic tastes: sweet, sour, salty and spicy, plus “a lot of umami and texture.”

He also observed that there’s currently “a lot of hype” about Filipino food, especially in North America, where people have started opening up to different cuisine primarily because of travel and TV shows about competing chefs.

But even before all that hype, MacKenzie said he “almost convinced” his Mango Tree partners in the Philippines, Eric and Emelda Teng, to open a Filipino restaurant by telling them, “We could do what we did with Mango Tree with Filipino food.” And it remains a possibility today. “I always dream of doing it,” he pointed out.


White guy doing Thai food

MacKenzie said he got his start in the culinary industry in his native Vancouver City. He was into fine dining when he met a lot of Australian holidaymakers, who gave him an idea to try his luck Down Under using the working holiday visa available to citizens of the Commonwealth nations. While spending a year in Australia, he saw how popular Thai food was in that place, and realized, “Wow, this isn’t happening to the rest of the world, I want to do this.”

He recalled getting even more excited when he finally visited Thailand in 2003, and instantly fell in love with it, telling himself, “This place is amazing!” On his return trip, he went into a business partnership with the Phanphensophon family of entrepreneurs telling them, “Why don’t we take your brand all around the world?”

Mango Tree dishes.(Photographs Courtesy of ig/mango tree)


“We started in Bangkok in 1994,” he said of their first Mango Tree partnership. “We started our first overseas branch in London in 2001, followed by Japan in 2002, and we just kept expanding. Now we have 70 outlets around the world.” In the Philippines, there are 10 outlets today.

“I do a core menu of the ones we know people like already, and then we look at things, you know, what’s unique to the country. Let’s use some protein as an example. Here in the Philippines, it is probably the pork-heavy menu. Because you love pork.

“In Hong Kong, for example, we have a seafood-heavy menu because Hong Kong likes seafood. So, depending on the market, we adjust but we keep the taste the same. I don’t adjust the taste. It has to be authentic Thai, our Mango Tree Thai, as we call it. Because sometimes we have our own interpretation of a specific dish.”

MacKenzie opened up more about himself: “Starting the franchise for Mango Tree was my entrepreneurial side. Thai food is my foodie side. Everywhere I go, I try the food. I try the good restaurants. For me it’s a lifestyle. It’s not a job. This is my life.

“I’m so fortunate and thankful that I’ve found one. I was 30 when I found it. I was so happy. Instantly, it just clicked right away. This is what I want to do. I want to be in a restaurant business. My mentors said I was a natural at it… There’s a joke that [I’m] the white guy doing Thai food around the world.”

These days, MacKenzie is happily settled with his wife, who hails from the Suphan Buri area that’s an hour-and-a-half drive northwest of Bangkok, and their two children. He only leaves Thailand “just for work” and to visit his family back in Canada “every 18 months or sometimes every two years.”