Millet de la Fuente Bagcus of Mariegold Bake Shop & Fast Food is amazed at the title, but the answer is easy: An iconic personality in Chicago’s Filipino community, she has effortlessly created culinary masterpieces destined to delight the Filipino soul. Her sphere of popularity in Chicago is so vast, including people walking into her store or eating her dishes at the many events that she caters.
Her bakery cum karinderya (native restaurant) and grocery store has been a favorite hangout since 1994. The laidback ambience graced by Bagcus’ friendliness is reminiscent of a neighborhood sari-sari (variety) store in the Philippines, where people stop to buy a thing or two and chitchat with the owner. She is on a first-name basis with most of her customers, who enjoy the personal approach.
Mariegold Bake Shop & Fast Food is primarily a bake shop, and Bagcus traces her interest in baking when she was growing up in her hometown of Abucay, Bataan. “I’m indebted to my home-economics teachers in grade school,” she recalls, “Filomena Malicsi and Gordiana Camacho, who instilled in me the love of baking one summer. Young as I was, the lessons were fun for me.” After getting married, she baked pastries on the side for relatives, friends, and special events, like town fiestas. When her family moved to Chicago, she was a cook in a major hotel in the city. Afterwards, she honed her baking skills at the Wilton School of Cake Decorating in Woodridge, Illinois.
The centerpiece of Bagcus’ baking prowess is the pandan (screw-pine) cake, whose one big fan is Myrna Serrano Kuehl. “It’ s moist but not wet,” she declares. “It has a great texture. And the taste is one of a kind! I can’t stop eating it!”
Bagcus’ assistant, Ernie Mirasol shows me the variety of hopya (a round pastry filled with sweetened mashed beans or chopped pork with beans). “We carry different hopya flavors -- beans, pork, pandan, and ube (purple yam). We always offer a different and memorable culinary experience here,” he says.
Karyoka is always a best-seller. A street food in the Philippines, it is a sweet treat made of coconut and sweet-rice flour. Flor Trono Clarito tells me, “I travel all the way from suburbs. Mariegold is the only place in my area that has karyoka.”
The restaurant, which is also busy with catering, is as renowned as the bakery. Bagcus’ parents successively served as mayors in Abucay. As such, there were always people eating in their house. “I always helped in the kitchen,” she recalls. “Cooking for a large group is something I learned early on.” Armed with that confidence, she decided to include a restaurant in her store, and she never looked back.
The people’s favorites in the restaurant are kare-kare (oxtail stew in peanut-butter sauce), litsong kawali (crispy pork belly deep-fried in a pan), and sinigang na karne (beef sour soup). But Rose Taylor’s favorite is the garlic- butter shrimp. “I know I can easily cook it at home, but I can never capture taste of Mariegold’s,” she explains.
Baking and cooking have always been Millet de la Fuente Bagcus’ métier. But it is running a business that the Feati University (Manila) graduate in chemical engineering learned on the job. She rarely conducts training because she her employees have worked with her for many years. And her countless loyal customers are a testament to the enduring success of Mariegold Bake Shop & Fast Food.
“The pleasure of food is temporary,” she says. “But it is treating people well that will live forever!”
For a recipe of Millet's Garlic Butter Shrimp, visit the Happy Home Cook.
Rey E. de la Cruz, Ed.D., writes from Chicagoland when he is not loving the arts and traveling. He is the author of the children’s book, Ballesteros on My Mind: My Hometown in the Philippines, which also has Ilocano, Spanish, and Tagalog versions.
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