MANILA, March 8, 2005 (STAR) By Bea Ledesma  -  With Pilates and yoga on the mind of every trendy fitness freak at the moment, nothing earns more street cred than a package that includes the magical word "low fat."

Fuzion, a franchise bought from a group of young enterprising thirtysomethings from Singapore, is about to pioneer the concept of low fat with their signature drink: The fruit smoothie. What’s the difference between a fruit shake and a smoothie? Well, they look a lot alike. Both are yummy frozen drinks that cool the palate on a hot summer day.

But Fuzion, unlike other fruit shake purveyors, doesn’t add sugar or additives to their drink or even, surprisingly, ice. The fruits, which are imported from countries that produce the best of its kind, have a phenomenal range – from mangoes to raspberries and blueberries.

These fruits are then flash-frozen at their peak ripeness, a process that involves laser technology, freezing them to the point where the integrity and freshness of the fruit remain intact for a prolonged period of time. Flash-freezing, a system that works much like cryogenics, allows Fuzion to spare the ice, which when blended for too long – which happens a lot – results in a slushy, watery juice. No such thing with Fuzion. "The smoothie stays frozen for a lot longer. And it tastes so much better," says Jerome Uy, one-half of the husband-and-wife team behind Fuzion Philippines. Ice just dilutes the taste, he explains, and coarsens the texture.

The freshness is apparent from the first glance. As soon as you get a glimpse of their bright berry-colored drink, aptly titled Very Berry Good, you smell the luscious sweetness of the blended strawberries, raspberries and blueberries – a great treat for locals who have never tried these far-flung berries. Instead of adding water and sugar to the mix, they use aloe nectar, sweet natural syrup from the aloe vera plant. Rest assured, it doesn’t taste like shampoo. The syrup has a mild sweet taste that doesn’t affect the flavor of the fruits. It’s simply used as a low-fat alternative to sugar – and its organic origins bide well for picky consumers.

"Unlike juices," adds Jerome, "we use the real whole fruit, which means you get all the benefits of the fruit’s fiber and nutrients." The smoothies are a bracing drink, nourishing and wholesome. They taste just like the fruit and not like a watered-down version.

Not Another Coffee Shop

The team behind Fuzion’s arrival in Manila – its first café opened at Robinsons Galleria last December with four more to be launched soon – wanted to create a space for people to hang out but didn’t want to create another coffee shop. Explains Jerome: "Manila is a hot place with a humid tropical climate. What makes more sense as a beverage, a cup of hot coffee or a cold fruit smoothie? The smoothie makes more sense." A practical perspective that’s worked well for Jerome and his wife Meredith Ngo, both Harvard MBA grads, who wanted to draw in the same coffee shop crowd without offering the same stuff.

When based in Singapore, the couple took note of the famed smoothie café, which also has branches in Hong Kong and the US. The café atmosphere appealed to them, with its bright colorful atmosphere and cheery décor, a definite change from the regular dim, cozy habitat of coffee-drinkers. It seemed like the next natural step for this couple was to offer Fuzion to Manila’s sophisticated crowd. "Filipinos have trouble distinguishing between good and bad coffee," Jerome adds. "But fruit smoothies? You can tell the difference instantly."

The shift in interior design makes this café unique. Photos of fresh fruits, Fuzion’s trademark dishes, and customers from other Fuzion branches enjoying their beverages line the walls. And though it’s only 3 p.m. on a weekday afternoon, almost all the tables are filled – compared to the almost-desert-like atmosphere of nearby establishments – with teenagers chatting amiably over drinks, couples sharing dessert, and business people pecking at their laptops over quick bites of the café’s food.

"We’re probably popular because we offer all kinds of food all day," explains co-owner Meredith. Fuzion’s menu includes light offerings of sandwiches, salads and wraps, as well as heavier fare, like rice meals and pasta. Dessert comes in the form of crepes, usually topped with yogurt, custard, fresh fruit, and a drizzle of syrup. Fruit and flower teas, as well as coffee, round out the café’s offerings.

The star of the lunch menu appears to be the Japanese burger rice dish, an intriguing dish consisting of a burger patty enveloped by loaf-shaped rice in the guise of bread. Placed on a sweet glaze, the burger meat is made with 100 percent pure beef. "No extenders here," states Jerome, except maybe for a healthy addition of ground carrots, a treat that adds color and flavor to the patty.

"Carbonara Napoli and Sri Lankan aligue are also crowd favorites," shares Meredith. This rather erudite menu features dishes like chicken with balsamic strawberry and New England crab and mango salad. A talent for mixing unexpected flavors makes this café a marvel of culinary rapture. Though regular favorites are on the menu, plain mango banana smoothies are available for die-hard fans, some smoothies get the Fuzion makeover with mixes that raise eyebrows as well as standards: Strawpical is made of strawberry, orange, and pineapple, while Orangetang combines orange, banana, and guava.

Fitness-conscious consumers will probably try Fuzion for the fabulous low-fat smoothies and come out of there stuffed from a meal of chili prawn seafood stew and a crepe for dessert. All in all, not a bad way to lose weight.

* * *

Fuzion is at the second floor, Rodeo Drive of Robinsons Galleria, Ortigas Center. For inquiries, call 914-1095.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved