How do you describe your style of cooking and how did this evolve?
My style of cooking has a touch of everything. Thus, I would call it a “Global cuisine with modern twists” in the sense that I don’t necessarily specialise in a certain type of cuisine like Japanese or French.
Being an Executive Chef, it is important to know as much as possible as I handle the hotel’s culinary operations as a whole, from conceptualizing menus to teaching everyone in our team. That said, it is important to have a broader scope rather than keeping myself in a box.
To explain this technically further, my foundation would be French Cuisine, then incorporated with various concepts and styles of cooking from different cuisines and modern techniques. My style evolved from cooking overseas. At first, it’s always about learning the basics of a particular cuisine or technique. And by the time I master it, I begin to create my own style. I don’t want to just simply follow a recipe down to the letter. When serving a dish, I enjoy putting my own twist and stamp. For example, the crispy salmon – a dish in 22 Prime, is originally a French dish, but I gave it an Asian touch to create a fusion of two cuisines.
How does 22 Prime fit in with your above-stated philosophy?
22 Prime fits in with my philosophy perfectly because here, I can exercise my creativity. 22 Prime allows me to infuse modern techniques in the dishes that we serve, like using Foam, and Sous-vid, to name a few. It caters to both foreigner and local guests, and our price point is above average. Thus, I think that people wouldn’t come here just to eat an ordinary dish they can find anywhere else.
What is the most challenging meal you have had to prepare?
When I was in Maldives, I got to prepare a seven-course meal for a couple who was prominent in Europe. First, I had to get an idea of what they expected to be served, and then construct a menu. I had about five hours to prepare the meal with several different styles of cooking involved. It was challenging, primarily because of the time-constraint and procurement because I was basically in an island and had no easy access to different ingredients.
What would you like to tell people when they are enjoying your food?
It’s flattering to know that people are enjoying my food. “Thank you” would be one of the first things I would say. Then I would usually talk to them after their meal and invite them to come back next time. And when they do pay another visit, I take it as a challenge to prepare them something outside of the menu. For example, the owner (of Discovery Suites) would sometimes come here and order something that’s out of the menu. That gesture is a manifestation of trust and it makes me feel great.
What’s the best way to prepare a steak and what is your preferred “perfect” bottle of wine to pair it?
I would say that it depends on the cut of meat. For me, the best way to prepare a tenderloin is medium. For striploin, it’s rare; and ribeye is medium rare. I can’t speak for everyone because their personal preference can be different from mine but that’s just how I see it. For the perfect bottle of wine, my personal preference would probably be something that isn’t too expensive. You can’t go wrong with a Beringer Cabernet Sauvignon, it’s actually my personal favourite.
Who would you like to cook for and what would you serve?
I would say our President (Rodrigo Duterte) and his Cabinet Secretaries. Because whenever he (President Duterte) has an event, he would prefer Filipino food – especially the local cuisine from Davao (his hometown). I want to invite him to try 22 Prime and experience cuisine that’s out of his ordinary preference. It would be an honour to serve him a five-course meal with probably a fish course and a steak course. I can’t say exactly what type of dishes I’ll serve. When the time comes, that’s when I’ll construct the exact menu. Because for me, even if I have a menu planned, new ideas come every day from different encounters.
What is your idea of comfort food?
My idea of comfort food is a type of dish that almost everyone is used to – it’s something that whenever you’re ordering in a restaurant and you see that certain dish, you know that it’s going to taste good. For example, when people look at the menu, there would be dishes that they would be curious about and then they see fried chicken, they know that it’s something they can eat. That, for me, is the idea of comfort food.
Do you cook for yourself? Why or why not?
Honestly, no. Cooking for so long, there would be times that when I’m preparing a dish, I would be somewhat overwhelmed by the smell and being around the food for so long, I tend to not want to try it. When at home, I want people to prepare food for me. Most of the time, I’ll look forward to eating simple food like adobo, sinigang, and even instant noodles at times. It’s simply because I want to try and taste something different at home. Something different from the food I prepare here.
Do you think the Philippines is ready for a Michelin star?
Talent-wise, I would, yes. We have so many talented Filipino chefs, especially those with experience of working with Michelin Star chefs. For the market, I would say there is a bridge that we need to gap in terms of the price points of Michelin Star restaurants. One of the things that can be done is focusing on locally-sourced ingredients to be able to price it reasonably while maintaining the quality and experience of the dish to be on a Michelin Star level.