I first met chef Ed Bugia five years ago when he opened Pino restaurant. At the time, I was already taken with his creativity and the deep flavors of his cuisine.
His food generally revolves around old-time favorites; he would deconstruct them by either adding a component or coming up with a new technique to give the dishes his stamp.
The result would be something very delectable.
After hearing good things about Pipino, his second restaurant, I visited him recently.
The mere memory of the meals I had with him sometime ago was enough to make my mouth water. The fact that he served neither pork, beef, chicken nor fish, made the memory extra-special.
Pipino Vegetarian Food is vegan fare. Vegan, he explained, is different from vegetarian as it excludes animal by-products such as honey, fish sauce, milk and eggs.
“We keep our food as pure as possible. We use organic and unrefined ingredients and produce, as much as possible. It’s really virgin and unadulterated.”
He opened the restaurant in 2010 when he moved Pino restaurant to Malingap Street in Teachers Village, Quezon City, after the building owner offered a space on the second floor. He was also prodded by his business partner PJ Lanot, whose fiancee then, Alessa (now wife), is vegetarian.
“There was a growing market and I saw it as a personal culinary challenge to start cooking something beyond my culinary comfort zone.”
I invited my sister, Manang Cristy, and our friends Miriam Ocampo, Caloy Andrada and Mark Reyes, all true blue carnivores, to join me for lunch. I didn’t dare say we were going to a vegan restaurant.
My plan was to have appetizers at Pipino, then take main course at chef Ed’s third dining concept, The Burger Project, just a block or so away.
But the experience was pleasant. We never thought we’d enjoy it so much. We ate much more than we expected.
Among my favorites was Watermelon Steak, a savory entree, warm, grilled to perfection, which gives out a snap with each bite. It was a satisfying mouthful. Its every component—from
the smokey grilled watermelon, mashed taro, aioli, blanched asparagus and beans to pickled shiitake mushrooms—gives the palate different dimensions and depths of flavor.
Bugia said he was working on this “grilled watermelon” technique with chef Rob Pengson years ago when I was a teacher in his school and assisted him in his cooking show.
When it was time for new items on the menu, he remembered the grilled watermelon and prepared it as a steak.
Another fave is vegetable kare-kare, which is to die for. The vegetables were crisp, cooked to perfection, the sauce thick and delicious.
The vegan bagoong used black beans; it was delectable with a salty-sweet finish. The brown rice was nutty.
The dish was unforgettable. I did not miss the oxtail at all. The dish was satisfying without it.
Even the desserts were surprisingly very good. We had the Peanut Butter Cupcake (very rich) and Coconut Ice Cream.
“My partner Alessa has made it her mission to satisfy and make sure all vegans enjoy the privilege of finishing their meals with a sweet ending,” said Ed Bugia.
The cucumber and orange juices were also nice.
I think I could turn vegan if food was prepared this well.
Ed admitted that coming up with the menu was challenging.
For those who wish to try cooking vegan, “always think of flavor and texture,” he said. “Vegans see mushrooms more as a viable substitute for meat, more than tofu, contrary to the popular notion. Balance each dish as you would a normal non-vegan, and integrate protein, starch, your vegetables and sauce. Don’t be afraid to try exotic ingredients such as quinoa, agave nectar and fruits as savory items.”
“Cooking is all about flavor,” Bugia pointed out. “Fat is flavor. Meats have flavor. Vegetables, fruits, grains and plants, however, are packed with flavor, too. Satisfy your customer and you don’t necessarily have to serve them meat all the time.”
“It’s not a paradigm shift,” he explained, “but more [of having] a better understanding of food, the cuisine and the culture of being vegan/vegetarian.”
Though we made it to Burger Project, we didn’t have much space in our tummy for the possible 259,200 single-burger patty combinations.
Burger Project is Chef Ed’s answer to the question: How do you make the perfect burger?
“We realized that you can’t,” Bugia replied. “Every person has his or her preferences.”
Hence, Burger Project has come up with the create-your-own burger concept.
“We give you clipboards, you pick every element from our assortment of ingredients, breads, patties and toppings and try to create the best burger you’ve ever had.”
On Pino, my favorite place for Bagnet Kare-Kare, the chef was quick to mention the new bestsellers, Beef Kansi with Roasted Bone Marrow and Coffee-Crusted Bistek Beef Belly. You may want to try them.
Chef Ed’s Vegan Vegetable Curry on Couscous
Steep couscous in water till tender.
Toss raisins into couscous and mix with olive oil.
Season with salt and pepper.
Blanch vegetables until cooked.
Sauté garlic in oil.
Mix in curry powder and tablea and toast in the oil.
Add coconut milk and simmer.
Add vegetables and toss.
Season to taste.
Fry tofu slices.
Put couscous and curry on a plate and top with fried tofu then garnish with alfalfa and tom yao.
Pino Resto, Pipino Vegetarian Food by Pino is at 39 Malingap St., Teachers Village, Quezon City, and 38 Jupiter St., Brgy. Bel-Air, Makati.
The Burger Project is at 122 Maginhawa St., Teachers Village, QC; G/F, The Grand Towers, 760 P. Ocampo Sr. St., 1004 Malate, Manila;
38 Jupiter St., Brgy. Bel-Air, Makati.