Rumor had it that Michelin-star chef Jason Atherton, whose wife Irha is Cebuana, was opening a restaurant in Cebu.
The internationally renowned British chef, who had trained with Ferran Adrià and Gordon Ramsay, runs a global restaurant empire, including seven in the UK (three of which have a Michelin star: Pollen Street Social, Social Eating House and City Social), three in HK, two in Shanghai, and one each in New York, Dubai and Australia.
We were thrilled to learn from our friends, Chris and Carla McKowen, that they were, indeed, partnering with the Athertons to open The Pig and Palm in the 3rd quarter this year.
The 80-seat restaurant and bar will be on the ground floor of MSY Building, where Chris and Carla hold office for their real estate company.
The Athertons and McKowens met four years ago, and discovered that they were kindred spirits. We spoke to Jason through the McKowens.
Excerpts from our Q&A
Can you tell us a bit about yours and Irha’s love story?
I met Irha in Dubai in 2001. I was working for Gordon Ramsay, opening a restaurant at the Hilton, and Irha was receptionist.
I asked if she would like to go out for a glass of champagne. Irha finally accepted as long as she could bring a chaperone, a Filipino chef who also worked in the kitchen there!
We got married the following year, moved back to London, and are very lucky to have two beautiful daughters.
Irha is also your co-director at The Social Company. What is your working relationship like?
We have an amazing working relationship. Two heads are definitely better than one for us. Irha neutralizes me and it’s always easier to make decisions together.
I’m in the kitchen a lot, while Irha is based in our head office, so there’s a good balance.
Why did you decide to open your first venture in the Philippines in Cebu? Do you have plans of opening in Manila?
A restaurant in Cebu was always a dream for us, because Cebu is Irha’s hometown. We always wanted to bring some of the success we’ve been lucky to experience back to the Philippines—it’s our second home, after all.
There are no plans for Manila—we’re focusing on Cebu.
How long has The Pig & Palm been in the making?
With Chris and Carla, we always spoke about the idea of a restaurant in Cebu over dinner and one day we thought, why not? It makes sense, especially as our architect, Lyndon Neri, is also from Cebu. It all fit together perfectly.
Can you tell us about the menu at The Pig & Palm? What are your favorite items?
The menu is based around tapas-inspired sharing dishes, with a Filipino twist. We’ll be making the most of the incredible Filipino produce, with a focus on pork.
A favorite dish has to be the Jamon and Manchego toastie with quail’s eggs—very moreish! We’ll be doing our take on lechon de leche, too.
For cocktails, we’ll be using lots of Filipino fresh fruits—the McBandaq has locally produced rum and root beer with carnation cream and fresh banana, blended and served in a milkshake cup.
What are the things you love about Filipino culture and cuisine? How has this influenced the menu at The Pig & Palm?
I love how family-focused Filipino culture and cuisine are, the tradition of gathering the whole family around the table for Sunday lunch with lechon especially. It’s definitely influenced the menu. We want the same relaxed atmosphere, with everyone tucking in and sharing round the table, nothing too formal.
How often do you come to Cebu? What do you usually do on your visit? Any favorite spots?
Every Christmas, we come to Cebu with the kids to see Irha’s family and really switch off from work. Our favorite spots include Tavolata, Abaca and Crossroads.
How is The Pig & Palm similar and different from your other restaurants?
The pork focus of the menu makes it stand out from our other restaurants. I would say it is probably most similar to Social Wine & Tapas in London, which also serves small tapas-inspired dishes in a relaxed atmosphere, but for me, every restaurant I do is different because we take inspiration from the location.
We always celebrate the local produce and make sure we tie in with the seasons.
Who do you envision dining at The Pig & Palm?
Anyone and everyone is welcome!
Tapas are great as they are so flexible—you can have a quick snack and a cocktail after work, or spend the whole evening working your way through the menu.
How do you think The Pig & Palm will change the dining landscape of Cebu?
I hope we make a positive impact on the food scene here, and help make Cebu a new destination for foodies in the Philippines, and globally, too. It would be great to see more chefs opening in the Philippines. I can’t wait to show you what we’ve been working on!