1. Chef Ed Bugia, Pino Restaurant, Pipino Vegetarian Food by Pino, BRGR: The Burger Project, Brgy. Bagnet, Bulalo Boy, Pi Breakfast & Pies and Daily Squeeze
Call it fate, serendipity or plain coincidence. But on the day salaryman Edward Bugia resigned from his two-month old corporate job, he found a flyer for a cooking school stuck on the windshield of his parked car. Well, why not, he thought, and promptly enrolled at what would later become the Global Culinary & Hospitality Academy.
Three years later, the chef-turned-cooking-instructor found himself being offered a restaurant, Pino, that a group of six friends with different food philosophies had wanted to unload.
“My concept was to turn it into a place for fine Filipino comfort food,” Bugia recalls of his decision to buy and re-launch Pino in 2008. “I wanted it to be the resto where you bring balikbayan friends or family for Filipino food that’s interesting and different.”
But Pino also has a healthier twin sister, Pipino, for those who want to indulge without the guilt.
“One of the owners is vegetarian so we thought there’s a market out there for healthier cuisine that we can tap,” the chef explains.
Thanks to social media that amplified word of mouth, Pino/Pipino quickly became a hit.
The bestsellers? Kare-kareng bagnet for Pino regulars, and watermelon steak for Pipino diners.
Success was a huge validation for this 31-year-old chef, who took up philosophy in college because he had never imagined himself cooking for a living.
But learning to cook changed his life, and food quickly became his world, he adds.
“When I visited Bangkok, I did not tour a single temple,” he recounts. Instead, for five days, he gorged himself on Thailand’s weird and wonderful street food.
It’s part of a “a continuous learning process,” Bugia says of the indulgence. “Chefs must keep discovering new flavor palettes.”
Business has been good all around. “We’ve been blessed,” he says, but adds that “close attention to detail” could easily be the secret to his success.
“Also, we serve good food at good prices. Each resto must be self-sustaining,” says this chef.
So, what does he consider the most interesting food trend so far?
“Well, anything bagnet (crisp-fried pork with skin).”
Five years and seven restaurants later, what food philosophy has he developed? “Make sure to make your customers smile, even if they run off without paying!”
QUICKFIRE Your favorite ingredient? Pork; it’s very versatile.
Favorite restaurant? El Chupacabra
Favorite movie about food? “Spanglish”
Favorite ingredient? Grapes and squash
If you could lose one sense, what would it be? Smell, because I’m a huge music fan who can’t bear losing my sense of hearing.
2. Chef Marivic Lim-Diaz, Apartment 1B (Salcedo Village, and Rockwell, Makati)
When Marivic Lim-Diaz was diagnosed with breast cancer last year, she recalls how she felt “compelled to have a better understanding of the link between diet and optimal health.”
“(My illness) gave me a new perspective on food, which allowed me to gain a deeper appreciation and understanding of how specific foods contribute to healing the body,” she reveals.
Food has always been a given in her life, says this chef. “My relationship with food is both professional and personal because it started as a hobby, which eventually became my profession and business.”
Lim-Diaz adds that she has such “a high level of appreciation for food” that she’d rather spend money on a very special dining experience than on a designer bag or even jewelry.
At Apartment 1B Salcedo and Rockwell, “the concept was to serve gourmet comfort food in an apartment setting because the dishes that I would serve are dishes I would cook at home,” she explains of the first branch that occupies Unit 1B on the ground floor of this building in Makati.
“Filipinos like to eat family style, sharing entrees and having an assortment of dishes,” she adds.
They also want to eat well without compromising their health, says Lim-Diaz, explaining that her episode with the Big C has convinced her to use her next restaurant project as a “platform in educating people about food in relation to wellness.”
The restaurant will be called Kitchen 1B—The Wholesome Alternative, and will be located on Gamboa St. in Legazpi Village, Makati. It will welcome diners in the first quarter of 2014.
Healthy can be tasty, she maintains. “It’s just a matter of being creative in combining the right ingredients and using healthier cooking methods.
In fact, adds Lim-Diaz, she considers farm-to-table concepts as well as juicing as two of the best food ideas that have been introduced lately.
A similar concept—slow food—might just be the next food trend, she says, “a dining concept that combines locally grown (ingredients) to create dishes made with the health of body and soul in mind.”
QUICKFIRE Who inspired you to cook? My aunt, Deanna Gregorio
Who inspires you now? Alice Waters / Dr. Andrew Weil
Your favorite ingredient? Garlic, eggs
Favorite restaurants? Peking Garden for Peking Duck, Cirkulo for Spanish food, Corner Tree Café for vegetarian, Shinjuku for gyoza, The Tivoli at the Mandarin Oriental for the lobster bisque and Monte Carlo Salad, Abe for Filipino Food
Favorite movie about food? “Like Water for Chocolate” (1992)
Favorite ingredient/s? Blueberries, broccoli
If you could lose one sense, what would it be? Hearing
3. Chef Jerwin Arias, Zao Vietnamese Bistro, Shangri-La Mall East Wing
It comes as no surprise that Chef Jerwin Arias’ favorite food movie is “Ratatouille.” One can just imagine him as this Remy the Rat character repeating the mantra “Anyone can cook” in his head, while stacking plates as a dishwasher and nursing dreams of a better life.
But before that, he did odd jobs to survive: As a casual laborer, he wrapped Nova snacks in a food factory, ran errands as a messenger and mopped the floor as a janitor.
The dream came together for this high school graduate when he became a dishwasher in a restaurant.
“I would observe my workmates at their job and decided that I wanted to cook, too. It took a long time, but I learned enough from watching the cooking staff who also shared with me their techniques,” the 34-year-old chef recalls.
Finally promoted to a cook, he found himself enjoying the workflow that he had become familiar with.
“The only difference is that I now have bigger and more serious responsibilities. I used to be able to really enjoy my break, but now the needs are more urgent and I’ve learned to be punctual and more disciplined,” he says.
While most chefs boast of culinary degrees from here and abroad, Jerwin thinks hands-on experience is more of an advantage.
“Formal schooling (focuses) more on the logic and the theories, but things can be more difficult and different when you’re in the kitchen,” he says.
He loves his job, says Jerwin, “because discovering new types of dishes is part of it. I realize that I have to continue learning and discovering new things.”
He can’t think of a favorite dish just now “because I like everything,” but his specialty, he says, is Sugar Cane Shrimps which is served at Zao. “I was the first (among the staff) to learn how to make it, and I think I do it best!”
QUICKFIRE Who inspires you today? My family, my siblings and, of course, my dreams.
Favorite ingredient? Parmesan cheese
Favorite restaurant? McDonald’s because I love the coffee there. It tastes good, it’s refillable and affordable.
Favorite food-related movie? “Ratatouille.” I like the part where the (lead character) was about to serve a high-ranking guest and felt very nervous. I can relate to that scene, but at the same time, I was inspired by him.
Favorite vegetable? Ampalaya, because it’s healthy and good for the blood
Favorite fruit? Langka, because I like its taste and it smells good. In our place, we have langka trees so we would use the fruit for our snacks and as a sandwich spread.
If you could lose one sense, which would it be and why? Sense of touch, because without the sense of taste and smell, it would be difficult to cook.
4. Chef Wilson Macareñas, Corazon Hispano Filipino Cuisine, Shangri-La Mall East Wing
Easily a top graduate of the School of Hard Knocks, Chef Wilson knew he had to work early to support himself.
The third of five siblings born to a truck driver and a full-time homemaker, this Boac, Marinduque native headed to the Big City after high school and promptly found work in a shoe factory.
With no college degree, he could only get menial jobs: as bread plant crew, stockman, construction worker and dishwasher, until he was accepted as steward at Florabel Restaurant. Soon enough, he was promoted to head chef and executive head chef.
He doesn’t mind the long hard climb, says Wilson. “It’s the hardships I’ve gone through in my past jobs that helped me become what I am today. It developed my patience, perseverance and diligence in my work.”
His actual kitchen experiences have also made him a better chef, he says, though he’d like to give culinary school a try.
“And if I do I’d want to take up baking. Food is so broad and I think baking is the most difficult form of making dishes. Baking is too technical,” he says.
Being a chef has definitely changed his life, he says.
“I can buy what I want now because I have a stable job. I used to jump from one job to another and would always worry about tomorrow. I still live a simple life but since I now have a family, I want the best for them,” says this 37-year-old chef.
What or who inspired you to cook? Chef Florabel Co-Yatco, who gave me the opportunity to show off my skills in cooking
Who inspires you today? My wife and three kids, two boys and one girl
Favorite ingredients? None in particular, but I like using spices like paprika, cardamom, etc.
Favorite restaurants? The group of restaurants owned by Chef Florabel
Favorite cooking or food-related movie:? “On Air”
Favorite vegetable? Broccoli
Favorite fruit? Apple, because it’s a healthy food
5. Chef Red Ganado, Arya Persian Restaurant, Greenhills Promenade
After extensive culinary and Hotel and Restaurant Management courses here and abroad, Chef Ganado quickly applied his skills in various hotels, restaurants, and even a shipping company as an executive chef, bartender, or food consultant.
Favorite ingredients? Citrus, though I also like using fresh leaf herbs. I like using thyme, parsley, etc. I think fresh leaf herbs are more than just garnishes because of their fresh taste; they can uplift the taste of the dish.
Favorite restaurant:? Zuzuni in Boracay, because of its authentic Greek cuisine
Favorite cooking tool? My wonder frying pan. I’m using a non-stick one, and I create everything there.
Favorite vegetable? Broccoli, because of its great color and the nutrients packed in it
Favorite fruit? Kiwi, because although it’s complicated to peel, once you’re done peeling it, you’ll see its beauty and texture. Plus it has a balanced taste of sweet and sour.
If you could lose one sense—your sight, smell, hearing, touch or taste—which would it be and why? Eyes, because I need my sense of smell and taste to do my work. I’ll need my eyes to make my food look good, but the presentation is nothing if the food doesn’t taste and smell delicious.
6. Chef Raquel Rojales, Balboa, Shangri-La Mall East Wing
Budding pop psychologists would immediately peg this award-winning chef as a Type A personality. Asked what she enjoys most about her job, she quips: “The pressure and stress that comes with it because it gives me a sense of responsibility and more determination to strive (even harder).”
What inspired you to cook? My passion has always been cooking, so I took up HRM and later, studied at the International School for Culinary Arts and Hotel Management (ISCAHM). Both my mom and lolo (grandpa) also love to cook so in a way, I was influenced by them.
Who inspires you today? Chef Robby Goco because he’s good at what he does. He would teach you everything he knows; he’s very generous with his skills. Another inspiration is Chef Norbert Gandler, who was my instructor at ISCAHM.
Favorite ingredients? Spices
Favorite restaurant? Je suis Gourmand in Tagaytay, because of its French cuisine. It’s really delicious food and the ideas are unique.
Favorite cooking tool? The chef’s knife because I use it with everything
Favorite cooking or food-related movie? No movie but TV shows, probably Rachael Ray’s cooking show because I learn new techniques and recipes from her
Favorite vegetable? Bell pepper, because of its sweet taste.
Favorite fruit? Orange, because it has Vitamin C and it can be used in making dessert
If you could lose one sense—your sight, smell, hearing, touch or taste—which would it be and why? Hearing, because it’s one that’s not related to cooking
7. Chef Rainier Joseph S. Ungco, Spätzle Euro Market Café
Named as a Promising Chef by the Philippine Daily Inquirer in 2007, Chef Rainier considers an “emptied plate” as the most rewarding aspect of his job.
“The memories and laughter made or aided by the food we make is a close second on my list,” he adds.
He used to be a chubby kid, he recalls, who cooked his first dish—sinigang na baboy—when he was 7. Life was wonderful until his mom decided to put him on a diet.
“So I thought to myself, ‘I gotta learn how to cook so I can eat what I want and I won’t go hungry.’” Smart kid.
He adds: “I saw the love, passion and respect my lola and old family cooks gave to the craft and I guess it rubbed off on me.”
Who inspires you today? I love and adore all the family cooks, the manangs, titos and titas, lolas who sweat it out and cook because they love to cook and they cook out of love. Of course I have my culinary idols: Marco Pierre, for the grit and real-ness he brings to the craft and his knowledge on food and cooking; Jamie Oliver who inspires me to be true to myself; Nora Daza for placing Pinoy cuisine on the map, and all the people I’ve handled in all the kitchens I worked in. Without them, it will be harder to put smiles on people’s faces.
Favorite cooking tool? Spoon or heat-resistant spatula
Favorite restaurants? Wafu, Parmigiano, Spätzle, Marche, Hap Chan for quick Chinese food, Lugang Cafe
Favorite cooking or food-related movie:?“Big Night” which Stanley Tucci stars in, and “Ratatouille” (“Anyone can cook…”)
Favorite food/vegetable? Any tofu dish and Asian braised gluten. Spinach and bok choy are favorites too.
If you could lose one sense—your sight, smell, hearing, touch or taste—which would it be and why? I will need all my senses to make and appreciate food, and all my senses to feel and see how the guests received my food… But God forbid, I choose hearing as it’s less used in cooking and at least I won’t hear the rants on the food I make (laughs). •