By the time this article runs, half the town will be holed up contemplating the sorrowful mysteries, and the other half will be partying on the beach.
I myself, apart from personal religious observances, will be restoring a vintage record turntable, looking for the missing cover art of the playlists in my iTunes library, and defrosting the refrigerator. I know I gotta slow down, give the body a rest and all that, but hey, you only live once.
Nevertheless, I see how fasting can strengthen the spirit by leaving the body deprived, just as I recognize how giving up something for Lent can make you a better person by understanding your own cravings.
I also realize that these are humanist rationalizations of religious rituals that don’t really need excuses for their observance. It’s getting uncool to be spiritual these days, so my only exhortation on how to spend the next four days is to let no one judge you by how you choose to spend them.
Too many openings
About suffering, being on the lower rungs of the kitchen hierarchy is probably one of the most purgatorial jobs that one can have. Peeling sacks of onions, or zesting hundreds of lemons, before one can be promoted to stirring sauces, can sap the will to live.
It’s no wonder then that many people who “previously worked under” this celebrity chef or another feel that they’re too good for it—screw this, I’ll do my own thing under my own name. (It’s the premise, we see based on the trailer, of the new movie “Chef.”)
Young upstarts, who wanted to escape the chain-gang labor and the lack of creative freedom, were the ones who revolutionized (and probably saved) French cuisine in the 1990s. The leader and most famous of the pack is probably Yves Camemborde, who quit Les Ambassadeurs, the palatial but very, very stiff restaurant at Hotel de Crillon in Paris. He started a wildly successful bistro, La Régalade, in the suburbs, putting to use his three-star skills to cook affordable but absolutely sumptuous meals.
Stéphane Jégo, Francois Pasteau (of L’Epi Dupin), and others soon joined the coup d’etat against the culinary establishment.
In Manila, I’ve been to one too many openings of young chefs “formerly” of this or that great restaurant, or who have “worked under” celebrity chefs (they usually don’t say in what capacity). One can hardly blame someone for getting on the express elevator to creative freedom and entrepreneurial success. It doesn’t help that so much fast buck is to be made now in food so that investors are quick to pirate anyone in chef’s whites, opening a restaurant for him/her, giving him/her the license to do anything—as long as it makes money.
Many want to be the next Goop-endorsed Wildflour or Stockton Place. No one fears they’ll be that restaurant that will close just 10 months after opening. My own take is, just as there are more magazines than the market can take, just because everyone wants to be editor in chief, chefs should stay in training longer before opening their own restaurant.
Working under a chef who is a tyrant or who underpays or is just plain stupid is another story. But with a good chef, there’s usually more to be learned, even if it’s just sheer repetition every night.
I think Mike Santos, who is in charge of food at Speakeasy at the new Alphaland Center in the Zuellig loop, Makati, is a far better chef than most because he has learned his craft well.
Speakeasy’s menu is “comfort food,” a term which tends to send shudders down my spine, a warning flag for unsophisticated home-style cooking done in a restaurant kitchen.
But almost everything we ordered, from Truffled Mac ‘n’ Cheese to Eggs Benedict to a chicken leg confit, was at least agreeable, and at best, excellent.
Even for dessert, the Napoleon was flaky and not a sodden mess, though the Pavlova was far too sweet, all dried-out meringue lacking the contrast of a gooey inside.
Speakeasy leaves us little to complain about, but unfortunately it does not give much to say about itself except for general competence, even if it is well above-average.
It plays it far too cozy, keeping the recipes simple, most of the food easy to prepare. The recipes are barely beyond the reach of the home cook but pose minimal challenge for a restaurant and any chef with training.
I’m not looking for foams and smoke and emulsions. But this wasn’t even classic with a twist, and not even classic without a twist. It does feel, however, like a chef who’s not pushing himself hard enough; or, equally likely, not being allowed to. Whatever the reason, it’s a shame the chef seems to be holding back.
Opening a restaurant is a risky venture, but ironically, to do well it must take risks, not financial but creative ones. We don’t need more restaurants, but we do need more chefs doing interesting things.
Otherwise there is little reason to leave the coziness of steady employment in a larger establishment.
Why one would choose to do so should be on the list of glorious mysteries for contemplation this week.
Speakeasy Makati is at Alphaland Makati Place, Malugay St. cor. Ayala Ave.; tel. 0917-4993279