Perhaps the greatest challenge to creating comfort food is capturing the homey, sentimental impressions it leaves in the stomach while also arousing the inner gourmet. But the trick, says Bistro Group corporate chef Josh Boutwood, isn’t always to “go crazy”—sometimes, it simply means refining the menu’s core palate with new flavors and influences.
It’s the same secret behind TGI Fridays’ new “Fresh from the Chef” menu, which boasts of 19 new premium American-style dishes in its trademark belly-busting portions. No dish is unfamiliar or brazenly peculiar, and yet all offer a novel experience for the taste buds: from golden-brown potato chips lavished with warm queso sauce and chili beef, to wood-smoked, marinated chipotle cutlet chicken served with three-cheese penne.
Chefs Boutwood and Greg Natividad, executive chef for TGI Fridays Philippines, are the hands behind this well-greased menu, recently launched at TGI Fridays Glorietta 3. Though the menu itself took only three days to materialize, they say, the ideas have always been stewing and stirring in their minds.
TGI Fridays is well-known for its array of scrumptious comfort food and refreshing booze, set against the background of comfy banquette booths, red-and-white motif and eclectic wall decor. A force in the Philippine casual dining sector for over two decades now, the restaurant has always understood its appeal—its strong core menu and American identity—to its patrons, and so it made sure that “Fresh from the Chef” hewed close to Fridays’ brand as well.
“It’s more of keeping it within that same family dining sphere and dating style, flavor-wise,” Boutwood says. “The palate and flavor [can be described as] nothing too strong, nothing too spicy, nothing too sweet—just there within the Fridays spectrum.”
Regardless, these new additions to the menu promise to shake up the usual Fridays fare of burgers, potato fries and ribs. While staying true to American-style comfort food, “Fresh from the Chef” is infused with multiple influences from other cultures, crafted such that it feels right in place with the usual TGI Fridays dishes.
Take for example the Montreal Poutine, one of Friday’s three new appetizers, which was inspired by the Canadian junk food classic. It’s a heart-stopper on a fry basket, thanks to its artery-clogging combo of potato chips (or fries), topped with warm brown gravy, cheese and slow-cooked brisket.
The Montreal is Chef Boutwood’s favorite. “When you’re cooking and you have to taste so much food, when you want to eat for your pleasure, you want to go into something more comforting,” he says.
Meanwhile, health-conscious foodies can still be indulgent with Fridays’ new salads: Garden Lychee, Oriental Sesame and Honey Bleu, all made with fresh greens and fruits.
Chicken sandwich lovers will also find home in the Vietnamese-inspired Chicken Banh Mi sandwich. Grilled cilantro-marinated chicken is made more delish by the contrasting flavors of sweet hoisin sauce and tangy pickled vegetables, all sandwiched in between toasted baguettes.
Pizza, an all-time favorite comfort food, gets a twist as Fridays introduces flatbreads into its menu for the first time. Its Pepperoni Crisps and Four-Cheese Garlic are musts, if only for the love of crispy shoestring potatoes and the sharp, homely taste of cheese.
Par for the course are the entrees, as Fridays introduces five new wood-smoked recipes. Chef Natividad swears by the Miso-Glazed Tuna, made of melt-in-your-mouth tuna belly, blanketed by red miso glaze and furikake. “There’s a lot of fat in that tuna belly,” Natividad ribs.
And that is, in itself, a Fridays signature: food in sinfully succulent portions.