JOSH Boutwood always swings for the fences. At 31, he has collected golds, silvers and bronzes—even the Chef of the Year award, not once, but twice—at the Philippine Culinary Cup.
He has supervised kitchen operations of 14 casual dining brands all under the Bistro Group, with branches that are just too many to count. And his restaurant Test Kitchen has rightfully exposed the capacity of his skills and genius, still leaving enough room for people to wonder about the other tricks up his sleeve. He is like many chefs, but unlike many of them, he impresses.
His notable streak continues with the opening of Savage, a 60-seater casual dining, open flame restaurant in BGC. With this new project, he is going back to the basics with food finished over embers from an open fire, adding that smoky essence to every dish.
“Cooking with an open flame is not a gimmick for us,” he says. “It is really about returning to the fundamentals of pre-industrial cooking: old world techniques coupled with quality ingredients. In the end, we just want to make good food with a unique flavor.”
It’s quite a departure from The Test Kitchen, where he got extra help from multiple burners, a sous vide machine and other kitchen gadgets. At Savage, there’s no gas or electric stove. His only sources of heat are burning wood and charcoal. Therein lies the challenge, as tempering the fire can be tricky. There’s no telling where the hotspots will be, or what the temperature of the grill is after some time.
Boutwood and his team of young chefs are forced not to rely on technology and the typical industrial cooking equipment they are used to. They have to depend largely on their experience, gut feel and intuition.
All about grilling
“This is leagues apart from The Test Kitchen,” he says. “It was fun for me to step out of The Test Kitchen’s constraints, even though there aren’t that many. We could do whatever we wanted to there. Here, it’s all about grilling, the wood and the embers. It’s challenging but definitely more rewarding. The reward is bigger because of the challenge that’s being given to us. When we come in every morning, it’s like lighting a campfire.”
At Savage, the main dishes are grilled upon order. And since food cooked the pre-industrial way takes time, guests can first enjoy snacks from the cold section as they patiently wait. The menu lists deviled eggs with smoked oil and ash, head cheese terrine with cornichons and house pickles, a good selection of local and imported cheese, and cured duck breast with kalamata olives. An alternative can be the salads, like the grilled pear and capicola, and the heirloom tomato with fresh mozzarella.
When it comes to grilled meats, there are 10 to choose from, plus a handful of options for the sides including charred leeks, grilled corn and roasted baby potatoes. A whole barramundi comes with a blanket of arugula and preserved lemons, salt-baked prawns are complemented by a rich crab fat emulsion, and a monk fish tail is served with two types of garlic: confit and wild. The lamb chops are dressed with mint and malt, the King Edward pork chop with mustard leaf chimichurri, and the flank with pickled ramps.
Imparting its delicate flavor in every dish—including in desserts like sticky toffee pudding—is the oak wood used to fire up the grill, which lends a lovely sweet aroma and a rounded smoke flavor, not acidic like a lot of the fruit-bearing trees.
For someone who thrives on challenges, Boutwood couldn’t have picked a better battle. While many chefs feel disabled and vulnerable without the technological comforts of a kitchen, here he comes with the confidence only someone of his caliber can own. It looks good on him—and tastes great on his food.
Savage is located at the ground floor of The Plaza, Arya Residences, McKinley Parkway, Bonifacio Global City. It opens on April 16.