In 2010, pastry chef Buddy Trinidad showed a copy of So Good to a group of younger chefs. Published in Spain, the magazine features the world’s best pastry chefs.
Among those young chefs was Miko Aspiras, who hung on to Trinidad’s every word. Miko recalled: “Chef Buddy said, ‘Wala pang Filipino na na-feature diyan.’”
“They feature not just the cream of the crop, it’s higher than that,” Aspiras said. “They feature Jordi Roca, Cedric Grolet, Frank Haasnoot… They set the trends, they show off their technique. This is Vogue for pastry chefs.”
Fast-forward to 2019. Miko was in Italy as a coach and judge at the Junior World Pastry Cup when a man approached him. “Hi, I have something for you,” he said.
So Good’s Luis Concepcion handed him the magazine’s 21st issue. In it was an eight-page spread featuring Aspiras and his work.
As he leafed through it, Aspiras started crying. “It was such an emotional moment. It’s a thrill to be the first Filipino and first Southeast Asian to be recognized by the magazine. They told me, ‘We’re so glad there’s finally a Filipino on our team.’”
Aspiras, a Lifestyle “Best Desserts” regular, has worked in hotels, amassed awards in culinary competitions here and in different parts of the world and has been spreading the gospel of good dessert with the establishments he has opened with the Tasteless Group, like Scout’s Honor and Le Petit Soufflé.
His road to the pages of So Good began on Instagram, when he received a message from the magazine in late 2018. This led to four weeks of conversations, e-mails, questionnaires, reviews of his creations and Skype interviews with the magazine’s editor in chief Carlos Barrachina and head writer Jaume Cot.
“At one point, they asked me, ‘You did all these without leaving your country? No offense, we mean it in a good way.’ I told them I never worked abroad, but every opportunity I get to travel, I would grab it, through competitions or just traveling for leisure. I would always pay attention to desserts. This really pushed me as a young Filipino pastry chef. I’m a sponge, I want to absorb everything.”
His love of the country shows in his So Good spread. He highlighted Filipino ingredients like Tinawon mountain red rice, malunggay, Sagada mountain rice, adlai and calamansi. He also showed recipes on how to make the polvoron he first showcased at Madrid Fusion 2016, this time in a variety of flavors including ube-coconut, corn-pili nut, calamansi-pili nut, and squid and fish. “I have strategically placed the polvoron on my Archipelago ceramic plate in the areas where I found the ingredients used in each type of polvoron,” Miko told the magazine.
And then there’s this line from the feature: “The first thing that is amazing about someone with the ambition and the ability to display a varied range of avant-garde pastry is that his training has been done mainly without leaving his home country, the Philippines.”
The magazine’s recognition was in stark contrast to his interaction with a European chef he met at a big event last year. “I was the only Filipino chef there. The others were European, they were Michelin star chefs. This chef asked me, ‘Where have you worked?’ I told him and he said, ‘Oh, so you haven’t worked anywhere. You don’t deserve to be here.’ I was stunned.” But the other chefs at the event loved his spread of sweet concoctions.
“That guy looked down on me because I haven’t worked elsewhere but the editors of So Good were praising me because I didn’t leave my country,” he said.
But Aspiras is leaving soon—he’s moving to Australia to start a new life with his husband JV San Juan.
“I’m not ending my career as a Filipino pastry chef. I’m just going to explore a bigger market and a bigger scene abroad. That doesn’t mean I’m going to lose my identity as a Filipino chef. I’m still going to continue to represent the Filipino pastry chef. I’m hoping to continue to make everybody proud.”
Before he goes, he’s leaving a gift—“A Piece of Cake,” a cookbook that’s a collaboration with Aileen Anastacio launched yesterday, April 10.
And, of course, his restaurants here will continue running, serving his 17-layer cakes, delightful donuts and delicious cheesecakes, a sweet reminder of the passionate Filipino chef who carries the flag with him wherever he goes.