When they spotted the house, on a rough, secluded road in Silang, Cavite, chefs Jayjay and Rhea SyCip knew they had found it. The One. The place where they would live and open their dream restaurant.
It seemed tailor-made just for them—with a big kitchen that opened to the living/dining rooms, expansive windows that let the gentle breezes drift in, and a garden patch in front for planting herbs and vegetables.
Called The Fatted Calf, with the subtitle Farmhouse Kitchen, the restaurant is near the farms where the couple source many of their produce. “We are a farm-to-table restaurant,” explains Jayjay, which he says, assures not only the freshness but also the quality of their ingredients.
“Because we work with a lot of farms, we are able to use high-quality produce. Most are naturally farmed, meaning they are allowed to grow at their own pace, enhanced only by the elements.” Human intervention, he adds, is minimal, and the vegetables are picked only when ripe.
Jayjay is also assiduous about their meat sources. “I know where my chickens come from. I know what they ate, how they were slaughtered. I know they are clean, wholesome, free from harmful chemicals and that they were not raised in cramped conditions,” he says.
Even the pork they use, he says, comes from pigs that are clean and were fed only vegetables. The beef, on the other hand, comes from grass-fed cows raised on the hills of Tagaytay.
Jayjay says they also bake their own bread. Because of long fermentation, the baguette has an airy texture, with pockets of holes characteristic of artisanal bread. As for their pastries, Rhea uses organic butter from Bukidnon and free range, organic eggs.
The restaurant’s unusual name was inspired by the parable of the prodigal son in the Bible, says Jayjay. As the story goes, when the prodigal son returned home after years of profligate living, his father was so happy he had the servants slaughter and serve the fatted calf.
“So our restaurant is all about family, feasting and nurture,” Jayjay explains. He himself grew up with regular Sunday family feasts, when everyone would gather around meals cooked by his mother. “My mom would cook morcon, callos and there would always be soup like sinigang and tinola,” he recalls.
One need not be a prodigal son to enjoy a meal at this farmhouse kitchen. Open on weekends, the restaurant serves wholesome breakfasts, hearty lunches and dinners, and the most scrumptious desserts this side of Cavite.
“Some families would come for lunch, then they’d smell the cinnamon buns being baked and would wait for it. Many end up staying here until 5 p.m.,” narrates Jayjay.
From the garden
On the day of our visit, we were served a welcome drink made with thyme picked from their garden. Then we had a salad of young kale leaves grown in nearby Amadeo, tossed with fennel, apples, pili nuts, and local feta cheese, drizzled with a calamansi vinaigrette.
We also had the vegan glow salad of mixed greens, asparagus, zucchini, raisins, grapes, oranges, apples, curry leaves, pumpkin seeds, and roasted squash that had been seasoned with Indian spices, all doused with a maple sesame vinaigrette. As Jayjay describes it, it’s a fully loaded salad and the result was an explosion of flavors and textures in every forkful.
A terrine board tempted us with a sampler of three kinds of terrine: sisig made with pork mask, smoked fish and ham, for spreading on slices of freshly baked baguette. Tiny jars of a tangy raisin relish and wild pipinito (creeping jelly bean cucumbers) were the perfect counterpoints to the hefty flavors of the terrine.
The plate of pan-fried barramundi (apahap) was French-inspired. The thick slice of fish sat atop a sweet corn purée, while around it were small patani beans that had been sautéed with chorizo, leeks that had been pan seared till they caramelized, as well as bits of chorizo, all drizzled with a calamansi vinaigrette.
“The barramundi was line-caught,” says Jayjay, “and we bought it direct from the fisherman.” Thankfully, there is still plenty of barramundi in the ocean.
Jayjay says each dish he cooks has a flavor, character and personality of its own. Indeed, the pork belly that followed was certainly very different. While tasting somewhat like humba, its sweetness emanated from the native tablea with which it was laced, just like the way they cook it in Tacloban. Braised slowly over low heat, the pork was meltingly tender and flavorful.
A month to perfect
The finale of our meal was one that took Jayjay one month to perfect: a whole roasted leg of beef. Cooked slowly for 10 hours with aromatic spices and served with roasted vegetables, the beef was fall-off-the-bone tender and bursting with robust flavors. Even better, it came with a rich, thick sauce that had also been simmered for 10 hours with red wine and rum.
We couldn’t leave The Fatted Calf without tasting the rich desserts prepared by Rhea’s Flour Pot bakery. The signature rum cake and mocha honeycomb cake were the ultimate in richness.
Amazingly she also bakes hummingbird cake, an old-fashioned dessert. Made with mashed bananas, pineapples and blueberries, it was topped with a light, airy buttercream frosting. For the banana loaf, she used the Gloria variety green bananas that have both flavor and aroma.
Rhea also bakes her own doughnuts, which are yeast-raised and therefore very fluffy and pillow-soft. Stuffed with fresh Baguio strawberries (or sometimes mangoes), the doughnuts became viral when they were posted on social media—and orders have kept coming since then.
“It has been our dream to live in Tagaytay even while we were still dating,” says the happy couple. Now they’ve realized this dream in the most amazingly delicious way.
The Fatted Calf Farmhouse Kitchen: 23 V. Belarmino St., Bucal, Silang, Cavite, tel. 0917-7892352. Flour Pot accepts orders for cakes and pastries.