Sau del Rosario has proven to be one of the most resilient chefs in the industry. Even in the midst of a pandemic, his enterprise continued to grow and flourish.
He has gone from Café Fleur, a restaurant that was built on a dream—that was, to cook side by side with his mother—to the newly opened Sawsaw, his pride and joy. Indeed, Sau is unstoppable.
Café Fleur highlights his mom Garding’s recipes, paying homage to their family’s eating traditions, while Sawsaw is all about Sau. It is his playground, his means of self-expression, his domain where he plates his best interpretation of classic Filipino recipes, cooked as only Sau could.
The modern Filipino restaurant features classic and regional dishes. You’ll find Bicol express, lengua and lobster with Alavar sauce on the menu, to name a few. Truly nothing fancy, but once touched by Sau, the ordinary is transformed into the extraordinary.
Sau does everything from scratch in Sawsaw, staying true to its name—all sauces are house-made. Done in-house are their own vinegars, mayonnaise, bagoong, patis, banana catsup.
He also takes pride in “zero waste.” Pineapple peel is used for vinegar. Banana peels are utilized, and so are tomato skins which they transform into “leather.”
Kalamata olive water is added to drinks. It was an ingredient for the Damaso, a cocktail Sau served alongside our overflow of starters.
He was quick to quip, “’Di ako nagpapaka-in, but since we can, we practice sustainability.” Sau subscribes to Bokashi technology for composting, to fertilize their own little farm. He does what he can for the environment.
At Sawsaw, local ingredients are the stars! Sau forages though the archipelago in search of heirloom grains, seafood and local crops. He said that whenever possible, he will always support local.
“Hindi libreng mangarap sa ganyang kusina (It’s not free to dream of a kitchen like that),” Sau said, as he pointed toward his fabulous open kitchen. It is quite stressful to prepare food amid prying eyes, but to be seen and for diners to see how their food is prepared—the art, the passion, the hard work that goes into it—is how the chef wants his guests to appreciate what is served to them.
In the kitchen, after all, is where the magic happens and where all senses come to life. It becomes tactile—you can smell it, see it, feel it, taste it! It is where “I can make them understand the life of a chef,” he said.
It is also a classroom for the next generation to acquire techniques, learn recipes and study the history behind every dish.
Sau feels that it is his duty to impart all these to the young chefs who are under his care.
Sawsaw is more than just a restaurant for Sau; it is the realization of his life-long dream. It is where he is able to freely concoct and blend the core of his being as a cook into his cuisine.
His repertoire, though traditionally Pinoy, is executed with French flair, since he was trained in the culinary arts in the land of fine food and wine. All these are further fortified by his rich Kapampangan culinary ancestry.
Next for Sau is Sawsaw in sunny California. Opening a restaurant on the US West Coast is his way of promoting Philippine cuisine overseas. Of course, there are many good Filipino chefs, but no one will cook Bicol express like he does.
This is by no means meant to diminish the deliciousness of the food prepared by others. After all, cooking is very personal. One recipe cooked by many will result in many different variations, for, certainly, not one will taste entirely like the other. It is safe to say that it is his uniqueness that Sau wants to share.
He said that it matters to him that foreigners remember the food, what that certain Filipino dish is called, and not just the chef who prepared it.
Sold on ‘pica-pica’
While in Sawsaw, we indulged in an overflow of appetizers.
The pulpo is Sau’s take on the popular inihaw na pusit. It was ultra tender, after “bathing” in sous vide for 24 hours. I loved the soft chew and the light smokiness in the finish.
The sisig was served in crisp kratong thong cups, capped with slivers of panfried foie gras. The laing was cooked with escargot and served on crisp edible shells.
The ukoy with corn was delicious! I loved the popping of the corn and its sweetness enrobed in crispy batter, with citrusy lime leaves thrown into the mix. It was served with calamansi aioli.
My absolute favorite, and the dish I’ve been dreaming of having again, is the sinigang na uni. This was as delectable as it was sinful! Its execution was masterful.
The uni mousse was drizzled with sinigang gelée made from tamarind and guava. The slathering of it, all together, cut through the buttery, savory and briny uni. The umami of this dish was fantastic. Served on thin crisps of bread, it was so worth my trip to Makati from Quezon City.We had Bicol express and lobster in Alavar sauce as our main course. It was as I expected Bicol express to be, but not quite, because Sau prepared it. To the sauce, he added sambal. So it was as Filipino as it was also global—a dish I think so appropriate for the times.
The lobster was so tender and cooked to perfection. Bathed in butter, it was served with the chef’s take on the famous Alavar sauce of Zamboanga. Sau’s was lighter, a more refined version, with subtle hints of aligue, faint citrus undertones with bursts of rich coconut. It was all that, if my palatal memory serves me.
For dessert, I had ube macapuno, which was sublimely executed in a pastry. I also had a taste of tibok-tibok with hints of sampaguita and jackfruit.
My ultimate dessert fave, though, was the turon ice cream. It was turon, in ice cream form. Of course, the iconic Choc Nut ice cream of chef Sau was part of the dessert spread.
Indeed, a visit to Sawsaw takes your buds all over the Philippines. Each dish presented allowed us to wander, to explore and to ask, is this Filipino food?
In my opinion, I believe so. It was, after all, rooted in what is traditional. It was, as well, proudly prepared by a Filipino, whose vision is to tell the world that he is ripe and ready to present his beloved Philippines to you, in one delightful bite.
To chefs Sau and Bong Sagmit and to the Sawsaw crew, mabuhay!
Sawsaw is at 8491 Kalayaan Ave., Makati City; tel. 0917-8109322; @sawsaw.ph on Instagram.
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