At a collaborative dining experience with Rémy Martin and Antonio’s, the only French Masterchef in the Philippines shares his culinary expeditions in the past, present, and future.
I remember the first time I tried a dish by Chef Cyrille Soenen. It was nearly a decade ago at his CiÇou branch in San Juan. At the end of our meal, we ordered a dessert we had not yet heard of before—the kouign-amann. The glazed breton cake was topped with a dollop of salted caramel ice cream. After a few bites, my family and I decided unanimously: We would return to the restaurant on a weekly basis for that one dish. And so we did, without fail.
Nearly a decade later, French restaurants are still few and far between in the Philippines compared to other cuisines like Italian or Japanese. This is not to say that we aren’t seeing a few nouvelle cuisine initiatives rising on the horizon. This has become clear at the eponymous Antonio’s restaurant in PGA cars, where Chef Cyrille Soenen is now the head chef. At an exclusive dinner, the many facets and fineries of French food took to the spotlight, as Chef Cyrille and his team incorporated each dish with the cognac of French spirits house Rémy Martin.
A Decadent Tasting Menu Paired with Rémy Martin
While waiting for dinner to start, I decided to “go for gold” and indulge in one of the many Rémy Martin cocktails being passed around. By the first-floor bar in Antonio’s PGA, I watched my “Gold Fashioned” being prepared with Rémy Martin XO, considered one of the best (and also priciest) cognacs of the brand. I admired the ritual—the drink delicately topped with chocolate bitters, brown sugar, and gold leaf. It was delicious, and after a few sips, I began to grow impatient for the delights to expect at dinner.
A magnificent starting dish:
The full-course meal was prepared with three pairings for each spirit—Rémy Martin V.S.O.P, 1738, and XO.
Chef Cyrille Soenen started with a bang, serving U.S. beef tenderloin that was dry-aged for fifteen days. It was topped by tart globs of dijonnaise, and with tiny, toasted croutons that crunched in a way that complemented the softness of the raw carpaccio.
Next up was a Chilean sea bass confit, blended with Rémy Martin 1738 Accord Royal. It’s hard to imagine pulling off an infusion of a dark liquor like a cognac with seafood. Chef Cyrille later revealed he mixed cognac into the ginger mixed into the dish, an innovation that definitely made the flavors work. The final savory dish was a lamb shoulder confit with the formidable Rémy Martin XO.
To end was a dark chocolate clafoutis soaked in Cointreau for dessert—because who can deny that the combination of chocolates and oranges isn’t perfect? Rémy Martin has been pushing their sustainability drives in recent years as a supporter of the Michelin Green Star. This prompted Chef Cyrille Soenen to further add a touch of sustainable efforts, choosing to use local ingredients like homegrown AURO chocolate and Carabao milk.
From being spoiled with gold-laden Aperitifs for happy hour to a meal decadent with the finest ingredients, it was a pleasure to know the backstory from Chef Cyrille Soenen who lauded the teamwork and the trial and error that went into preparing each dish. He gave a look into his process of weaving in doses of Rémy Martin,
“Reading the notes and the aroma is getting to know what people can taste and smell when they drink just the cognac. You have to follow some rules in any pairing but for this pairing, it was very personal.”
Chef Cyrille Soenen Hints at Antonio’s Expansion Plans
Chef Cyrille Soenen first started in the Philippines as the chef of Prince Albert at the Intercontinental, then continued to the Crowne Plaza in Ortigas. Later he opened his own restaurant, Restaurant CiÇou at the Hotel Celeste in Makati and later Brasserie CiÇou in Greenhills—all the while juggling the role as head chef at Impressions in the Marriot Resorts World. In more recent years, he became the executive chef that opened the Admiral Hotel overlooking Manila Bay.
After building a long career in Paris, the French Masterchef moved to the Philippines more than two decades ago in 1999, following his wife, Anna Gaston Soenen who hails from the Gaston clan in Bacolod, a region known for its attention to good food. Described as a “match made in gourmet heaven”, it was on a plane ride to the Negros islands where he began chatting with a familiar friend, restaurateur Chef Tonyboy Escalante. The chance meeting would prove to be truly serendipitous, as Chef Tonyboy soon asked Chef Cyrille to join the Antonio’s group.
Since then it has been a whirlwind, as the French Masterchef has become a managing partner of the Antonio’s restaurants. He has stood at the kitchen helm of the Antonio’s PGA Cars branch since December 2022, all while going back and forth daily to the new, bustling Antonio’s breakfast nook in Robinsons Magnolia.
Suddenly, Chef Cyrille hints at two upcoming projects of the popular Antonio’s Group:
First, he shares that a new Antonio’s Breakfast is in the works at the Bridgetowne locality along Ortigas and C5. The other plan, he surreptitiously describes as a “new concept” set to be located in an annex along the Marikina River, where people can enjoy the fresh and open air. Both are expected later in the year.
With such a thread of exciting projects that both elevate and spread French cuisine in the country, it’s exciting to see exactly what fine gastronomical exploits Chef Cyrille, his team, and his partners have brewing.