Joel Torre’s ode to his hometown comfort food

OCTOBER 27, 2022

Filipino dishes with a Negrense touch
Filipino dishes with a Negrense touch


Filipino dishes with a Negrense touch
Filipino dishes with a Negrense touch


I first met Joel Torre in 2003, during the early days of his now famed inasal house, JT’s Manukan.

Through the years, JT’s has become a staple whenever I crave for inasal. Even then, at first bite, I knew that JT’s was here to stay. The chicken, the batchoy and my favorite spareribs are as satisfying now as they were then. In an industry as competitive as food, 20 years is forever!

How Joel managed to overcome all the challenges and even a pandemic is impressive. I caught up with the actor/restaurateur, and our exchange led to a Q&A of sorts that’s worth sharing, as Joel’s food story is inspiring.

It was Joel’s mother, Luz de Leon-Torre, who instilled in Joel a love for food. Torre said that their family was in the food business. Having 13 children to feed, his mom decided that apart from feeding her brood, why not prepare more food for others as well?

Joel recounted how families in Bacolod would go to their house at lunchtime to pick up their orders that consisted of three viands plus rice, packed in pimbreras. The kitchen was the busiest corner of the Torre home, and where he would hang out with the cooks.

Being the youngest, Joel would accompany his mom to the public market as a sidekick and a mascot.

JT’s Chicken Inasal
JT’s Chicken Inasal


Joel’s favorite cuisine is Spanish, as cooked by his mother, whom he calls a terrific cook. Throughout her life, she would repeatedly say, “Joel, cooking is from the heart.” Ms. Torre’s specialties are fabada, callos and lengua. Her tortilla de patata, her son claims, is heaven, as are her croquetas.

Growing up around food sparked an interest in him, at a young age, to set up a restaurant someday. In fact, Joel was so well-equipped to open an eatery that he double majored in mass communication and marketing.

His dream came to fruition only after 20 years in show business, when he was in his early 40s. The JT’s inasal recipe was tweaked from a family inasal cookfest, held at his brother’s house in Bacolod, where their parents and family chose the best-tasting one. The chicken house menu was meant to highlight Ilonggo dishes—comfort food where he hails from, with favorites like kansi and batchoy. He also added other classics like laing and pinangat from Bicol, and puto manapla to pair with their dinuguan.

Though Joel cooks, he admits that he doesn’t cook much, but he takes pride in knowing how to prepare their inasal and other recipes.

The actor/restaurateur is stillgrilling two decades down the
The actor/restaurateur is still grilling two decades down the road.


Celebrity advantages

Joel admitted being a celebrity has its advantages. “We didn’t have to pay extra for an endorser and a mascot.”

He pointed out that the upside has a downside, though. Others expected JT’s to be all hype. Twenty years is proof that the inasal house is more than just that.

So how does he manage 38 branches with his very busy show-biz schedule?

He does so by juggling his time. He conducts mandatory mancom meetings weekly. The company holds seminars and team building activities. Most importantly, Joel would go for months on a sabbatical from acting to focus on the business. He also sees to it that he take lots of vacations to relieve the stress, and to relax and reflect.

To those who dream of one day owning a business like JT’s, Joel’s advice is to know what you want, what your passion is and go for it!

He added, start small but think big. Test your market first with a calculated risk. Know your numbers, and reinvest a part of your profit back into your business.

He reiterated that for restaurants, it’s always “location, location and location!” Never compromise the quality of your product.

And lastly, his words of wisdom: “Know your passion. Live your dreams. Always pray for guidance and be thankful for your blessings. We only have JT’s and we are content with what we have. We take it one day at a time and are happy with the way things are.”

Joel shared JT’s Sate Babi recipe. It is an Ilonggo version of the Indonesian grilled pork sans the peanut sauce. The dish started in Peter’s Inn, a watering hole in the ’60s and ’70s near the Bacolod plaza, by the sea wall. It was a resto on stilts. When it closed down, other restaurants recreated the marinated pork wrapped in tin foil and deep fried, served with Java rice. Joel finds it better grilled. It has, he said, a somewhat Mediterranean flavor with a hint of chili. It was his fellow actor Mark Gil’s favorite pulutan. It is best paired with atsara and beer.

JT’s Sate Babi

2 ½ kg pork

250 g soy sauce

10 g brown sugar

1 ½ g pepper

2 pieces onions, pounded or grated

10 g salt

Vetsin, optional

Hot sauce, to taste

Cut pork into 2×2-inch cubes. Combine all ingredients and mix. Marinate meat. Grill.

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