The mean age of the people behind the concept is 27. The youngest employees are 20. This is probably the reason the energy inside the 60-seater restaurant with an understated MN sign feels happy, bubbly, and positive. MN stands for Made Nice and it is definitely a new-gen kind of pad—bouncy pop music hums in the background and the wooden benches on the communal seating area are heavy AF.
While the boomer generation would loftily claim that those that came after them are simply YOLO-ing their lives away, there is order in Made Nice Supper Club’s open kitchen. They all address each other as “dude,” yet they follow the prescribed culinary hierarchy where the line cooks and commis follow the lead of a head chef. It is, however, rather difficult to distinguish this system on sight, though, as they are all in T-shirts instead of white jackets. They even thought of skull caps at one point we were told, but that might have been too much of a stretch.
There are five creative chefs behind the concept, each bursting with ideas and enthusiasm and each bringing their collective culinary experiences into making the restaurant a success. Head chef is Jack Flores, while his wife Gabbi Ramos Flores does pastry. Toby Panlilio and Wren Go are front-of-house, while Raulito Fores makes the fresh pasta and does the quality checks.
They all have the makings of being stellar chefs abroad—Gabbi staged at Laduree New York, Jack at several Michelin-starred restaurants including Daniel by Daniel Boulud, while Rau learned his mad pasta skills at Union in Pasadena. They also all somehow have a pedigree behind them. To wit, Gabbi’s dad is the proprietor of Neil’s Kitchen in Alabang and their family is also into manufacturing, Rau’s family runs Mamou and Jack’s grandparents started the Phinma Group. Yet, they all chose to return to the Philippines from their stints overseas to establish a homegrown business. When asked why, Gabbi shrugs as if it was the most obvious answer in the world, “because it is our home.”
Jack elucidates, “We did it because we could not find anything similar here. We love to travel and we wanted to bring our food experiences back home so Filipinos can also have what we enjoyed abroad.”
Raulito, Gabbi, Jack, and Wren. Toby was currently on his way back from a trip.
Millennials are said to be happier at work when they feel that they are on a mission, and with Made Nice, these young chefs can see the big picture quite clearly. Their mission, Jack says, is to influence the culinary landscape, where Filipinos will eventually know the sources of their food and recipes will be made up of indigenous heirloom ingredients. “We have a hard time sourcing locally at the moment, our octopus has to be imported from Japan because the local supply is not consistent. If there is a demand for our farmers and fishermen, they will be more committed to producing quality ingredients. If God blesses us properly, we can even be able to showcase to the world what we have here.”
It may seem lofty, Jack admits, but it is possible. “Gaggan was able to do it in Bangkok, why not here?” he quips. He is not alone in this vision, he adds, as there are other restaurants by young entrepreneurs that are trying to shape the restaurant scene. “I believe that being here, we have the chance to inspire other young cooks to go home. That is the only time change can come as there will be a demand for a supply of quality ingredients that are locally sourced.”
Jack hesitates to call their food “fusion,” prefering to say that it's an amalgamation of their influences and preferences.
Dishing it out
The Scandi-inspired meets industrial chic interiors executed by Karlo de Jesus give a warm nod to hipsterhood. Wood and glass are primary materials, set against unfinished walls that give a feeling of being in a college friend’s yet-to-be completed first home.
The interiors may look trendy but the food is not faddish. They all agreed that the dishes should be a reflection of what they like to eat. The menu is uncomplicated, printed on folded pieces of paper, and are named to eliminate any need for guesswork. The name of the dish is based on the main ingredient, hence you will read Carrot (roasted carrots, sour cream, quinoa, toasted seeds); Octopus (grilled octopus, tonnato, potatoes, and greens); and Foie Gras (pan-seared foie gras on brioche, with orange and caramel glaze) on the starter side.
For mains, there’s Tagliolini composed of fresh pasta with duck yolk, Pecorino and Parmesan, and Beef which is a 500-gram USDA short rib, set with leeks, red wine, and a potato puree. As an homage to Filipino food, the Pork is brined lechon-style and served with tutong rice. Dessert is a choice between Milk Chocolate (dense chocolate cake, dulce de leche, and malt ice cream) or the Magnolia Bakery-inspired Banana (vanilla pudding biscuits, and cream).
Jack hesitates to call their food “fusion,” prefering to say that it's an amalgamation of their influences and preferences. “This is really how we eat at home,” he avers. Even the servings are a reflection of their eating habits. “This is also why we don’t do small plates,” Rau jokes.
The young owners noticed that Filipinos have become much more adventurous with their food. “They are definitely more curious and willing to try something different. Before, people would go to place that they are used to and are familiar with. Now they are willing to see what is out there,” Gabbi shares. They initially targeted the yuppies in the Legazpi area, but to their surprise, they have actually seen families with kids who eat foie gras. Jack adds, “I also get comments that I would not have not heard before. People come up and say something like they love how balanced this dish is. They are also a little more conscious about where the ingredients are sourced.”
They also agree that there is a shift in the industry happening globally. Jack explains: “Cuisine is becoming less pretentious, it is a little bit more open compared to what is was before. Rules are relaxing and there is access to different ingredients from all over the world. This is a good thing, because we don’t have to stick to just one style or one flavor profile. That is how things are going to change.”
Made Nice Supper Club is at G/F PPI Building, Esteban Street, Legazpi Village, Makati City; tel. no. 0995-017-2482.