Chef Tatung Sarthou Isn't Cooking to Impress You
Chef Myke “Tatung” Sarthou went through a period of heartbreak for more than six months. He was quieter than usual. People were looking for his food: “What happened to you?” was a common question he received.
Tatung wasn’t really gone. After a couple of restaurant projects, he focused on expanding his brand to reach a wider market. He came out with a handy cooking guidebook, spent much of his energy producing and starring in an online cooking show, and appeared on local TV usually at the break of dawn. But his food, which reflected his personality and creativity, wasn’t so readily available. Something was amiss.
It was on the first day of July 2019 when things took a turn for the better. Then began the construction of a dream restaurant, his major comeback of sorts. And in just three months, Talisay opened its doors.
This is his homecoming. First, he’s back in Quezon City, the same place where he introduced his cooking prowess to the market, to reconnect with his pioneer clientele. Second, he’s back on his terms. This time, he has more control of the food, the kitchen, and the entire business, having strictly family as his partners. And lastly, Tatung is back in the game.
“I’ve become more mature not just as a chef but as a person as well,” he says. He’s learned to edit himself, to be more honest in the way he cooks and tells stories. His mindset has also changed: “Cooking [now is] to delight rather than to impress. I just cook for deliciousness. Other things don’t matter that much anymore.”
But that’s not to say that he cares less about aesthetics. The restaurant, after all, sits on a 700-square meter lot and is an absolute sight to behold. Glass walls were installed to let the light and air in; the garden was meticulously landscaped; the tasteful tableware was sourced from acclaimed potter Lanelle Abueva-Fernando. And like the interiors, the food promises a sense of lightness. There is less drama, no hullabaloo hounding every dish. There is creativity, but unpretentious and far from being just conceptual. There is a feeling of home.
“Talisay is inspired by my childhood,” says chef Tatung. “It’s about my memories of good food we cooked at home that led me to become a chef. It’s actually a celebration of my roots.”
The Molo Soup is a good place to start. It is beyond heartwarming. Specially sourced wrappers are filled with flavorful pork to make dumplings that swim in a light, soothing broth. Pair that with some of the house’s homemade bread: golden and crusty on the outside (almost like out-of-the-oven pandesal), pure white and tender inside. Fantastic. It’s hard to imagine your meal getting any better.
Yet, it does. The Lumpia Fresca is a classic Tatung. The rolls are as colorful as the chef’s life. And there’s a bit of a surprise, as always, via a dollop of green sauce that provides much-welcome pungency to the dish. The Balbacua isn’t much of a departure from the traditional. And that works. The oxtail, tendon, and trotters are flavored with a platoon of spices and simmered to a mindblowing tenderness. It is comfort in every slurp, chew, and bite.
This is the food chef Tatung grew up with, and he and his family are openly sharing these flavors to all. “We always had good food growing up. It seemed like a must even on ordinary days,” he says. Other dishes are more recent discoveries, but still hold a connection to him, his brother (who spent much of his life in Germany), and sister-in-law.
This explains the European influence on the menu. There is a bountiful Paella Mixta speckled with chicken chunks and fat seafood. There is also an indulgent Lengua doused in a creamy sauce made with a triumvirate of mushrooms and a splash of vino. “This is actually the first time I’m working with family for a project and it’s deeply personal,” he says. He considers Talisay as a crossroads, as he engaged more intimately with his brother to recreate their childhood. “Talisay had to have meaning not only to me but to him as well. It’s really a piece of our lives captured and shared in this restaurant,” he adds.
Of course, the food very much puts forward their Filipino pride. The aforementioned paella shines the spotlight on tinawon, heirloom rice from Ifugao. What seems to be another Caesar salad actually highlights a local goat cheese, dried mangoes, and cashew nuts. Then there’s the Pork Chop Ilocandia. The properly grilled thick-cut pork chop comes with a crispy pork relish, which is actually Tatung’s version of dinakdakan. A few squeezes of calamansi rounds out the flavors.
Soon, some of these dishes will make it to Talisay’s tasting menu. Something old and new guests should be excited for. But again, he’s not doing this to impress. He’s done with that. He loves to cook and he sees his food as a way to fill some void, some emptiness—a broken heart perhaps. After that, he’s still not sure what he wants to do: “I have decided to stop working on a grand plan.” For chef Tatung, things seem to turn out better that way. “For now, I’ll let fate take its course. If I followed my plan, there wouldn’t be Talisay," he says. "But look at me now, I’m happy and grateful.” He’s just keeping it real.