At Foo'd, Score a Michelin-Approved Meal for P800
Cipolla Caramellata, Iberico Pork Ribs, and Lemon Curd. Or Cipolla Caramellata, Chicken and Prawn, and Dark Chocolate Mousse. Or Cipolla Caramellata, Iberico Pork Ribs, and Dark Chocolate Mousse. Or Cipolla Caramellata, Chicken and Prawn, and Lemon Curd.
How much would a diner be willing to pay for three-course meals like these? The chef is Michelin-starred whose original restaurant in Milan has an 18-month waiting list. The local franchise, meanwhile, boasts a Shangri-La at The Fort address.
I posed this question to chefs, foodies, and friends. Considering the rate of premium ingredients like Iberico pork and Grana Padano, which is featured in the gelato and hot cream, they came up with figures like P8,500, P7,000, P5,000, P4,000, P3,000. The lowest was P2,000. Go ahead and hazard your own guess.
The real price? P800.
That got their attention. And now yours. Foo'd by Davide Oldani is all about affordable luxury. The Manila location is the first outside Milan and it introduces Chef Davide's signature Cucina Pop concept to Asia.
What exactly is Cucina Pop and why should Manila diners care? The Harvard Business Review was so intrigued by Chef Davide's campaign that they even did a study on how he was able to quickly join the ranks of the world's greatest while maintaining very, very affordable prices.
Chef Davide describes Cucina Pop as high quality and accessible. He keeps costs down by being incredibly systematic: choosing specific locations like outside central Milan for D'O, the restaurant he started in 2003. In the Philippines, the brand was renamed "Foo'd" to cater to the Asian market.
He also keeps his dining spaces small: D'O can only accommodate 35 seats, which keeps expenses down and his tables full from lunch to dinner. Foo'd can seat just over 50.
The menu is designed carefully. Harvard likens his thought process to an engineer's because he considers the cost drivers on everything on his menu. In D'O he serves a selection according to Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter, which allows flexibility while working with what is available seasonally.
Chef Davide earned his Michelin star 12 months after he opened D'O. Other restaurants at this level end up charging an arm and a leg because of overheads—for example, waiters whose values have increased thanks to a Michelin-starred credit in their resume. He changes this by employing his chefs as waiters instead: They come out with what they have cooked and serve it so guests could receive a clear explanation of what they are eating, thus, at the same time, elevating the dining experience.
Even his glasses and plates are made of a more durable quality which ends up minimizing extra costs down the line.
Operations Strategy, a class taught in Harvard, at some point, invited Chef Davide to explain what prompted him to expand his business. The chef explained that he had to motivate his team, get them involved, and offer opportunities for advancement. They were invested in the idea from the start, but the dilemma was deciding wheather to create another D'O in Italy or to open in another part of the world.
Eric Dee, president of Foodee Global Concepts, the group that brought Foo'd to Manila, shares Chef David's vision of ringing in a kind of luxury that doesn't have to be expensive and intimidating, putting the focus instead on making even the humblest dishes beautiful.
Eric remarks that they want to offer the "best of everything at a fraction of the price. Not charge diners for aesthetics or ambiance, but offer value instead."
Eric Dee, Niccolo Pizzocheri, Nico Bolzico
Along with business partners Niccolo Pizzocheri and Nico Bolzico, Eric started making Foo'd in Manila a reality two years ago.
He ate at D'O and bought just about everything there was to order. The chefs, playing the waiters, offered a summary of every dish. The following day, Eric got Chef Davide's attention when, upon ordering, the restaurateur repeated every single menu item and ingredient.
It was Niccolo, who, along with his dad, primed their long-time friend Chef Davide to be open to the idea of expanding. Eric calls Niccolo his "Italian connection."
Niccolo has been in the Philippines for several years, and he believes "Southeast Asia is one of the most exciting places, but I saw the lack of Italian fine dining and I wanted to be there to make this shift to more modern Italian dining happen."
Once everyone was on board, Eric flew with his chefs to Italy. They stayed for four months, "living the Italian life, biking to the restaurant, and seeing Chef Davide, who's at the restaurant every day, constantly."
Nico, on the other hand, shares how, "when I had dinner there two years ago, I wanted to bring that experience home to the Philippines. The Cippola Caramelatta, for me that is the star dish and I love it because you can eat it for starter, main, or dessert."
He has been back several times since, mainly because he's been attending weddings in the region, mock-complaining, "too many weddings right?"
Between the Chicken and Prawn and Pork Iberico mains, Nico admits, "I like the pork a little better, because it has mushroom, more mix of sweet and I like that."
The Pork Iberico Ribs comes with porcini sauce and Iberico fungus, plus sides of orange carrot and Italian purple carrot.
He explains that for dessert, "I like the Lemon Curd because I am not a huge fan of chocolate so I like this because it is so unique [in terms of] the texture and taste. So make sure you try a bit of everything. By itself it's okay, but one bite all together, that is the experience."
He believes that the food will speak for itself, "People will come, they will talk and that is the best promotion."
Nico, married to the multi-hyphenate Solenn Heussaff, says this is his venture. No wives. He adds jokingly, "I am the partner. Not my wife. My project. I want to invest in restaurants. I like the idea, the group. She already has a lot on her plate in life!"
An added come-on for diners, aside from the food, will be Nico's regular presence at Foo'd. "I have an office very close by, so I am going to have lunch at least two to three times a week here."
He is even more excited for when Foo'd will have Chef Davide himself in-house by January 2017. "I am waiting for the pasta, which is so good. The Cacio e Pepe is really, really good."
Foo'd is indeed a unique concept unlike any other Michelin experience, Nico believes. And while there are many, many Italian restaurants already in the Philippines, Nico remarks, "they have been limited to pizza and pasta, but Italian is much more than that." Foo'd will also include a comprehensive wine list, including bottles from Argentina—as requested by Nico.
Chicken and Prawn
Iberico Pork Ribs
Dark Chocolate Mousse
Right now, the menu has been trimmed to a concise set of 18 dishes.
According to Eric, "We want to stick with something more lean. By January we will infuse more items because Chef Davide will look around at what is available and create something specific for the market."
He also promises that at Foo'd, "our Risotto will be served one minute over al dente, so it will have that bite without being too raw."
Come January 2017, two Foo'd restaurants will be fully functional in Asia: one in Victoria Concert Hall in Singapore and the one in Shangri-La at The Fort. Both are under Foodee Global Concepts.
Eric jokes, "There will be more Davide Oldanis in Asia than in Italy!"
Even if diners keep upgrading their menu, adding to the basic three or four courses, the final bill will continue to be reasonably priced.
"Upgrade your menu to as high as P4,000 for a four-course, it will be worth it. Everything is homemade. Eating here is all about contrast and proportion. For example, the Cipolla Caramellata is an onion tart with a pie crust, caramelized onion, and Grana Padano gelato and hot cream. It takes three days to make this dish and the secret is in drying the onion. You end up with sweet, salty, cold, and hot in your mouth. When this onion is not in season, Chef Davide transforms it into an eggplant dish. And the 24-months aged Grana Padano is aged specifically for him."
Foo'd by Davide Oldani is at G/F Shangri-La at The Fort, Bonifacio Global City.