The 11 Most Influential People in the Philippine Food Scene
No matter what industry you're in, there will always be people who'll break away from the pack and redirect everyone to an entirely new path. In food, these are the people who dominated the scene and led us to a new way.
Asia's Best Chef 2015 is probably the country's unofficial spokesperson for Philippine cuisine. The good chef, responsible for favorites like CIBO, Grace Park, and Lusso, has been carrying the country's flag in various culinary exploits. This year, she was knighted by the Italian government as a Cavaliere dell’Ordine della Stella d’Italia (Order of the Star of Italy). The Order of the Star is given to individuals who have contributed to strengthening the ties between Italy and other countries.
Berna Romulo Puyat
Newly appointed tourism secretary Berna Romulo Puyat has to be commended on many accounts, including stamping out corruption in her department. The former agriculture undersecretary has continued to promote local agriculture to lure tourists to the country.
In an earlier interview with Esquire, she said, "With the increasing popularity of Philippine cuisine worldwide, we have noted that culinary tourism is one of the best ways to attract tourists." Madrid Fusion may be over in the Philippines, but she has other plans up her sleeve.
This millennial continues his winning streak with the opening of Savage and Helm, two very risky concepts that would most likely inspire a whole new style of dining in the Philippines. In Savage, he takes away the comfort of a modern kitchen to create a menu that's mostly cooked over fire, perfectly demonstrating his pure culinary skill. Helm, which is situated just below Savage, is dining theater, a notch above your usual chef's table where the walls between chef and diner are broken down.
The trained chef and food all-arounder may not be known to the average eater, but he's a big name in the industry. After turning F&B World, an industry magazine usually only found in hotel lobbies, to F&B Report, a quarterly tome that tackles issues in the hospitality business, he made it his personal mission to promote and improve local cookery.
Apart from representing the Philippines in various international affairs (together with Margarita Fores), he's also come up with his own special culinary events such as a 10-hands dinner featuring the country's up-and-coming chefs. In November, he also organized the inaugural Asian Culinary Exchange, which featured talks and forums about the food industry. The two-day event culminated in massive simultaneous dinners, mixing and matching Manila's best with other esteemed Asian chefs.
The lovable orange bee has always had a space in every Filipino's heart and stomach, but this year Jollibee launched itself toward world domination.
After conquering the Asian, US, and Canadian markets, Jollibee challenged the discerning palate of Europe. Jollibee outlets in Italy and England opened to wild crowds, full of people who bunked days ahead for a taste of Chickenjoy.
This year, Jollibee Food Corp. also acquired American fast-casual burger joint Smashburger and invested in an equity fund that will own dim sum legend Tim Ho Wan, adding to their already long roster of restaurants that includes Mang Inasal, Red Ribbon, Chowking, Greenwich, Burger King Philippines, China's Hong Zhuang Yuan, and China's Yonghe King.
The Spanish chef behind Vask and now Gallery by Chele has always been a trailblazer in the local restaurant scene, and this year he launched Serie Kulinarya, which invited prominent chefs from all over the world to his humble kitchen to create a dialogue with various types of cuisine.
Gonzalez and his team also opened Stvdio Lab where he puts on his thinking cap and creates all kinds of limitless cuisine. It's open only once a month to the public; a statement that says food is more than something you eat. It's performance, science, and art all at the same time.
The shy chef is never one to seek the spotlight, but it just keeps chasing him. Early this year, his Filipino restaurant Toyo Eatery was awarded the Miele One to Watch award. With his mission to elevate FIlipino cuisine to a global standard, he continued cooking up a storm, representing the country in Macau last September.
The Moment Group
Even if you haven't heard of this prolific restaurant trio, you must have eaten in one of their many restaurants: 8 Cuts, Manam, Din Tai Fung, Mecha Uma, and more.
Their 2018 baby, Mo' Cookies, has unified everyone, young and old, in the name of big, chunky, mouthwatering cookies. The cookies were a product of their experimental studio Test Kitchen, which has spawned its own fanbase. It's a perfect example of why TMG has remained steadfast: They know how to break down and revamp their brands when they see fit.
Amid the ever changing palates of demanding Filipino diners, TMG has always managed to go with the flow and adjust according to the demand. The aggressive team managed to keep their cool while being cool. While the rest of their contemporaries have shut down their businesses due to the rabid competition, these guys have managed to stay relevant and top of mind even after years, thanks to savvy social media and, let's face it, outstanding food.
The people behind Agimat Foraging Bar and Restaurant
Mixologist Kalel Demetrio and Chef Niño Laus have created something intriguing with their Poblacion hub. Agimat celebrates all things Filipino, everything from the bitters to the liqueur is made using local ingredients. They don't stop at ingredients either; some cocktails are even presented with chants as a tribute to the inspiration behind them. The inventive Chef Niño, on the other hand, came up with complementary tapas that are proudly and uniquely Pinoy (and very complex, if you're familiar with the chef's style). The restaurant, which looks a bit like a mangkukulam's lair, is a brave effort amid popular Filipino restaurant staples, but you won't see Filipino cuisine presented this way—at least not yet.
While most other chefs continued to scale new heights with their hifalutin concepts and collaborations, one chef opted to break away from the pack to go to the grassroots of cooking–the home. Chef Tatung is a bestselling book author, culinary historian, and acclaimed chef. Among the vivacious chef's achievements this year includes making a tome that taught the very basics of cooking, from the history of adobo to fool-proof sauce combinations to different types of cutting skills. His mantra: to be relatable.
Must has been said about the chef/host/author, and his spirit continues to touch us even after his sudden death.