The two other restaurants came together one after the other soon enough. What was initially an available space in Poblacion was the original location for Savage, but permit issues delayed the project until it was shelved altogether. But the Bistro Group bosses offered Boutwood another location in Bonifacio Global City, and it was here where the chef decided to realize his idea of a pre-industrial open-fire concept.
“Savage took off like a rocket,” he says. “I think that’s what the city wanted, something that was different. [It] was a complete different animal that I loved from the get-go because it's food that I enjoy. Grilled. For us to even do it on wood fire, which nobody else in the city was doing, was even better.”
Four months later, it was Helm’s turn to open. It had been a concept Boutwood had been kicking around in his head for about seven years, and an unutilized space downstairs from Savage proved to be the ideal location to finally make it happen.
The new home of The Test Kitchen—at One Rockwell in Makati—was the result of a fortuitous walk with his late pooch one morning. A restaurant that was just open the previous evening suddenly had boards up, signaling its closure. A phone call to the Rockwell leasing office confirmed it, and Boutwood had quickly made a pitch, asking them for dibs on the space. He decided on resurrecting The Test Kitchen, with a decidedly fresh twist.
“It’s now a la carte, and not a tasting menu anymore,” the chef says. “That's the major difference. I never wanted to replicate any of my existing restaurants in two different locations because they may lose heart and soul. But Rockwell has a very persuasive group of people, and they really wanted it here. So I did it.”
Despite the move to a more upscale community, Boutwood says he has kept the heart and soul of the restaurant, which means a focus on cured meats, a planned focus on cheeses, and a menu that depends on the freshest, most appetizing ingredients available in the market.
Love for the craft
When the Esquire team manages to pin him down for a few hours to indulge us in a photoshoot and chat, Boutwood is like a performer in a sketch comedy act—he says yes to everything and gamely poses with knives pointed at his face, plates surrounding him on the floor, and spoons attached to his cheeks. It’s a personality that matches how he says he is in the kitchen—calm, with occasional bursts of energy, and an overall disposition of loving where he is and what he’s doing.
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“I can't not be in the kitchen,” he says. “I think that's probably one of my worst traits. I just can't switch off.” He reveals a couple of instances when his partner Ström woke him up and told him he had said things out loud in his sleep.
“She said I was saying, ‘Is that going to table 14?’” he says with a chuckle. “I must have been dreaming about something. Another time it was like, ‘The lasagna’s burning in the oven.’ Which is weird because I don’t even have lasagna on my menu, but I’m dreaming about lasagna. So even when I'm sleeping, I'm thinking about food, I’m thinking about restaurants.”