What I've Learned

Sandy Daza: What I've Learned

"My advice for all prospective chefs: Eat everywhere, try everything."
IMAGE Edric Chen
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My advice for all prospective chefs: Eat everywhere, try everything.

Growing up, I didn’t realize the quality of food that I was exposed to. We had a French restaurant called Au Bon Vivant; we had French chefs—the type of chefs na talagang moody, they would drive you out of the kitchen! I grew up that way, and I didn’t realize the standard of cuisine that I was exposed to, until I started eating in different restaurants, and I wasn’t happy with their food.

‘Yun ang exposure ko, and I think it started my desire to discover more good food. Like I say, it’s like opening a gift for Christmas—you want to surprise yourself. Every time I go to a new restaurant, I’m excited, because I don’t know what to expect.

My latest discovery? I have a food show called FoodPrints, we went to Batangas and I tried the best puto in Batangas—Ninay’s Puto, ‘yung putong puti, grabe.

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The idea of FoodPrints is to uplift Philippine cuisine. Now, how do we do that? We go to the different provinces, we feature the old manangs na maluwag ‘yung braso, na bra-less, na nagluluto ng ganyan [makes cooking gesture], na ‘pag tinray nila, talagang—wow, etong Pinoy food! The idea is for you to go to, for example, Lipa—to try Ninay’s puto and taste this brand of panucha or this brand of bulalo, whatever. When you leave, ang impression mo is—my gosh, I didn’t know we had food that good in Batangas, or Bulacan, or Ilocos Norte. In the end, we’re going to cover the whole Philippines. In the end, you will realize—ang sarap pala ng pagkain ng Pilipinas.

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Living in Paris gave me confidence. Before that, if somebody from Assumption talked to me, hindi ako nakakasalita, kasi English. I was that intimidated! But when I went to Paris I realized: Here I am, I can survive in a foreign country. I don’t even speak their language and I can survive, I can make myself understood. What more in Manila, di ba?

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Paris exposed me to culture. I was studying at the American college in Paris. What did I understand about art? Zero. But I enrolled in an art class, and our classes were at the Louvre. We were studying the original paintings—how can you not appreciate that?

And fine cuisine. It also made me proud because we had a Philippine restaurant in Paris, and that restaurant became one of the top two Asian restaurants in the whole of Paris. As a Filipino, you would have been very proud.

I learned to be proud of being a Filipino in Paris, because I missed the Philippines.

I always use the logic that if a foreigner eats food and the ingredients are not familiar to them, that becomes exotic.

Everyone likes to be surprised. When I create a recipe, I create something that I want, that will surprise the diner. Something na iba. I pick up ideas everywhere, and try something. Dinakdakan is a dish I tried in Ilocos Norte; I tried to recreate it, it really made an imprint on my brain.

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The best thing is seeing satisfied customers or satisfied readers or satisfied viewers. When they tell me, “Alam mo, tinray ko ‘yung recipe mo, ang sarap,” or “I tried the restaurant you recommended—loved it.” People come to me and say “Ang sarap ng pagkain mo, mura pa!” Sabi ko, “Hayaan mo, tataasan ko para sa ‘yo.”

If I could choose my last meal? Para sa akin, in the end, Pinoy food. ‘Yung unhealthy, sticky, fattening adobo. With plenty of rice, ‘yung iba-bounce mo ‘yung karne dun sa kanin mo, at magkakamay ka. Inom ka ng malamig na Coke na dumidikit sa ilong mo ‘yung yelo.

Actually, adobo is a risk, kasi everybody claims to have the best adobo recipe. Kasi may comfort food aspect ‘yan eh. We grew up, na wala pang problema sa buhay, masaya kami noon, tapos ito ‘yung kinain naming adobo. So to them, pinakamasarap na adobo ‘to. Kasama na ‘yung mga memories dun eh.

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The best lesson my father taught me? To be kind to everyone, regardless of stature. And to exercise generosity without telling people what you’ve done.

The best lesson my mother taught me was: if it tastes good to you, serve it.

Having said that, you have to tune your palate. Dati sarap na sarap na tayo sa chocolate sa sari-sari store, then you get exposed to the better chocolate, then all of a sudden, ‘di na ganun kasarap. So with that statement comes great responsibility, because you cannot just be happy with where your palates are—you’re still learning.

I learned that work can be play. To me, this is not work; I’m just playing. That’s how blessed I am.

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About The Author
Luis Katigbak
Luis Katigbak was a fictionist and editor. He served as the associate editor for Esquire Philippines.
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