Meet Chef Alexa Versoza, Metronome's 26-Year-Old Star Pastry Chef
Modern French restaurant Metronome has quickly become one of the city’s favorite dining spots with its fabulous menu by the Miko Calo-led team. Those who have tried the food will not contest its sophistication, and surely, they’ll also be surprised to discover the skilled genius behind the exciting desserts is only 26 years old. “I get that a lot,” Versoza says about people's reactions when they realize how young she is. But her reputation precedes her age.
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After graduating with a degree in Hotel Restaurant and Institution Management with a Major in Culinary Arts, Versoza went to the United States and trained vigorously at hotel restaurants. Her first experience in New York was shortlived, only lasting for a month. She then moved to Colorado where she worked for a year at the Four Seasons and spent the next year at the Sonnenalp.
This experience away from home strengthened her skills and gave her the grit she now imbibes in her work today.
It runs in the family
“Ever since I was a kid, I was helping in the kitchen. My uncle owns a catering business so when I was in high school, my older sisters and I would provide the pastries for the business.” From baking sugar cookies with her mom to Sunday cookouts with the family, Versoza’s childhood memories revolve around food. She fondly reminisces about family weekends at restaurants when they would come home and critique what they had eaten or have a heated discussion about how they would reinvent the food. “When I was 6 years old, I was my mom’s taste tester. That’s why her cartoon sticker of me is a chubby kid with an apple haircut,” she laughs.
After her Colorado stint, Versoza decided to come back home and look for a job. She sent her CV to any opening with “pastry” on it until she finally clinched an intriguing opening. Little did she know that this would become her most challenging experience yet.
To her surprise, she was hired as the corporate pastry chef of Bistronomia (formerly known as La Lola Group)—the highest-ranked pastry position in the firm. “I just graduated and you’re hiring me as a corporate pastry chef? I don’t know anything!” she recounts. She handled Bistronomia's three restaurants, Rambla, Las Flores, and BCN. “I was with them for around 11 months and it was a difficult experience because I had to train people who were older than me. And they had to train people who had been in the industry longer than I have… It was very difficult because a lot of people would roll their eyes at me.” But all this was a test of character that molded leadership skills, traits she now manifests as co-owner of Mano Mano, an artisanal Filipino bakery in Banawe. The bakery is a joint venture with chef Richie Manapat (of Panaderya Toyo) and three of her high school batchmates. Mano Mano supplies all the bread served at Metronome, except for the dinner rolls which they make themselves in the restaurant’s kitchen.
“We wanted to inititate a 'good bread' movement to make people aware that these kinds of Filipino bread exist.” By this, she means top quality, flavorful bread that isn't your run-of-the-mill pandesal. The bakery is picking up, she says, and it will be releasing new variants in the near future, such as bacon pandesal, malunggay pandesal, and pan de tsokolate, which she excitedly talked about: “It’s our ode to pan au chocolat from France since pandesal is a staple of the Philippines. This will have chocolate filling and cacao nibs.” Off the bat, these variants don’t sound complicated at all, but it’s this simple-but-high-quality philosophy that is manifested in Versoza’s Metronome work.
It takes two
How Versoza ended up in Metronome was a matter of fate. During the restaurant’s nascent stage, Calo was on the hunt for a pastry chef and luckily, Versoza was recommended one by an ex-boss of hers. The moment she entered the kitchen, "Alexa was in shock," Calo mused, referring to Versoza’s amazement at the state-of-the-art equipment. While Calo and Versoza's personalities are polar opposites, Calo with her outgoing personality, and Versoza with her softspoken nature, their relationship is anything but conflicting. In fact, the two have stressed that collaboration is the key to Metronome's sweet success.
In coming up with the final dessert menu, it took a lot of back-and-forth, each giving input on how to better develop the dessert. One example would be the Pomelo Cassis which looked nothing like it did during the research and development stage. “There’s nothing there that’s purely mine or purely hers. We’ve worked on everything together,” Calo said.
It’s worth noting that this symbiosis between chef and pastry chef is something rare in the local restaurant scene today—there are only a handful of Manila establishments with a dedicated pastry chef. And what is the value of absorbing one? “Oh, it’s very, very important to have a pastry chef,” Calo stressed. “For me, as a cuisinier, my skill and my knowledge are in the hot kitchen. I don’t have pastry skills. That’s a completely different world—even the way [pastry chefs] spread things on their plate! Sometimes, Alexa laughs at me because my dessert plating isn’t nice,” she said. “It’s a different skillset, different stock knowledge. They understand things that I don’t.” Versoza mentions that the same applies to her cooking knowledge—it’s just not her forte.
But one thing Calo emphasizes is how a dessert completes a meal. Think about it: have you ever eaten out and didn’t look for dessert? Or at least something to cleanse your palate? More often than not, people love a good ending, but when the dessert is “half-baked” it leaves a bad taste in the mouth—not good for any restaurant. “In restaurants like this [Metronome], you pay a premium, and when the desserts don’t satisfy, it leaves you wanting more. There are many restaurants in Manila that are very chef-driven; they don’t have a pastry chef. And so, you see the simplicity in their desserts: the usual like pudding.”
Metronome's Pomelo Cassis Tart consists of fresh pomelo, black diplomat cream, pâte brisée, and Szechuan pepper opaline. There's also the Peach Basil which is a gorgeous glazed dome of Valrhona white chocolate mousse, basil, peach salsa, peach puree, and black pepper crème Anglaise. All these ingredients seem easy to make, but, in truth, each item on the dessert menu had undergone a little pounding from both Calo and Versoza, proving that it’s the deceivingly simple desserts that defy expectations. (The pomelo’s fine texture took around two weeks to perfect and so did the peach dessert's overall look.)
It’s this simplicity that Versoza has learned from her mentor, Calo. “Chef Miko’s principle is to make one ingredient the star of the show. The other ingredients should be the supporting cast.” It’s this philosophy that serves as the cornerstone of her current work, made possible by her passion and determination.
Not everyone can create “simple” desserts as excellently as Versoza, and that’s where her strength lies. “I think that other pastry chefs need to step out of their comfort zone… not many people do exciting stuff. Introduce something new to the Philippine palette. How will we evolve if we don’t put out anything new?” It’s this thirst for uniqueness and innovation that she is able to thrive in her new home, and we’re pretty sure she’s out to break more boundaries soon.
Metronome, G/F Grand Midori Makati, Bolaños Street, Legaspi Village, Makati; restaurantmetronome.com, 0917.147.3776 or 618.4337