What She Wants

20 Questions with Malu Gamboa, the Hostess with the Mostest

The general manager of Azuthai, Cirkulo, Milky Way, and Tsukiji on the secrets behind her success.
IMAGE Dan Harvey

What’s the first thing you usually do when you wake up?
Drink a glass of water and do a quick phone check. Not necessarily in this order.

Fashion staples?
About eight years ago, I decided to see if I could go a whole month wearing only dresses, i.e. no jeans, which was then my everyday uniform. I discovered during that month that dresses fit my lifestyle and needs best. I don’t usually have the time to go home to change for dinner so dresses work for day to night. I love wearing heels too—flats are more the exception for me. My staples for weekend trips are bathing suits that make me look curvy and a belt that goes with most things.

Favorite clothing brands/labels?
House of Laurel, Mich Araullo, Jessica, Carven, and Jaspal. When I pick a dress, I veer towards those that are comfortable yet chic and timeless.

Signature accessories?
Wynn Wynn Ong rings and my mom’s studs.

What fragrance are you wearing?
Jour d’Hermès.

How do you stay in shape?
I’m a creature of habit so I have stuck with the same workout schedule for years. Three mornings a week, I head over to Wawa Feliciano for Jane Fonda-style aerobics and Callanetics. No matter how busy I am, I always get in at least one game of golf a week. It’s great exercise and being on a beautiful, wide-open course also serves to clear my mind and give me a bigger perspective on things. I am currently knee-deep in Velada practices. That’s a thorough cardio workout three hours a session, thrice a week with Maribeth Bichara. Perhaps the weight loss potential of the Velada season is offset by the meriendas and happy hours that follow our dancing.


You’re a great hostess. How often do you entertain?
That is a big compliment because Filipinos do know how to throw excellent parties. It helps that I have a very seasoned crew when I entertain six days a week at our four restaurants.

Entertaining staples?
Popcorn, nuts, cheese and chocolate, red and white win, vodka and tonic. Spotify.

What music is on your playlist now?
J. Lo, Prince, and Spotify’s “Have A Great Day” playlist.

What do you like most about yourself?
My positivity surprises even me. It’s my default mode and it has allowed me to accept some of life’s disappointments with grace, and most importantly, it makes me honestly look forward to every new day.

Malu Gamboa

What do you love about being in the food industry?
It’s the same yet different every day. Since food makes people happy, I am usually surrounded by happy people. After they’ve had their halo-halo, guinumis, or avocado ice cream, people are very relaxed and in childlike satisfaction. It’s actually quite incredible how these treats can change a person’s mood instantly.

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If you were not a restaurateur, you would be…
An architect. I love every part of the building process. When I travel abroad, most of the pictures I take are of interior finishes or accents that I am itching to reproduce in some way back home. Most restaurateurs dread remodeling but I actually look forward to these construction projects because even a small tweak with lighting or paint colors can make a huge visual impact.

What are the secrets to your restaurants’ success?
I am told by our most loyal customers that they value two things: consistency of food quality and service, and the “clubhouse feel” that puts them at ease even if they enter alone. They know they are welcome.

Favorite restaurants?
La Cuchara de San Telmo and Arzak in San Sebastian. Tim Ho Wan in Glorietta. I order pork buns so often they deliver it to my car when I drive by.

What would your last meal on earth be?
Tapsilog. I can imagine being very sentimental at that stage so this meal would bring me back to thoughts of Sundays with mama and dad at home, when we would have a Pinoy breakfast spread for dinner since I am rarely awake when they have it for breakfast. I would like these happy thoughts to be my last.

Any causes you advocate?
The arts and supporting our Filipino artists.

Best decision of your life?
When I was in my mid-20s, I decided to come home to start a restaurant. This was a big decision for me because I had a great job in Chicago and had finally achieved the independence that most young people craved. Family is very important to me, so I felt it was time to give back to them and be around them more after six years of living on my own. I’ve never ever regretted that choice.


Who is your dream date?
As much as I would love to eat with Oprah or chat with Obama, I would have to go with golf with Justin Timberlake.

Love of your life?
Life! I’m defined by my enthusiasm for every aspect of it.

Where do you go to unwind?
I like going to small, quiet places for a night cap. My current favorite is the Bonbon Club for Monkey 47s and Pepi Cubano sandwiches.

What do you hope to dream about?
A hole in one. It’s the one thing that has eluded me all these years but I know I am getting closer to the big day. And when I do, drinks will be on me!

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Manica C. Tiglao
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