There is a vibrant, tempered energy to chef Miko Calo that mirrors the metronome, a musical device that emits a steady beat to help musicians play their rhythms.
It comes through in everything—from the way she talks to how she orchestrates her kitchen, down to the dishes that eventually make their way to the dining tables of Metronome, the modern French bistro she conceptualized and opened with business partners Elbert Cuenca, Alain Borgers, and cousin RJ Galang.
“Everything must be purposeful,” explains Calo of the reason behind the restaurant’s name. “It’s the beat that guides the music: my beat is my cooking and the music is the food. It’s a steady pace of rhythm that relates to everything from how my partners operate to how the kitchen and service teams work—everyone must be in sync and working at the same pace and beat, so we can provide a good and enjoyable dining experience.”
This “steady rhythm” is a product of the years Calo spent building international credentials in the Michelin-starred kitchens of the late Joël Robuchon, first as a stagiere at La Table de Joël Robuchon in Paris before moving on to work in his L’Atelier restaurants in London and Singapore.
Working with the French chef, known for his defiance of the stuffy world of fine dining and for elevating the mashed potato into an art form, taught Calo “the restraint, the discipline of cooking.”
“Everything from respecting ingredients to not taking shortcuts, to not overdoing things on a plate, to cooking properly and keeping the flavors simple yet interesting, textured yet balanced—I learned from him. Even things like the kind of plates and cutlery you use because it affects the way people experience the food. The most important thing is function—everything you do needs to serve a purpose.”
Bringing French bistronomy to Manila
These days, Robuchon’s teachings, and the culinary arts degree Calo had earned from École Grégoire-Ferrandi in Paris, are being put to fantastic use in Metronome—the 38-year-old chef’s first stab at “doing her own thing.”
The refined casual dining establishment on Bolanos Street, a quiet alley in Makati’s trendy Legaspi neighborhood, brings to Manila’s increasingly vibrant dining scene modern French bistronomy—a growing movement in Paris sparked by chefs veering away from Michelin-type dining, and opting instead to put up their own little bistros where they dish out food prepared using Michelin-starred skillsets sans the eye-watering prices.
“Everything from respecting ingredients to not taking shortcuts, to not overdoing things in a plate, to cooking properly and keeping the flavors simple yet interesting, textured yet balanced—I learned from Joël Robuchon,” says Miko Calo.
With its brand of dining, Metronome largely rebels against how most Filipinos traditionally perceive French food to be: exorbitantly priced and heavy on the cream and butter.
“Of course I still cook with a lot of butter,” Calo quickly clarifies, “but people won’t feel it when they eat. I don’t stick to the classic French flavors. Instead, I go with local ingredients but execute the dish in a different way, using French cooking techniques, and what ends up on the plate surprises people.”
A quick glance at Metronome’s menu of 14 small plates and seven mains affirms this. First of all, save for the entrecôte (a premium cut of beef), foie gras (fat liver), and haricot vert (long, slender green beans), Calo does away with listing her dishes in French and instead opts for the more straightforward approach of simply stating the main ingredient.
Tomato, Eggplant, Mackerel, and Lamb are some of the “stars” of her show, all of which feature two to three “supporting cast members” that enhance, not outshine, the lead ingredient. When one orders the lapu-lapu (grouper),which she steams à la plancha and textures with garlic confit and a coconut-coriander cream, “you know that’s exactly what you’re eating,” she says.
The rest of Calo’s creations, which she structures in tiny sculpted portions “so people can taste a bit of everything,” offer a balance between the foreign and the familiar. Her pork belly confit, which she pairs with a roasted papaya purée and a ginger barbecue sauce, has an Asian flair to it but the execution is undeniably French. “It isn’t Asian food when you eat it, but the flavors are very familiar,” she points out.
Diners keen on expanding their appreciation of Calo’s culinary philosophy may opt to try the seven-course degustation or tasting menu Metronome is offering.
“Right now it’s going to be items taken from our existing menu, but when we’re more settled and the machine is well-oiled and running, we’ll be doing special degustation events in our private dining area where we will likely pre-sell the seats. The menu will depend on the ingredients we can get—if it’s white asparagus or white truffle season, I will create a menu around that, which will not be offered in the main dining area,” she says.
It’s about time for Miko Calo
Anybody witnessing the way Calo concocts her dishes and orchestrates her kitchen, making sure all stations are maximizing efficiencies and maintaining consistent standards, would immediately see they are in the presence of a seasoned chef. It makes one wonder what made Calo wait so long before making Metronome, a concept that started percolating back in 2014, happen.
“The end goal has always been very clear to me. I knew I was going to come back to the Philippines and open my own thing here,” she says.
The rest of Miko Calo’s creations, which she structures in tiny sculpted portions “so people can taste a bit of everything,” offer a balance between the foreign and the familiar.
The pivotal moment came in 2015, when just as she was slated to be promoted to sous chef of L’Atelier in Singapore, the fast-paced lifestyle she enjoyed eventually caught up with her health. “In two weeks I was out of Singapore,” says Calo. “My doctors told me I could either quit, or I stay and work and risk getting a stroke inside the kitchen. I knew that if I wanted to continue being in the career I am in, I had to take better care of myself.”
It was during this period of self-imposed rest, a drastic transition from Calo’s old life in Singapore—“I was bored out of my mind,” she confesses—that the concept of Metronome crystalized and eventually manifested when a cousin serendipitously introduced her to Cuenca last year.
Calo knew from experience that opening a restaurant isn’t as easy as people may think. “I needed the right partners to work with,” she says. “A cousin introduced me to Elbert—I got to cook lunch for him and a week after that, somebody told him about this space, and he called me straightaway. I didn’t expect things to happen this fast, even Elbert wasn’t looking to start anything then, but when I went to the space and saw the existing kitchen, I said, okay let’s go!”
Now at the helm of her own restaurant, the French-trained Calo remains in awe of how everything came together naturally even with the overall design concept that she collaborated on with seasoned restaurant designer Noel Bernardo—from the marble bar counter to the gray wall and even down to the color choices throughout the space, all design decisions were based on Calo’s vision.
“I’m very lucky to have partners who said, ‘Okay, we will take your concept and we will work on it.’”