How will the industry’s performance this year fare against last year’s? We’re almost a month through 2020, but we can’t deny that there are people, concepts, and restaurants we can look back to that proved they can take over the world of food and beverage. Apart from dictating the course of the previous year and bringing the standards of F&B up a notch, there’s always a thing or two we can learn from these names.
In our Best of 2019 series, we feature stories that embody the tremendous growth of the industry (its effects obviously still manifesting today). From farming and agriculture to gastronomy and cuisine, these stories of beginnings, downfalls, and success prove that there are indeed endless opportunities and resilience found in the world of F&B.
Being the only Filipino restaurant to make it on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list was never Toyo Eatery’s goal (although they are deeply grateful for the recognition). Championing Filipino cuisine is at the heart of their business and to be able to share some of its flavors and its history, they strongly believe in creating a nurturing work environment.
The 25-member crew feels at ease when in the restaurant and still manages to get the job done. The staff enjoys the rare gift of not counting the hours until their shift is over simply because work does not feel like work anymore. This shows that quality of food and service don’t only bring success to a restaurant, a positive work culture helps too.
JP Anglo is known for his comic personality and undeniable talent in the kitchen. During his early years as a chef, he was exposed to the entertainment side of cooking (he was casted as one of the judges in the Philippine adaptation of the British cooking show “MasterChef” in 2012). Although it wasn’t part of his plan as a budding chef, it became his vantage point in understanding the industry.
His stint at the 21st San Sebastian Gastronomika put Filipino cuisine in the international spotlight once again as he proudly served Negrense dishes in a boodle fight setup. After hearing what last year’s keynote speaker Carme Ruescalleda said about generosity despite competition, it touched his vision of seeing the country’s kitchen community built on mutual trust and respect more than prestige and accolade.
No matter how cheesy it sounds, for the chef-owners of Hapag, Filipino food is always made with love. Originality also isn’t a concern among the three young chefs as they seek ways to create innovative interpretations of traditional Filipino dishes.
But besides this, it’s the close-knit, family-like dynamics between the chefs and staff members that can account for the success of the private dining restaurant. There’s a good reason the industry should preserve and promote this type of restaurant culture—one that understands the need for good food and honest connection.
It’s about time the Philippines regains its position as a leader in agriculture. A long (and prejudiced) history of the industry’s unforeseeable changes has resulted in a decline in what was once the country’s biggest strength. However, Mark Ocampo of bean-to-bar manufacturing company Auro Chocolate, hasn’t dismissed the possibility that the agricultural sector can get back on its feet—and this can only be achieved if the people working behind it are given the credit they deserve.
The international recognition Auro Chocolate has been gaining recently has shown how far Philippine agriculture can go. For them, the farmers are the ones who brought the country this kind of prestige and thus deserve the same admiration and respect. But, it isn’t just about acknowledgment anymore. The Philippines is and will always remain indebted to how agriculture has kept the nation alive. The moral obligation now lies in improving the farmers’ way of life and in continuing their noble legacy.
They all started out as young chefs who wanted to prove something. Gabbi Ramos-Flores, Jack Flores, and Raul Fores used to be caught up in the idea of making sophisticated, New York- and LA-accustomed dishes. Now, they’re shifting to what’s familiar, finally distancing themselves from the intimidating and the unapproachable.
Made Nice is all about, well, food made nice. It’s not about outrageous concepts and exploratory flavors anymore. They have found their footing and they have no plans of wasting the golden opportunity they are handed to start again. If there’s anything the shift in their identity has taught them, it’s that maturity is not grounded on what’s impressive—it’s on the gradual but constant assimilation of finding your purpose and intent.
The Back Room
If the Prohibition era were to ever happen again, then The Back Room, in all its glistening glory, will most definitely be the place to be to risk finding alcohol—and it’s all worth the possible jail time in exchange for a taste of their beverages. How can this one-year old, hidden speakeasy bar land a spot in Asia’s 50 Best Bars?
The Back Room isn’t your regular bar with bright lights and blaring music. There’s an air of discretion, even mystery, and it invites guests to forget about the busy streets they came from and travel back in time. As they have their own gin laboratory, head bartender Poch Ancheta and bar manager Dicky Hartono place their confidence on the kind of cocktails and concoctions they can come up with. To anyone who enters, beware: You’ll always want to go back.
“The world tells you you’re ready, even when you think you’re not,” says Miko Calo. But is anyone really ever ready for anything? She wanted everything to be perfect: the restaurant being exactly how she pictured it, the menu bearing the flavors she’s known to create, the people positively responding to their service. Calo, fueled by her aspirations, is looking forward to the start of a smooth-sailing, purposeful business.
When she first opened Metronome, she learned that timing had to become part of her craft. It wasn’t because she always runs out of it but what she made out of it taught her the value of patience. With a whole team behind her who shares the same vision and understands the passion that comes with cooking, what’s the point of rushing?
Opening a restaurant requires deliberate planning that could stretch on for years. But for Elbert Cuenca, a strong believer of serendipity, things fell into place—only that it’s not just out of sheer luck. It bears the type of lessons (and closures) that you wouldn’t find elsewhere.
He proudly puts his name in the restaurants he has opened not out of narcissism but out of the confidence his concept will deliver. Associating it with his name proves that he willingly offers who he is in his food and service. As a veteran restaurateur, he saw that it’s not about what’s grand and glamorous. Sometimes, you have to put your trust in what’s quiet but most definitely feels right.