Rupert Parker visits Manila to find how the idea of sustainability is influencing chefs on all sides of the world
Madrid Fusion is a long running festival held every year in Spain’s capital and aims to highlight new developments in food and cooking, with innovative chefs demonstrating their skills. I was at the first Manila incarnation of the event three years ago when the chef wizards of Spanish cuisine were dazzling the locals with their artistry and imagination. Some of that inspiration seems to have been passed on and Filipino cuisine has gained a new confidence. The result is that Manila has a number of rising restaurant stars who dig deep into the traditions of the 7000+ islands which make up the Philippines.
Presentations this year are seriously global with chefs from Indonesia, Korea, Hong Kong, USA and Singapore joining their European counterparts. With sustainability the theme of the conference, there’s much emphasis on foraging and fermenting with a number of restaurants growing their own food, including the UK’s Simon Rogan of L’Enclume in the UK’s Lake District. Kamilla Seidler, from Denmark, and Michelangelo Cestari, are working with young ex-prisoners in their restaurant Gustu in La Paz, to spearhead Bolivian gastronomy.
Ultimately I’m gripped by the Manila chefs. Jordy Navarra has been making a name for himself at his Toyo Eatery after working at the Fat Duck and Hibiscus in London. He’s interested in the country’s local produce and he brings a fisherman all the way from his village in the north to demonstrate how he fillets the Dorado he catches. They only fish for two and a half months a year and the fillets dried in the sun, then salted and smoked. Jordy uses this for Kinilaw, a Filipino version of ceviche, made with vinegar, pickled ginger, onion, lime zest and coriander flowers.
Josh Boutwood has a Filipino father and a British mother and has worked in the UK and Sweden. His Test Kitchen restaurant has just 22 covers, all on one big table and the menu changes constantly. His challenge is use ingredients that farmers can’t sell and he aims never to repeat a dish over 100 services. The idea is to get to zero waste and his cooking is certainly impressive. At one sitting I get to eat aged strips of lamb, scallops with beetroot, pork, duck with Jerusalem artichokes, and Wagyu beef with pickled carrots. His kitchen is right next to the table so I see everything he’s doing and the results are astonishing.
Ray Adriansyah and Eelke Plasmeijer run their Locavore restaurant in Ubud, Bali, and, as the name suggests, they only use local food. Their dish, “Into the Sawa” is inspired by the surrounding rice paddies. They take snails from there and make a stock in which they cook the heritage Balinese rice, adding powdered fern tips and dehydrated sea grapes. When the liquid has been absorbed, they crack a slow cooked duck egg and place the yolk on top. The snails are arranged around it and it’s topped with a floss made from rice paddy frogs’ legs and more fern powder.
I get to sample this at a unique dinner at Gallery Vask where chefs from Locavore, Nerua in Bilbao and Odette in Singapore, work with resident chef Chele Gonzalez to prepare a tasting menu. It’s extraordinary to be able to sample cuisine of this calibre in one place and I have to declare that there’s no outright winner. I’m partial to the Basque cuisine of Josean Alija from Nerua, Julien Royer’s multi-faceted pigeon is superb, but I also love Chele Gonzalez’s Spanish Filipino dishes. As for the Balinese cuisine, they emphasise that it’s local, so I just going to have to take a trip there.
Desserts are also feature during the congress. Sally Camacho-Mueller is Filipino but lives in the US and has won prizes in international pastry competitions. She prefers to use duck eggs, as there’s more flavour and fat then their poultry equivalent. She demonstrates duck meringue filled with slow cooked yolks, surrounded by mini eclairs, decorated with white chocolate and caramel garnish, mango sauce and calamansi jam. She’s opening a new restaurant in Los Angeles in the near future.
Every day there’s a long lunch break where’s there’s a tremendous spread of Filipino specialities from different regions. The most interesting is the “Nose to Tail” event, where all the unmentionable bits of animals are served up. I try Dinakdakan, chopped beef tongue, braised oxtail and pig’s brain mousse, then Betamax, grilled chicken blood with Davoa dark chocolate and crispy chicken craw, all surprisingly tasty. For the ultimate Filipino surprise, try Balut – a hard boiled fertilised duck egg, which contains a developing embryo complete with beak and feathers. Don’t forget to add the dressing of chilli, onion and vinegar for that extra kick.
Philippine Airlines flies direct to Manila from London.
The Peninsula Hotel makes a comfortable base in Manila.
It’s More Fun in the Philippines has tourist information.
It’s expected that the fourth version of Madrid Fusion, Manila will take place in April, 2018.