The Real Philippine Master Chefs and CS # 10

Hello foodies!   

     This is quite a lengthy post but trust me, it's worth it. And hey, I've been away too long, don't you think?  Enjoy! ;)

    It all started back in 2009, when I was a culinary intern at the Marco Polo Plaza Hotel. I had the opportunity to meet and work with celebrity chefs father and son tandem Gene and Gino Gonzalez and their sous chefs Lawrence Zafra and Toto Erfe. I assisted them with a VIP dinner with the theme "East Meets East Kaiseki Dinner" and I was so inspired by these guys because their genuine passion for food and cooking were radiant. They specialize in Asian cuisine though not limited to that alone and I definitely learned a lot from them and always do whenever we meet. I'm proud to say that it is they who sparked my deeper interest in Asian cuisine. Having watched them groove in the kitchen with their masterpieces, I already felt like I went by Asia in a blur. Everything  they made looked really authentic. They are the real deal, unlike most of the flashy poser chefs you see on TV nowadays with their fancy knives, shoes and jackets but only want media attention. You know what I'm talking about.
from left: Sous Chef Ramil Espanol, me, Chef Toto, Sous Chef Leo Montemayor, Chef Lawrence Zafra, Chef Gino and Gene Gonzalez
      If you don't know him, Chef Gene is a multi-awarded and greatly accomplished man dubbed as the "High Priest of  Nouvelle Philippine Cuisine" by Fodor's Guide for South East Asia, has received a Ten Outstanding Young Men Award for culinary arts and founded several important organizations for the introduction of Philippine cuisine globally just to name a few. This great man has a lot on his belt. So if you haven't heard of him, better check him out. He also writes for Manila Bulletin in the food section published every Thursday and has written several books as well, including a helpful cookbook series on Filipino cuisine. Together with his son Gino, they run a school called Center for Asian Culinary Studies (CACS) with campuses at Manila and Davao and soon to open in Cebu! They are the real master chefs of the Philippines, having traveled, worked and studied in several prestigious institutions abroad yet remain genuinely down-to-earth and oozing with passion. If I go on, you won't finish reading this post til tomorrow. :)
Chef Gino and Chef Gene at the Marco Polo on their 5th year now
     So since I met them, a friendship developed and I'm still mesmerized to this day how it all happened; how I got to know and stay connected with these awesome guys. They're like superheroes for me. It's been 3 years! My, what a breeze it was. Since they're regular guest chefs at Marco Polo, they come over every year and they never miss to inform me everytime they're in town. We'd make sure to meet at least once out of the few days they're here. And they also leave me souvenirs everytime such as books that they wrote plus a short hand-written letter for me in the first page. Makes me squeal deep inside whenever I receive one from them. My collection of these is definitely priceless. :)

Here they are:
from Chef Gene and Gino since 2009 :D
Chef Gene's artwork that he also gave me in 2009 made from concentrated espresso
his letter at the back of the art :D
   This year, I decided to treat them to dinner at one of the ultimate secret dining destinations I discovered in town. At Colon. Actually, my dad was the one who found this. It's a small simple Chinese restaurant found in a tiny street at a corner just a few meters past the Cathedral; a genuine hole-in-the-wall. It's called Mingnan Chinese Cuisine and I fell in love with it the moment I tasted they're food. It serves authentic Chinese cuisine owned by a Chinese couple who both work in their business. The husband cooks while the wife is the cashier. And their only son has the best job -- EAT! Haha. Cute. I found that this place was already popular to the Chinese community though. It is located at Corner Plaridel Ext., Osmena Blvd. Along Legaspi St., past the Cathedral. 

     So I met up with the chefs at Marco Polo 7:30 p.m. and we all took a cab together all the way to Colon. Yes, these guys are cool like this. Knowing them, they really love food tripping and they're hardcore. They actually went to a lot of the places on my list within the few days they spent here. I've been on it for 4 months now and I haven't even covered half of it yet! 

     Anyway, back to the adventure. I asked my dad to order our dinner earlier that day so when we arrived, the lady owner already knew what we wanted. The place is merely a 20-seater and is usually packed during lunch when workers or even students would flock over and grab a meal. One thing is, you can be stuffed with a meal worth only Php 50 which already includes more than a cup of rice, a main dish and a vegetable side dish. They actually do not have a menu which is cool because you can order anything you want a la carte and they can make it. So it's totally customizable! They have live fresh seafood in aquariums and you can choose from these and tell them or ask them how it should be cooked. What we had that night was good for almost twice our number but we all finished it. We were 5 and I think our spread was good for 8. Sitting at the same table with these guys and dining with them felt like a secret union of great chefs hovering over a good generous meal and it was really surreal for me just being with them. Excuse my excess gushing if you will. ;)

their aquariums with live seafood for your picking
Feast your eyes on what we devoured:
steamed shrimps
homemade fish ball soup
the bigger balls have pork in them. yum!
they're best seller. i don't know what it's called though but it's spareribs cooked like a crossover of adobo and humba. :)
seafood and tofu hotpot
sauteed baby clams - they're favorite among the dishes
sizzling eel - 2 thumbs up for me! :D
Of course, we can't miss the traditional Chinese pancit canton. This is comfort food for me.
Last but not the least, we had diwal (angel-wing shells) steamed with garlic and scallions.
This was heavenly. Best I've tasted so far, even compared to the ones I've had at Bacolod. Juicy, fresh, sweet and soft. <3
     All this was about Php 1,700 inclusive of a  couple of drinks. We finished all this but I'm sure this was good for 8 people the most; very affordable for authentic Chinese cuisine, even better than what you get in the malls.
from left: Chef Gene, Chef Gino, Chef Toto, Chef Lawrence and the author :)
     After stuffing ourselves with everything on the table beyond satisfaction, the chefs wanted to treat me for coffee and dessert. I suggested La Marea for the mochi ice cream and warm brownie cups. We went to the Crossroads branch and got ourselves some coffee, green tea and mango mochi ice cream (i looove! totally obsessed with these.) and warm brownie cups. I had an Irish Coffee but it was more of "Irish whisky with a little espresso" according to Chef Gene. Lol. That shot could hit you. 

mango mochi ic with a little food styling by Chef Gene :)
my fave! green tea! :)

their famous warm brownie cup <3
budbud cabog
budbud cabog out of the leaf wrapper
This was really good. My mom loves budbud cabog and this is my favorite kind of budbud. :)
different warm brownie cup flavors
    La Marea tweaked their interiors and it's quite nice. They already have a 2nd floor with a little wine bar. We stayed up there.

     That night definitely went by so fast. I was still dazed til the next day that I had such a wonderful dinner with them. They just make me feel so welcome to be with them and I'm really blessed and grateful to have known them and become their friend. 

Hope you enjoyed this. :)

photos by: Gino Gonzalez

- Babe For Food -
your new BFF in Cebu dining :)

1 comment:

  1. They have an aquarium? Wow. I should order the diwal and dumpling dishes next time.