Chef Myke “Tatung” Sarthou roots his food in her­itage

Chef Myke “Tatung” Sarthou con­tin­ues to con­nect the past and the present of Filipino cui­sine


“When I was five or six years old, I was al­ready hang­ing out in the kitchen,” chef Myke “Tatung” Sarthou re­calls. “[Most of the time,] I was re­mov­ing malung­gay leaves from the stems or snap­ping off the ends of string beans.”

Raised in a Bisaya-Ta­ga­log house­hold dur­ing the era of “Tup­per­ware par­ties,” Sarthou has al­ways been pas­sion­ate about Filipino food. From his sig­na­ture burnt co­conut to his ren­di­tions of Min­danao dishes—“We Filipinos have been dis­re­gard­ing those for the long­est time”—he keeps the food he cooks grounded in her­itage.

How will modern Filipino cui­sine evolve?

Filipino food can re­ally evolve [fur­ther] if we con­tinue to in­ter­act with each other: the chefs and any­body else who eats. We could have a deeper dis­cus­sion on, for ex­am­ple, the is­sue of rice. It will de­velop if we con­tinue to find ways. Let’s not be caught up with recipes; let’s be more con­cerned about sus­tain­abil­ity. Can we af­ford to eat this [on a reg­u­lar ba­sis]? We’re look­ing [at] the end prod­uct, but cui­sine and gas­tron­omy are con­nected.

It’s also re­ally about em­brac­ing the state of af­fairs in the Philip­pines. When you say modern Filipino, it’s not nec­es­sar­ily all about the tech­nique, [but] it’s about what’s avail­able to Filipinos. We’ve seen some de­vel­op­ments in terms of agri­cul­ture. A lot of in­gre­di­ents, which weren’t avail­able at a cer­tain point of time, are now be­ing grown here, like kale and French beans.

I think modern Filipino chefs are hav­ing the sen­si­tiv­ity to pre­pare and cre­ate Filipino food in the con­text of what would serve this coun­try well. Let us not stop in­no­vat­ing be­cause, ul­ti­mately, we should be able to cre­ate and be able to eat. It’s not just about cre­ativ­ity, but also about sen­si­tiv­ity and re­spon­si­bil­ity. Are we choos­ing sus­tain­able and ac­ces­si­ble in­gre­di­ents?

And what are those in­gre­di­ents?

It’s re­ally go­ing back to our land and seas be­cause no mat­ter how you pre­pare food, it should stay true to the en­vi­ron­ment. Food should be cen­tral in our re­la­tion­ships, and food should rep­re­sent our en­vi­ron­ment. If you keep those val­ues in­tact, it can some­how change forms. I have strong roots in her­itage and cul­ture, but I still want to push the dis­course fur­ther be­cause that’s how we keep our­selves rel­e­vant. Aside from work­ing in the kitchen, you also share your knowl­edge through cook­books. Can you tell us more about your lat­est one? I just re­leased a book, and I’m fin­ish­ing an­other one right now. It’s called Rice to the Oc­ca­sion, which fea­tures rice recipes that kids can do. I’m pro­mot­ing lo­cal rice. Part of her­itage is a real in­ter­ac­tion [be­tween] in­gre­di­ents. Rice is an ac­ces­si­ble and ver­sa­tile in­gre­di­ent, so [the book] is about con­tin­u­ously el­e­vat­ing your craft [even when] you’re cook­ing some­thing that’s sim­ple. When you cook, you should strive to make a mas­ter­piece. The next book I’m [pro­duc­ing] is some­thing for housewives. I’m try­ing to in­tro­duce ideas of sus­tain­abil­ity, like how they can in­tro­duce lo­cal in­gre­di­ents into their recipes.

Chef Myke “Tatung” Sarthou was in­tro­duced to cook­ing as a young boy. He used to make and sell kakanin in grade school.

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