Lessons in degustation with chef Tony Boy Escalante
It was in 2002 when chef Tony Boy Escalante broke into the Philippine culinary scene with Antonio’s in Tagaytay. In 2015, the restaurant garnered him the 48th spot in Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants. While many restaurateurs often put up their businesses in the capital, Escalante opened his restaurant in Tagaytay despite problems in power and supply, then paving the way for the countryside to become a gastronomic destination.
Now, Escalante’s restaurants enjoy fresh produce as the chef continues to uphold his strong farm-to-table philosophy. Just last year, Escalante opened his fourth restaurant, Balay Dako, and bagged the Ernst and Young Small Business Entrepreneur of the Year award. A key player in today’s culinary landscape, Escalante reveals his holiday offerings both at home and at his restaurants.
What are the staple dishes in your own noche buena?
The leg of lamb. I have great memories of Christmas family dinners eating that, as well as roast beef that was lovingly prepared by my grandmother. Delicious!
How would you present Christmas with just three dishes?
Hot chocolate, ham, and chestnuts. And, if I may add, ensaymada.
What should people expect from the Antonio’s Group this holiday season?
We are currently working on new menu items at Balay Dako and Antonio’s. Breakfast at Antonio’s is opening a new coffee and cocktail bar, and the Lanai Lounge is expanding its food offerings over the holidays.
The food industry is thriving, with Filipino restaurants and chefs garnering international recognition: Antonio’s placed 48th in Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants in 2015, Margarita Forés was hailed as Asia’s best female chef, and Nicco Santos’s Your Local was named one of the best restaurants in the world by Condé Nast Traveler. What made all these possible?
Times have changed since I joined the industry in 2002. Then, there were so few restaurant options in Manila and even less in Tagaytay. Ingredients were in short supply, and the right staff was even harder to find. Now, people travel more. Cable TV and the internet have educated the dining public on how to eat better. The demand for better restaurants and better food service is growing. More restaurants are opening. Better ingredients have become more accessible. Chefs have started to become more creative.
Who are the chefs you admire?
I’m really excited by what the new generations of chefs are creating—chefs like Jordy Navarra, Bruce Ricketts, and Gab Bustos, who are running amazing restaurants at such a young age. When it comes to international chefs, there is no one better than Thomas Keller. I’m still in awe of the work he has done at The French Laundry and Per Se.
For years, Antonio’s was seen as both a culinary and travel destination rather than just a restaurant. Do you see more restaurateurs establishing food places outside the capital? What would be the implications of this?
Restaurants expanding beyond Manila? I really can’t see any implications for me and my restaurants. To be honest, we welcome it. I myself would love to open a restaurant near the beach, like in Sicogon Island.