Keeping it spicy
What chef Robbie Hojilla stocks in his kitchen
Robbie Hojilla, a Toronto chef, and Justin Bella, known for running popular Filipino brunch spot BBs Diner, are longtime pals, having met while working in the city’s small (but growing) Filipino food scene. They’d been circling the idea of teaming up for a while, but the timing never worked out — until now.
Though the OG BBs closed last year, Bella is reviving (and reinventing) it for his new spot, Sari Not Sari (1566 Queen St. W.), an event space, comedy bar and mecca for Filipino culture all rolled up into one, which opened last month.
On weekends, BBs’ beloved brunches will be served from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Hojilla — who has worked at osterias in Italy, and at Toronto spots like the buzzy but short-lived Hudson Kitchen, and Little India’s Lake Inez — is leading the BBs kitchen at Sari Not Sari, taking over from the original chef, Julian Ochangco, who has since moved on.
The menu will be Hojilla’s take on traditional Filipino dishes, made with his distinctive style. Describing it as “Eurocentric Filipino fusion,” he leans on nostalgia for his refined interpretations of classic dishes.
For example, his arroz caldo (a rice porridge typically made with chicken) is vegan, with a Frenchstyle vegetable broth, while his Filipino spaghetti (a dish usually notable for the addition of brown sugar) is less sweet and topped with crumbled Cheez-It crackers.
While this new iteration of BBs is still a work-in-progress, Hojilla says they hope to eventually expand brunch beyond weekends and add takeout. They’ve already started offering small batches of rotisserie chicken and catering service, which will ramp up as the holidays approach.
When not dreaming up new ideas for BBs, Hojilla can be found at home, usually whipping up something spicy. Here, he shares a few of his kitchen staples.
‘‘ It’s so awesome. It really tips the scales of a dish.
ROBBIE HOJILLA CHEF
The spicy dip
Hojilla loves the classic numbing effect of this Szechuan-style
Lao Gan Ma spicy chili crisp.
The popular Chinese condiment is made, in part, with fried peppers (giving it a fun crunchy texture), soybeans, onions, MSG, garlic and peanuts for an intense flavour that’s spicy, savoury and full of umami.
He’ll use it on pretty much anything — say, as a dipping sauce for dumplings or whatever protein he’s cooking — to take his meal up a notch.
Lao Gan Ma spicy chili crisp, $7, tntsupermarket.com
The savoury paste
Miso gets its tangy umami from proteinpacked, fermented soybeans, and the white variety tends to be sweeter and milder than red versions, thanks to a shorter fermentation period.
“It’s very easy to make a soup with it, or a great salad dressing — like the kind a sushi spot serves with shredded lettuce,” Hojilla says of this Hanamaruki paste. “I also love making a marinade for fish with it, along with mirin, sugar and rice wine vinegar.”
Hanamaruki white type soybean paste, $6, walmart.ca
The Italian topper
Anyone who’s been to the popular Italian spot Terroni knows how tempting it is to have too many slices of bread topped with its spicy peperoncini piccanti (red chilies in olive oil). So, when the restaurant started selling jars of the condiment — which is imported from Puglia, Italy, and counts Meghan Markle as a fan — it was a game changer for Hojilla. “It’s so awesome,” he says. “It really tips the scales of a dish.”
Terroni peperoncini piccanti, $14, labottegaditerroni.com
The chef’s tool
When cooking, there are techniques you can use to gauge whether you’ve hit the right temperature, but Hojilla prefers the guarantee that comes with a chef’s thermometer. He favours this waterproof digital one from Smak, because it’s affordable, easy to clean and precise, delivering a reading in just a few seconds.
Smak digital instant read meat thermometer, $29, amazon.ca
The traditional vinegar
Coconut is a staple in Filipino cuisine, as are the sauces, spice mixes and vinegars from Mama Sita’s. Hojilla says the brand’s Anghang Sarap spiced tuba vinegar, made with a blend of spices and naturally fermented coconut sap, is one of his favourite vinegars because it’s “nice and sharp.” Its bright acidity makes it the ideal match for dipping grilled meats or adding over rice.
Mama Sita’s Anghang Sarap spiced tuba vinegar, $7, sunshinegrocery.ca