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.

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