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Comfort food as elevated by Alyanna Uy and chef Hiroyuki Meno

By MONIQUE TODA, The Philippine STAR Published Jul 06, 2023 5:00 am

With all her finance and banking accomplishments, I asked Alyanna Uy, “Why food”?

Alyanna is at the helm of the luxe-casual restaurants called Prologue. She also started the specialty grocery Dough & Grocer, featuring curated food finds. Her background, though, is far from the food business. She took up and excelled in Computer Science and Mathematics at the University of British Columbia, and impressively has a Master of Science in Finance and Private Equity from the prestigious London School of Economics. She’s had a stint in finance and banking institutions, but somehow she took an unexpected turn, and entered the culinary world.

Prologue owner Alyanna Uy: “We’re proud to bring fine-dining expertise and techniques to a casual, everyday, dining setting, and serve familiar flavors from different parts of the world with the guidance of an amazing chef like chef Meno.”

“I’ve always had a passion for food,” explains the svelte 31-year-old. “Growing up, I was lucky to have the opportunity to be exposed to good food—my grandmother was an excellent cook and baker, and my family brought me along on all their travels. Exploring different cuisines and experiencing diverse cultures through their culinary traditions became highlights of all these travels. I also lived abroad for several years, and had the opportunity to encounter unique restaurant concepts and flavors. That gave me the desire to bring back the same flavors to and share the same culinary experiences with Filipino diners.”

We meet Alyanna at Prologue in Rockwell, located on the ground floor of Aruga Apartments. It is considered a hidden gem offering elevated comfort food, recognizable favorites from different cuisines. For example, there is Beef Rendang made from Australian wagyu brisket on top of fragrant jasmine rice, French beans, broccoli, and carrots. This dish just melted in my mouth.

Prologue’s Beef Rendang is made from Australian wagyu brisket for a buttery flavor and extra-tender texture, dished up with fragrant jasmine rice as well as French beans, broccoli, and carrots.

A must-try is the Iberico Cabecero Risotto. The Spanish Iberico pork, known for its incredible marbling, just elevates this rice dish.

The restaurant’s version of Chicken Tandoori is plated with turmeric rice, and served with a special cream sauce.

Other well-loved comfort foods such as pizzas, pastas, and appetizers like Escargot Bourguignon are found on the menu.

For the Asian picks, you can select from Japanese Gyudon, Nasi Goreng Prawn, and Pad Thai. Of course, not to be overshadowed are Pinoy “classics” such as Pork Adobo and Arroz Caldo.

Escargot Bourguignon cooked in parsley garlic butter, a French appetizer served with melba toast, is a dish from Chef Meno’s Parisian stint.

The executive chef of Prologue is Japanese-born Hiroyuki Meno. Chef Meno’s background is as diverse as his global menu. He has been “cooking around the world” and has worked in various Michelin-starred restaurants such as Domaine Les Haut Roches in the Loire, France; Le Pont de Ciel in Osaka, Japan; Restaurant Hiramatsu in Fukuoka; and L’Auberge de L’ill in Tokyo. He was also executive chef of Brasserie Paul Bocuse and Maison Paul Bocuse in Tokyo. With all the sophisticated techniques he acquired during his stints in these top restaurants, chef Meno explains why comfort food is the focus of the Prologue restaurants.

I think that Filipino cuisine is very rich and vibrant, but is still under-appreciated. I love the bold flavors and how it has influences from so many different cultures. Even the diversity of the regional cuisines that have their own distinct methods of cooking and flavors is so interesting.

“I wanted to create a unique dining experience, something that will make Prologue different from other restaurants. Given my French fine-dining background, knowledge and techniques, I wanted to incorporate that into a more casual setting, making global tastes and flavors more accessible and enjoyable to a wider audience. Focusing on comfort food allows me to give my own interpretation to well-loved dishes, and allows me to combine the skills I’ve honed throughout my culinary career with the warmth and familiarity of comfort food.”

Prologue’s own, irresistible version of Chicken Tandoori is whipped up with Indian spices and yogurt and plated with turmeric rice, French beans, and a special cream sauce.

Speaking of comfort food, he says of Pinoy food, “I think that Filipino cuisine is very rich and vibrant, but is still under-appreciated. I love the bold flavors and how it has influences from so many different cultures. Even the diversity of the regional cuisines that have their own distinct methods of cooking and flavors is so interesting. It’s hard to pick a favorite Filipino dish, but I would probably say adobo. I think that is a classic Filipino dish that showcases the essence of Filipino cooking. I even made my own interpretation of it in Prologue, incorporating the French technique of confit with the familiar flavor of adobo!”

The joining of the extensive knowledge and experience of Alyanna and chef Meno is the “secret sauce” of Prologue. It makes for a great culinary partnership.

A distinct experience at every location: Prologue Rockwell is part of a restaurant portfolio that includes branches in Quezon City and San Juan City. What’s more admirable about Prologue is its attention to detail, as each branch adapts the experience to its own neighborhood. Each restaurant has a different persona and ambiance, as well as special menu offerings.

“I think that my finance background gave me a good foundation in understanding the dynamics of business, and it’s something that I still use even in the food industry,” shares Alyanna. “The experience and skills I’ve learned in banking is definitely still applicable on a daily basis. For example, in Prologue, we also want to deliver superior quality at a great value.”

Chef Meno’s tenure at Michelin-starred restaurants and food destinations in France, Japan, and Indonesia, has equipped him with a unique skillset that allows him to marry the best practices from different culinary foundations, which shows in every dish at Prologue.

Speaking of being multi-skilled, Alyanna’s passions and interests include food and travel, where she loves exploring new flavors, cuisines and culinary techniques, as well as discovering new places and meeting new people. “I’m always in awe of the creativity of the chefs—they are true artists. In the same way, I’m always in awe of the natural beauty of the world around us. Travel and food also bring so many people together, allowing people from very diverse backgrounds to connect over a similar interest.”

She also dabbles in photography, even taking photos of dishes of the restaurants and products of Dough & Grocer. But what is really fascinating is Alyanna’s passion for problem solving. “I’ve always loved puzzles and challenges from a young age. I participated in math competitions abroad, and even took up math and computer science for my undergrad because of my quantitative and analytical skills. That’s the same reason I did investment banking for a few years, focusing on strategic advisory and capital raising, and finding solutions for the different needs of our clients. I get a lot of fulfillment when I come up with solutions to different problems and pain points. For example, while building the website for Dough & Grocer, there was a specific way I wanted to do something to add to the customer experience. I worked on it and kept trying to find a solution for several hours, and felt so satisfied when I got it done!” 

With this, you know Prologue is in very capable hands.

“Prologue” means a start, a beginning before a main event. “We make everything from scratch, to ensure the quality and consistency in our dishes,” says chef Meno. “Our breads, pizzas, sauces, and even our coffee are all made from scratch.”

They start from the beginning, and there are no shortcuts. At the cozy branch in Rockwell, Alyanna informs us that “the menu in each Prologue changes based on its location and ambiance.” Each restaurant adapts the experience to its own neighborhood. Prologue in Tomas Morato, for instance, reflects the energy and vibrance of the Scout Area, making it a perfect spot for friends to enjoy each other’s company and catch up. The Greenhills branch caters to fit the lifestyle of the families living close by. Prologue at Rockwell is like a “fine neighborhood kitchen,” a cozy retreat amidst a bustling metropolis. A fourth Prologue will open soon in the Mitsukoshi Mall in BGC.

Chef Meno says of Prologue, “with a more casual and relaxed atmosphere and more familiar, comforting flavors, people can come back more often — every few days or every few weeks, while fine dining is normally reserved for celebrations or a special occasion. Food is meant to be shared, and comfort food is something in which we can all partake.”

Alyanna sums it all up: “I think that food really has the power to bring people together. Even when I was working in finance, my colleagues and I would celebrate every milestone over good food, or look forward to trying out and exploring new restaurants in between meetings or after work. I’ve formed countless friendships and have made so many cherished memories over shared meals and good food. I wanted others to also create lasting memories in our restaurants.”

Food does that, and there is no math to it.