For chef Peter Dennis Montemayor, it was Boracay or bust. Throughout his career, he worked in some of the world’s most luxurious resorts—including Aman and Shangri-La—but reached a point in his life a few years ago when there was only one place where he wanted to live: Boracay.
“I was working abroad from 2009 to 2015 (in Bali, Phuket, the Caribbean) and I thought if I can’t find a job in Boracay I’m not coming back to the Philippines,” Peter says.
His first job was at Shangri-La Mactan from 1997 to 2001, where he started as a commis and literally worked his way up from peeling veggies to eventually becoming chef de partie, sous chef, executive sous chef, executive chef and corporate chef in various hotels and resorts.
I don’t need to wear my chef’s jacket. I don’t even need to wear pants. I’m a beach person, and no matter how busy the work gets, I’m still on the beach and I’m wearing shorts to work.
Mactan was followed by a stint at Shangri-La Makati, where he became a banquet chef. “I wanted that experience and stayed a year, then I gave up. It was too much, but it was a very good experience in terms of volume cooking. In one day, I would have five functions with five different menus—some buffet, some plated—and thousands of guests.”
In Boracay today, the hours may be long too, but “it’s more quiet, I can concentrate,” he says. “Here, I don’t need to wear my chef’s jacket. I don’t even need to wear pants. I’m a beach person, and no matter how busy the work gets, I’m still on the beach and I’m wearing shorts to work.”
And that’s exactly how I accidentally meet the chef—he’s wearing shorts, T-shirt and a denim apron—when I duck into the bistro True Home on White Beach on yet again another rainy day in paradise.
Gem of a place on White Beach
Located on White Beach’s Station 1, True Home is one of those places that’s so good you wonder why not everyone knows about it.
When you mention it to some friends, they ask you, “Isn’t that the Indian restaurant?”
You forgive their ignorance of Boracay’s culinary offerings and resist the urge to pat them on the head when you correct them and say, “No, that’s True Food.”
(True Food, also owned by the owner of True Home, closed last year due to the lease expiring—as is often the case with Boracay’s original, independent landmark restaurants.)
So you want to educate people about True Home—how wonderful the food is, how the blue interiors reflect the different hues of the sea 10 meters from where you’re sitting, and how the warm wood ceiling and antlers-like centerpiece somehow make you feel like you’re in a ski resort.
But then you become a little possessive, you want to keep this secret a little longer. So you share it only with people who truly love Boracay and good food, and will appreciate that this place has the best carbonara on the beach. (That’s how I discovered it in January—on the recommendation of Cathay Pacific’s former country manager.)
There wasn’t a bistro here before. True Home used to be a nine-room boutique hotel, and when Boracay was suddenly closed for rehabilitation in 2018, new setback rules were issued.
The Italian owner Paolo Occhienerro, who came to Boracay 35 years ago, decided to tear the place down and build it back up—smaller, fancier.
The interiors were designed by Eric Lopez, who also designed Coast at Station 3 and Maremegmeg Resort in El Nido. The colors were inspired by the ceramic plates and glasses Peter had specially handcrafted for the bistro.
From nine rooms, True Home became three rooms, all facing the beach, and with a bistro on the ground floor—of which Peter is executive chef and co-owner.
They constructed the new building for two years and finished during the pandemic. When Boracay opened to tourists last year, the bistro was packing it (or as much as the protocols allowed it to). When it go super busy, Peter would step onto White Beach for a little breather from his kitchen on the second floor, and that’s all it takes.
Best decision of his life
Even when the island was closed again and then opened, and then closed and opened again—as though it was a door unhinged by a typhoon—Peter never thought he had made the wrong decision coming here. After all, he had loved the island when he first came here in 2003 as the chef of Fridays Resort and then Lemon Café before he went abroad.
During the pandemic, he says, construction of True Home had to stop for five months though it was 90% finished by then. But the equipment and furniture pieces were coming from Manila and they couldn’t find a way to get them to the island.
He was worried sure, but there was nothing he could do about the situation. So he walked and walked every day. Then he stopped eating rice.
“I lost 30 kilos. I like to walk, that's why I like it here. I don't want a motorbike like in Siargao where you need one (he worked there briefly to open a hotel). I eat everything except rice; I eat bread, pasta, mashed potatoes and I lost a lot of weight.”
In June 2020, they opened the bistro first. The island was still closed to people outside of Aklan, so their customers were only locals and stranded tourists.
Some days they didn’t have any.
But True Home Bistro became quickly well loved for its pasta (try the authentic carbonara and amatriciana), poke bowls (tuna and spicy teriyaki), and Asian specialties such as chicken satay, jap chae, pad Thai, beef pho, mie goreng and laksa, and Roman-style pizza.
When Boracay opened to tourists in November last year, True Home’s three rooms were always booked and so was the restaurant. Both Peter and Paolo were serving the customers themselves because they didn’t have staff yet.
Peter says, “I don’t like going back to Manila, even though I was born and raised there. Here in Boracay, I don’t get stuck in traffic on the way to work. I just walk. I have friends here, I have a community here. And I work on the beach.”