Chef Chele Gonzalez has to be the hardest-working man in the restaurant industry right now. In addition to running his restaurant Gallery by Chele full-time, it seems like every other week he’s launching a new business, whether it be delivering his Spanish signature dishes to your home, or baking burnt Basque cheesecake with his wife, Teri Echiverri.
His latest venture is Deli by Chele, offering charcuterie, pastrami, sausages, breads, preserves, kombucha, pickles and jams—over 70 items in total—created in his Studio Lab, in partnership with his right-hand man and protégé, chef Carlos Villaflor.
“We need to really reinvent ourselves in many ways,” Chele explains. “This was a dream for maybe two, three years to have a deli, because we were developing so many things in the lab.”
Prior to the pandemic I toured Studio Lab during one tasting dinner at Gallery by Chele, and it was like a culinary playground for the duo and their team, where they would cure meats, pickle vegetables and ferment vinegars and kombuchas that they would then serve to diners, who’d be so enthralled they would ask if they could buy the items.
This planted the idea in Chele’s head that maybe one day they would do a deli and sell those items, but that dreamy vision became very urgent reality when the pandemic hit.
“Now, because of the quarantine and the lockdown, we said, ‘Okay, what can we do to keep the business alive?” Chele says. “Everything is happening online. What happens if we do a deli online?”
Carlos says it took them months and months of research and development before Deli by Chele was ready, from finalizing the products to choosing the right packaging and labels, all of which are made of sustainable materials. “It’s very fulfilling, having a great team behind us that is dedicated and passionate and that we can trust to bring all of our dreams into reality,” Villaflor says.
Deli by Chele sources all of its ingredients locally and responsibly, working with a number of organic farmers in the country, through Chele is quick to disclaim that not all of their produce is organic. “A lot of indigenous stuff is coming now from a tribe in El Kabayo in Subic,” he notes. Adds Carlos, “We also work with Good Food Community and DownToEarth.”
PIECE DE RESISTANCE
The deli’s piece de resistance has to be the New York-Style Brisket Pastrami, which Chele says will transport you directly to New York, and he’s not exaggerating. I prepared it according to his explicit instructions, and one bite put me in mind of Katz’s Deli in Manhattan, which is legendary for its pastrami.
“That one is our bestseller,” Chele says proudly. “We use grass-fed, organic Bolzico beef.”
I sandwiched the pastrami in between slices of Deli by Chele’s Ube Sourdough, in which he combines two of the most popular quarantine food trends into one savory loaf. Crispy outside and moist inside, the bread also goes perfectly with Deli by Chele’s Honey-cured Ham (available sliced and whole), which Carlos says they brine for 10 days before smoking and curing with local wild honey that they preserve as well.
“The pork that we use is organic pork, and the honey that we use from Subic is also organic,” notes Chele. “So we really create international daily flavors but with our philosophy of using all local and sustainable produce.”
I completed my pastrami experience with Deli by Chele’s Sayote with Spices: “We wanted to create something like pickled cucumber,” Carlos says. “Since sayote is kind of an underrated vegetable, we wanted to highlight and bring some goodness to it.”
The must-quaff with the deli meats is their probiotic, sparkling kombuchas, which Chele says are a healthy alternative to sodas. One is named “Forbidden” because it contains tonka bean, which Carlos says was prohibited in some countries “because it has this certain component that makes you high.” (Note to self: order a case.)
Another is called “Fresko” because it’s a very refreshing combo of ginger and citrus. “If you like gin and tonic, use the kombucha instead of tonic water,” is Chele’s pro tip.
FILIPINO MEETS SPANISH
Sausage fans can try the Spanish-style Longganisa and spicy Chorizo Picante—straightforward, un-sugared versions of their Pinoy counterparts. “Just pan-sear them to keep all the juices inside and finish them in the oven,” Chele advises.
Other noteworthy items include the yellow-fin Tuna Loin in Olive Oil, Octopus a la Gallega (which transported me back to Spain), and Mango and Basil Jam. “For me, the best mango in the world is the Filipino one,” Chele says.
While the two chefs collaborated on the more Spanish, international items, Villaflor developed everything on Deli by Chele’s menu that is more Filipino. “This is also the time for Carlos to shine,” states Chele.