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Miko Aspiras is back to stir the local pastry scene

By MONIQUE TODA, The Philippine STAR Published Oct 05, 2023 5:00 am

In the midst of what seemed to be the peak of his career, Miko Aspiras left the Philippines in 2019 and moved to Australia for love. The demure but friendly chef was the “darling” of the local pastry world. He garnered quite a few awards and citations, including being one of Forbes magazine’s 30 under 30 Most Influential, and was a presenter in Madrid Fusion and Madrid Fusion Manila. He was the first Southeast Asian and Filipino pastry chef featured in So Good magazine, the international publication of “haute patisserie.”

But yes, love is truly sweet, and was enough for Miko to move while he was thriving professionally, and out of his comfort zone. “I married the love of my life, Jerald Vincent San Juan in Auckland, New Zealand, where it is considered legal. He has been my rock. He has always given the best support that I needed. In celebrating my successes in extravagant or quiet ways, he made me feel that I was already a winner in his eyes. He is my constant and I cannot be where I am right now without him.” 

Pastry chef Miko Aspiras is back to unveil new pastry and dessert concepts in the Philippines.

The move to Australia for love turned out to be wonderful for Miko’s growth as a pastry chef and as [a] human being. When asked what is the experience of working there, as opposed to working in Manila, he says, “It’s two very different beasts. That’s how I would describe it. Totally different worlds with different standards, requirements, ideas, and maturity. I can't really compare the experience per se. My experience working in a foreign country so far has been life-changing. It definitely made me a stronger person. Every establishment I worked for (he was executive pastry chef at the Hilton Hotel and Seta Restaurant in Sydney), has tested me in the best and worst way possible. I've learned how to appreciate my time, and all the more, the time of others. I've learned the hard way to prioritize work and life balance. I have also learned to respect the personal time of others, as well as the different approaches to different types of people and races.”

He adds an important nugget: “I can also say to be recognized in this field, whether you are in the Philippines or in Australia, it requires hard work, perseverance, consistency, passion, and keeping good relationships.” 

Chef Miko created this Australia Day amenity inspired by the Sydney Opera House, filled with chocolate treats made from indigenous Australian Wattleseeds and Filipino ingredient calamansi.

Miko and I worked together and were part of the opening team of the Raffles and Fairmont Makati in 2012. He would visit me in my office, and over nibbles of queso de bola macarons (a creation of his), we would talk about artistry in the culinary world, with sumbong and chismis on the side. Miko would show me his spectacular creations, and let me know what he was planning to do in grand food events. To me, he was a real-life Willy Wonka of sorts.

Matcha black sesame-and-berries Basque burnt cheesecake by pastry chef Miko Aspiras

I asked him if it [was] love at first sight, or did he gradually, slowly fall in love with desserts? “It was a little bit of a gradual fling in love, and also heaps of ‘aha’ moments. To put it simply, it was a serendipitous process. I was introduced to the delicious world of pastry-making by my aunt Annie Llamanzares when she did her little catering business back in 1994. I was between six to seven years old back then. She would let me assist her [in making] the Graham cracker crumb crust for her cheesecake, and I would wake up to the smell of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. This carried over through the years as I took more interest in cooking. Preciosa Soliven, the owner of my high school, would be very encouraging when it came to being an entrepreneur, specifically in the food business. That opened my mind to the possibility of a career in the kitchen, and that's what I did. I decided to take a Bachelor of Science degree at the College of Saint Benilde, in Hotel, Restaurant and Institution Management, and of course, majored in Culinary Arts. Although we only had a limited time to tackle pastry and bakery basics, I was given many opportunities to exercise my baking prowess during the quarterly school competitions, in which I would win despite doubts.”

During Madrid Fusion Manila, chef Miko Aspiras presented Filipino polvoron beautifully.

Even as he resides in Australia, Miko would creatively incorporate a “Filipino-ness” in his desserts and creations. “I have been in collaboration with the Filipino food community, both in Sydney and Melbourne, since I emigrated to Australia. I've always seen Filipino food as more than food, more than the ingredients. It is definitely proof of Filipino ideals, ingenuity, and character. So, I've championed being Filipino the entire time I’ve been in Australia. I've been very vocal about my heritage, and have delivered delicious desserts wherever I worked, with Filipino pride. I have also been honored to have my small business, Don’t Donuts, recognized by prominent food publications in Sydney, being named twice in a row as one of Sydney's best desserts. This recognition is very important to me as a Filipino.”

Chef Miko’s lovely springtime tart made with raspberry and rhubarb

Today, Miko goes back and forth between Sydney and Manila. He has recently been given the chance to work in the Philippines again. “There are so many exciting things in the pipeline right now. I've partnered with Visum Ventures Philippines to bring to life my vision of a sweeter world through concepts that reflect my brand as a pastry chef. My first official project and first offering since I left Manila is a gelato shop called Gelato by Chef Miko, in SM Aura, which is opening soon. It will have 18 of the most stunning gelato creations, from classic favorites like Iranian Pistachio, fior di latte from Bukidnon, to more creative signatures like Basque burnt cheesecake, and Single Origin espresso.”

There's also his biggest and most exciting project ever, slated to be launched in the first quarter of next year. Details are still under wraps, as his team is still in the early stages of building more innovative desserts and pastry concepts. Miko is quite excited: “All I have to say is, I'm back and ready to stir the Philippine pastry scene again.”