Thomas Keller once said, “A recipe has no soul. You as the cook must bring soul to the recipe.”
Chef Josh Boutwood certainly does this amazingly with the cuisine that he specializes in. He is known for his maverick approach to dining, offering a new restaurant concept that smolders with sophistication.
At the recent media launch of the sophisticated Ember restaurant, we sampled the most decadent cuisine cooked with a passionate and personal touch by chef Josh, who hails from Bedford, England.
Chef Josh can easily relate his latest venture Ember to three main phrases: humble, easy to understand, and ultimately delicious. Humble in the sense that there’s no caviar, no truffle, no foie gras on the menu. They cook with extremely humble ingredients, but with the right cooking method, they can be treated as equally valuable as the aforementioned dishes. It’s easy to understand because what you see on the menu is what you’ll get on the plate. The three main words you’ll see on the menu would also be the three main ingredients of a specific dish.
Ember’s menu does not focus on specific cuisine, as Josh’s cooking philosophy veers away from limitations and instead focuses on gathering inspiration from multiple cultures.
Lastly, it is ultimately delicious as they claim to achieve this by balancing through ingredient processes, the acid levels, and the seasoning levels —those combinations all equate to a delicious dish.
Ember’s menu does not focus on a specific cuisine, as Josh’s cooking philosophy veers away from limitations and instead focuses on gathering inspiration from multiple cultures.
We sampled the octopus served with tangy lemon and harissa sauce. The octopus is poached for 90 minutes as it is meticulously mixed with lemon, herbs, and garlic then grilled on embers. The tomato, feta, and olive salad is one of chef Josh’s personal favorites. This tomato salad has feta cheese for a little bit of saltiness and is topped with bits of crunchy sourdough bread for that complementary texture.
The pork, raisin, and carrot are flavored with only salt. It has no marinade. The pork is carefully grilled on embers and served with raisins cooked in fine wine that turns into a wonderful, robust sauce. Burnt carrot gives it an even more impeccable taste.
The succulent salmon, watercress, and flying fish roe is an inviting dish where the salmon is lightly brined, grilled on embers with the skin side down, resulting in a perfectly charred skin. Ember seasoning adds flavor to this dish and is served with watercress.
The all-time favorite was the melt-in-your-mouth Back Onyx Ribeye that is dry-aged in the house for 16 days and seasoned only with salt and cooked on embers.
Another one of my favorites was the Short Ribs, onion and wasabi, which was wonderfully flavorful. Their ribs are cooked for two days at a very low temperature, tenderizing it and it’s finished on nice, hot embers. On the bottom of the plate is sweet onion puree. The dish is served with fried onion for texture and hint of spice and olive oil-dressed kale. The sauce is made of beef broth with roasted bone marrow and seasoned lightly with wasabi. Ribs paired with their creamy and smooth mashed potato is simply to die for.
Other notable dishes include their Spinach. Cheddar, which is a very classic recipe with cheddar instead of parmesan as an ode to chef Josh’s UK background. Also try their Tres Leches, an ultra-moist dessert with vanilla and smoked caramel cream (a recipe of his all-around pastry chef, Jessica Panoy).
All meals are prepared using a variety of cooking methods, from convection ovens and stovetops to a hearth and a smoker to infuse a smoked essence in the dishes. Chef Josh labeled salt as his favorite ingredient as he says that it is an extremely versatile one.
Chef Josh was born to a Filipino father and an English mother and described his formative life as almost nomadic — moving from a typical English country town to the tropical beaches of Boracay and back to the vibrant food scenes of Northern Europe.
Josh found delight in satisfying people with food at a young age, when he preferred working in his mother's restaurants in Spain and Boracay over going to school. Josh explained that his parents had an extremely rigid work ethic — that if you wanted something done right, you had to do it yourself. Set a goal and don’t stop until you’ve achieved it.
He shared that he tries not to be wrapped up in guests' comments, because if he did, he would believe that everything is fantastic. He believes that if he doubts it or wholeheartedly doesn't listen to it, he’ll continue to improve his dishes. In a way, this is his way to avoid stagnation.
Ember is a sophisticated evolution of his other concept, Savage, which is a pre-industrial concept that is back-to-basics in terms of the cooking method. Ember has a high emphasis on amazing ingredients and a more delicate cooking method. To contrast the two: Savage is fire after it blazes through material, while Ember is what’s left glowing from the flame (which is actually the best to cook on!).
Indeed, the chef's soul can be discerned and deliciously interpreted through his splendid cuisine. Expect nothing but the best, just exceptional food, simply put, divine gastronomy that satisfies the palate and the soul as well.
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Ember is located at Greenbelt 3, Ayala Malls in Makati City, with al fresco seating available for patrons. Follow @ember.manila on Facebook and Instagram.