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Chef Tatung Sarthou on the elegance of simplicity

By LAI S. REYES, The Philippine STAR Published Dec 03, 2020 5:00 am

In cooking, don’t complicate things by adding unnecessary ingredients just to make it “acceptable.”’

If there’s one good thing that has come out of this pandemic, it’s that cooking at home is a “thing” again.

We all love the convenience of food, but the months-long quarantine has taught us that the simplest way to improve our health is by preparing home-cooked meals that are healthy and yes, delicious.

And so, my online search for simple and easy-to-prepare quarantine meals began. Many Filipinos who don’t know their way around the kitchen found a new friend in chef Myke “Tatung” Sarthou, who believes that there’s elegance in preparing "simpol" dishes.

 Chef Myke "Tatung" Sarthou is recognized for his wide knowledge of Filipino cuisine.

While other chefs create complex dishes by fusing and twisting ingredients to make things “interesting,” this unpretentious chef is busy simplifying recipes and inspiring a new breed of cooks who once thought they couldn’t even make a decent dish out of an egg through his cookbooks and YouTube channel, “Simpol.”

“If you’re starting to cook, just stick to what’s essential,” advises chef Tatung. “If salt would suffice, use salt; if fish sauce would cut it, use it, by all means. It’s that simple. Don’t complicate things. You have to do it right so it will come out delicious.”

So long as you have salt, vinegar, soy sauce and fish sauce in your pantry, “you can already cook a lot of dishes.”

 Simpol the Cookbook by chef Myke “Tatung” Sarthou features 101 simple and easy-to-follow recipes. Each recipe has a corresponding QR code that redirects readers to a cooking video of the dish.

“As you go along, you can build your pantry starting with those basic condiments,” he adds.

SIMPLICITY IS KEY

If celebrity chef, restaurateur, best-selling cookbook author and popular YouTube chef Tatung were to single out one word that drives his culinary journey, that would be “simpol.”

  Chinese-style Pork Asado

This approach to cooking has defined Chef Tatung’s success through the years. His first neighborhood restaurant in QC was famed for its hearty and delish offerings. He quickly branched out with several casual dining restaurants that trained the spotlight on the best of Filipino cuisine.

The popularity of his restaurants led to a gig as resident chef for ABS-CBN’s Umagang Kay Ganda.

“When I was a young chef, I was pretentious,” he admits. “I didn’t want to cook Pinoy food. Because before, the barometer of being a chef was your knowledge of western cuisine.”

    Chopsuey

Soon, he realized that the reason Pinoy food hadn’t made it globally was because of chefs like him.

“We need to stop being apologetic about our food,” he says. “The common mistake Pinoy chefs make abroad is they aren’t confident to cook Pinoy dishes as is, for fear of not being ‘accepted.’ We try to infuse our dishes with foreign ingredients to make it acceptable. We should take pride in the kind of food we have and not care too much about what the foreigners say.”

Chef Tatung practices what he preaches. Whether he’s cooking for his family and friends or foreign guests, he is very selective about the ingredients he uses. He prefers local and ordinary ingredients instead of fancy stuff preferred by most chefs.

“I don’t want Filipinos to be alienated by their own food,” he says. “I want to use local ingredients that any household can cook with.”

His passion for cooking and love for local ingredients endeared him to the late environmentalist Gina Lopez.

“She believed in me,” chef Tatung says. “I met Gina in Botolan, Zambales, where an Aeta community was relocated. We didn’t have accommodations. Thank goodness, there was a local who is connected with the ABS-CBN Foundation and invited us to stay in his place. That night, I prepared our dinner.”

  Sinigang sa Pakwan

Impressed with the dishes that chef Tatung prepared, one of Gina’s staff members got his number for future reference.

“A few months later, I got a call from Gina asking me if I could cook for her and the family,” recalls chef Tatung. “That started our beautiful friendship. I will be forever grateful to her.”

PROUDLY PINOY

Chef Tatung soon gained international recognition for his food philosophy. He was the only Filipino invited to speak at Madrid Fusion in Spain in 2017.

Despite the fame, chef Tatung has never once lost sight of the importance of Filipino culture.

“Food is powerful in how it speaks to our values as a nation and a people,” he explains. “It is important to continually pass on our knowledge about cooking in a clear and understandable way to reach as many people as possible.”

    Paksiw Bisugo

Making cooking "simpol" and less intimidating allows the story behind each dish to thrive in the hearts and minds of Pinoys everywhere.

I guess this is the reason why the amiable chef has spawned a huge fan base of home cooks who all share his creed: “Kahit sino kayang magluto basta simpol.”

It’s no surprise then that "Simpol" is the title of chef Tatung’s fourth cookbook, a venture for which he collaborated with NutriAsia, makers of Filipino home cooks’ well-loved food condiments.

In Simpol the Cookbook, chef Tatung presents 101 recipes that are easily executed using simple, familiar ingredients and basic kitchen equipment.

“Why complicate things when you can make them simple?” chef Tatung says matter-of-factly.

  Oriental Beef Stew

Instead of experimenting with expensive ingredients, chef Tatung encourages beginner home cooks to master the cooking methods first.

“If you’re not good or confident at frying fish yet, don’t cook salmon or sea bass. Practice with dried fish or tilapia first.”

Each recipe in "Simpol" is written in a way that lets readers follow the method required per set of ingredients.

“There’s a short recipe within a recipe,” he explains.

And to make the book interactive, each recipe has a corresponding QR code that redirects the readers to the cooking video of the dish.

Looking at his huge fan base (over one million subscribers between FB and YouTube), chef Tatung’s simple yet practical approach to cooking is truly effective and timely.

“I want to be known more as an author, a teacher and an advocate of Pinoy food,” notes chef Tatung. “Being a chef is just a stepping stone for me to be able to do what I want to do, to understand what I want to understand. There are more important things to focus on now, like food security and national identity.”