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Chef Josh Boutwood’s appetite for evolution

By IGAN D'BAYAN, The Philippine Star Published Jul 11, 2024 5:00 am

A chef stands in an empty kitchen, ensconced in silence, all the scenarios simmering in his head. With every new restaurant, he has a tendency not to develop a new menu until he is actually inside its kitchen. When the construction is about 80 percent complete, or three weeks before the restaurant opening, just when the pressure is really mounting, that’s when his mind starts cooking.

This might sound like a scene from The Bear, but it is really a slice of life from one chef Josh Boutwood, who closes a chapter in the saga of his first restaurant in Manila called Savage and opens a new one.

“The way I like to put it is that all of my restaurants are all within the same book but in different chapters,” Chef Josh explains. “And with Savage, this chapter in our current location that we’ve been in since 2018, there has to be an end to it, then a new one begins afterwards.”

The chef in his kitchen

Savage was launched at Arya Residences in BGC in April six years ago. Since then, it has been touted as a truly one-of-a-kind concept that embraced the open-fire cooking method, reminiscent of how people cooked their prized hunts back in the day. There are no food processors or pressure cookers in Savage; gas cookers or cooking methods such as sous vide are not used. The chef and his team only use smoke, fire, and ash — to allow the natural flavors of the ingredients to come out, raising the bar for what unique dining experiences can be.

“We’ve realized that there’s a point of evolution that we can no longer obtain in this current location, that we have to look elsewhere for it. I was saying to Raquel (Hizon, publicist of The Bistro Group) that, when you open a new restaurant, inspiration is like a cup that gets filled.”

Chef Josh in action

Over time, the creativity and inspiration can deplete, leaving the team running on fumes, much like a car in need of gasoline. With the new location, the aim is to rejuvenate energy and ideas, pushing the boundaries of what Savage can offer. The goal is to infuse fresh inspiration and innovation into its culinary creations.

Recently, the chef invited his friends, the media, colleagues in the industry, and loyal guests to a special dinner to celebrate Savage’s remarkable six-year journey.

Chilean mussels

“Yes, we’re relocating to a new address (East Gallery Place, 28th St. corner 11th Ave., also in BGC) that fits the evolution of Savage, infusing a new energy and a new experience for the guests,” Chef Josh says, who likens this development to the act of “skipping the track and jumping on to the next one.”

Savage’s DNA—characterized by primal, pre-industrial cooking—will remain unchanged; the same as the logo. After all, the whole ethos behind the way they cook, treat their ingredients, and their method of cooking is ingrained in the entire operation.

Deviled eggs

“We cannot alter the DNA or otherwise we’ll be messing with our nature,” the chef points out. We’re guessing that the astronaut (a staple in Boutwood’s restaurants) will still be present. The deviled eggs, the succulent grilled octopus, the steak, the smoky barramundi, and the tuna collar with yeast and miso will still grace the new menu. The sourdough is not going away. How that combination of flour, water, and salt could be so magical is such a mystery.

(Full disclosure: we brought a loaf of sourdough home, nipping away at it for a week, damping a piece before reheating it, dabbing it with butter from Savage, and garnishing it with cheese from Prosciutto e Parmigiano in Venice while listening to Tony Walker podcasts of ghost stories… and we still could not get enough of it.)

“Savage prides itself on having a full-flavored menu and while we want to reinvent the concept, the menu would be very similar, going back to our core DNA; though I would say that every item is going to be improved and elevated,” explains Boutwood.

“Savage was established from the get-go as (a restaurant with) pre-industrial cooking, wonderful ingredients, and a cooking style that was unheard of in Manila,” Josh says. “That DNA remains intact. We bring that to the new location. But what’s great about it is that we were able to evolve it in a way where we can try, and still maintain those wonderful, impactful flavors that Savage is known for but introduce different ideas and different dishes that would fit the new location, the new aesthetics and the new energy. I’m a big fan of energy.”

If you asked Chef Josh about the culinary strategy for Savage, he would offer a two-word response: humbly delicious.

Chef Josh with friends Charles Paw, Anna Paw, Patrick Pesengco, and Rossini Pesengco

“Savage is a concept that is humble at its core. We just have a very non-traditional style of cooking. And that challenges me as a chef. We’re cooking on an open fire and you can’t control it—there’s no on-and-off switch, everything is down to feeling and intuition. And that whole philosophy of Savage is to challenge ourselves, using great ingredients, using a cooking process that is non-traditional, and, at the end, creating humbly delicious food.”

The chef talks about his partnership with The Bistro Group. He started with Bistro back in 2012 as a corporate executive chef on a six-month contract. He fell in love with living in Manila and working with the Bistro team. With contract renewal after contract renewal, 12 years have passed. Chef Josh considers Bistro as a part of his family, with a trust that exists between them. They share the same goal of creating amazing food for wonderful guests. The business has scaled significantly over the last few years, from 38 stores when he first started to over 200 now, which makes it challenging to get around the stores daily. Despite the leap, he has never been happier, finding Bistro to be a wonderful partner, a great team, and an excellent guidance leader. He looks forward to the next 12 years.

Team Savage

So, if a film were to be made about him and his culinary journey, Chef Josh reveals what the first line would be: Here it starts.

He expounds, “My life has been an amazing journey with wonderful people surrounding me. I always say, ‘Define a goal, but don’t let the goal define you.’ Our industry is not an easy industry. It’s extremely competitive, but it’s a beautiful industry if you love cooking. It comes with a lot of hard work and lack of sleep. The rewards are minimal, but if you can learn to appreciate the little milestones, to keep your head down, and to just keep striving… that’s the way to success. But for me, it’s not going to be just one movie. It’s more of a saga (laughs).”

Like Star Wars?

“Yes, like Star Wars.”

And we’ve joined chef Josh in one of the trilogies of his saga: closing the old Savage, coming up with an updated menu in the interim, and opening a new and reimagined Savage. The Force is strong in this one. Still the fire burns.