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Traveling the world through food

By THERESE JAMORA-GARCEAU, The Philippine STAR Published Nov 25, 2020 4:00 pm

Thanks to the current restrictions on travel, a number of peripatetic chefs and foodies quarantined in Manila have started food-delivery businesses that aim to set your taste buds free to roam the globe via their dishes. We may not be able to go out into the world just yet, but we don’t really need to when these two noteworthy purveyors are bringing the world to us on a plate.

AROUND THE WORLD IN 6 DISHES

Having worked as a luxury hotelier abroad, Don Romulo Gregorio Orense, aka “RG” and now “Don,” misses traveling with his friends the most.

A foodie ever since childhood — mom was a restaurateur and Lola would cook for the whole family — he remembers walking through the streets of Kyoto, where there was a strip that served all-matcha delicacies: matcha in ice cream, cake, and chocolate.

Then there was a trip to Naples, the birthplace of pizza, where he saw how Italians picked fresh tomatoes and herbs from their gardens, which the bakers would then use to top the fresh dough they had just tossed.

 Fragrant and festive: Taiwan Braised Beef Rice

These indelible experiences birthed an idea in Don: “One day, I pitched this idea to my travel companions, who are equally passionate about food and travel. And, just like that, Don Bakes Manila became our baby project.”

The friends asked each other about their most memorable dishes, and these brainstorming sessions got them excited about borrowing global flavors and infusing it with something Filipino. 

They paid homage to Pinoy pan de sal by fusing it with Japanese matcha in their Pan De Aji . Fresh tomatoes, basil, and cheese topped their Pan De Buono, just like Napoli pizza. Their generously filled Korean Cream Cheese Garlic Bread is as addictive as any K-drama.

“There is no recipe book for our breads and dishes,” notes Don. “This is a combination of our extensive travels and guidance from culinary experts.”

Now Don Bakes has evolved into Don Feasts Manila, serving topped-rice trays that can be shared by family and friends at holiday gatherings.

“With our previous job postings in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Singapore, a quick fix for our hunger were clay-pot meals,” Don explains. “It’s the closest home-cooked meal we got as a reward after a hard day’s work.”

   Fragrant and festive: Taiwan Braised Beef Rice

One such meal was hawker pineapple fried rice, which the friends would eat at 3 a.m. after a night out. This led them to create Thai Pineapple Shrimp Fried Rice, which has an authentically spicy kick, balancing the chili with pineapple chunks, shrimps, cashew, and pork.

Their Hong Kong Braised Chicken, Mushroom, and Chinese Sausage Rice tray evokes traditional Cantonese flavors: rice is steamed with fragrant secret spices, then topped with braised chicken-thigh fillets, shiitake mushrooms, Chinese sausage, and bok choy.

Rounding out the trio is Taiwan Braised Beef Rice, an homage to foodie capital Taipei with its steamed, seasoned rice topped with 24-hour-braised beef. 

“Our clients have warmly welcomed our freshly baked breads and Asian Rice Festival,” Orense says. “A lovely lola from Antipolo, stuck at home during this pandemic, ordered our Korean Cream Cheese Garlic Bread to bring joy to her grandchildren for 12 consecutive weekends — yes, no miss! Our clients have also been very active in suggesting flavors they miss from their international travels, too.” 

Next on Don’s bucket list is France. While he waits for that opportunity, Don Bakes Manila will reinvent an 1860 French classic from chef Antonin Careme: the éclair. “Reminiscing about our walks across the streets of Paris inspired us to do a ‘flip’ and craft a fusion of flavors, this time using the pastry from our favorite country and infusing it with the most trendy, unique, and endearing requests.”

Don Bakes’ new Pamana Collection includes the Turon Éclair, Brazo de Mercedes Éclair, and Triple Cheese Ensaymada Éclair.

The liquor-based Sante Collection includes Irish Baileys Éclair, Italian Aperol Spritz Éclair, and Cuban Mojito Éclair.

The Fete Collection encompasses all flavors from both collections.

“We can’t wait to travel again but for now, we continue to get inspirations from our past travels and also look up to world-renowned Filipino chefs like Margarita Forés,” Orense says. “Don Bakes and Don Feasts may be very new and still our dreams are very lofty. We’ll take Filipinos on an epicurean culinary journey.” 

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Don Bakes’ freshly baked breads and Don Feasts’ Asian Rice Festival trays are available at https://tinyurl.com/DonBakesOrders or message @donbakesmanila on Instagram.

VOYAGING TO PERU, SOUTH AMERICA AND SPAIN

Young chef Kevin Jonathan Yu Uy, 26, transports us to far-flung Peru via his food-delivery business Viaje by Kev, whose main specialty is the rustic Pollo a la Brasa Set — a whole Peruvian roast chicken that comes with two sauces, two kinds of rice, and a whole lot of deliciously exotic flavors.

What’s Uy’s Peruvian connection? He happens to work at one of the world’s best restaurants, Central, with one of the world’s best chefs, Virgilio Martinez.

“Virgilio is not only a mentor, but he was my hero even before I met him,” Kev says.

 Viaje by Kev’s chef Kevin Uy at his workplace, restaurant Central in Lima, Peru

Food has always been a big part of Uy’s life. “I grew up in a food-loving household, and my parents always taught me never to be picky; to have an open mind to different kinds of food at a very early age.”

Uy studied culinary arts at Enderun Colleges before traveling abroad to work at the two-Michelin-starred restaurant Enoteca in Barcelona, Spain. 

“Upon graduating, I then took a master’s course in the Basque Culinary Center in San Sebastian,” notes Kev. “My thesis project required my travels to Peru, where I came to meet Virgilio Martinez and his flagship restaurant, Central, where I am still employed to this day.”

Up in the mountains of Cusco as an intern for the Mil laboratory, Uy would research Andean ingredients and how to use them. “I was part of the Mater Iniciativa team, which goes out into the field to help and talk to farmers. I was also doing research on how to use the mountain environment for cooking and production techniques to create new products.”

After Kev’s internship ended, Martinez offered him a permanent position at Central as a chef-researcher and kitchen liaison. Uy admires the way his mentor introduced previously unknown and overlooked ingredients from his native Peru to the world, and made them world-class at Central, turning Lima into a culinary destination.

“He showed me what it was like to truly be world-class, how to run an elite restaurant, and what our responsibilities as chefs are,” Kev says. “Virgilio, his wife Pia, who is an accomplished chef in her own right, and Malena, who is the co-head of his research department, have made sure that the message they want to send is all clear to us, and that we convey that same message as ambassadors for his restaurant.”

 Culinary hero: Uy with his mentor, Central’s chef Virgilio Martinez in the mountains of Peru

Personally Kev likes to cook what makes him happy, and says incorporating South American flavors and techniques will always be a part of his style and identity.

“Pollo a la Brasa, or Peruvian roast chicken, is probably the dish that can represent me the most,” he notes. “My father runs a chicken company, so I have been exposed to this protein all my life, and it is a dish I had almost every night in Peru after work, with my friends. It was the only place that was open after our shift and we shared memories, experiences and stories there. I love this dish, and I could not wait to share it with the people here in the Philippines.”

Roast chicken might sound simple but Viaje by Kev’s is complex in its flavors, which permeate the meat down to the bone. I almost didn’t need the two pepper-based sauces — the red Aji Rojo and green Aji Verde — but they were such excellent complements I would alternate them as dipping sauces.

Another standout was the Barley Risotto with mushrooms, leeks and bacon, a comfort food you can have as a meal in itself with its diverse flavors and textures.

Uy rounds out the set with Boniatos, a Peruvian croquette filled with sweet potato, and chorizo rice, a more familiar and beloved staple to Pinoys.

“Viaje by Kev was established to start something here in Manila, (as I'm) unable to return to Lima just yet,” notes Uy. “The concept revolves around ‘closed borders, and open minds,’ so that we may be able to bring our adventure on a plate while we are all confined in our homes.”

In the near future Kev plans to introduce new dishes from different places he’s explored. Ultimately, however, his dream — just like Martinez’s was for Peru — is “to bring Filipino food into the limelight and use our homegrown ingredients at their best potential, thus showing our Filipino culture to the world.”

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To order from Viaje by Kev, call (0917) 702-1695, or message @viaje.bykev on Instagram and Viaje by Kev on Facebook.

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Follow the author on Instagram @theresejamoragarceau and Facebook (Therese Jamora-Garceau).