VASK Gallery highlights Philippine produce with Kulinarya blogger Angelo Comsti explains why the Spanish food haven is putting the emphasis on local.

A preview of some of their regional finds...


( Manila has been seeing a lot of international chefs lately: just in March, Todd English dropped by to set up his eponymous food hall in Bonifacio Global City; Iron Chef Geoffrey Zakarian came over to host a charity dinner; and Alain Ducasse launched his diploma course at Enderun. The most recent in a flurry of internationally renowned chefs is Julieta Caruso, the former head chef of Mugaritz, which is No. 6 in the list of the World's Top 50 Restaurants. Her visit was low-key, nearly devoid of media coverage. Julieta would rather cook and let food have the attention. Of her upcoming dinner series for VASK Gallery, friend and former co-worker J. Luis "Chele" Gonzalez, VASK’s head chef, says, "It is not about Julieta. This is about the country's local ingredients. We do this because we believe in what we can do."



Chefs Chele and Julieta in action


Julieta is currently on a trip around Asia. She just came from Japan, Singapore, and Vietnam, and is currently in the Philippines where she will be staying for for two months. Chele took her around the country for two weeks in search of native produce that he could bring back to his well-equipped kitchen and showcase in his cuisine. "In the Gallery, we want to show the rest of the world what we have. There are so many ingredients and here is how we can present them."


The pair went to La Libertad, Negros Oriental, where they found wild basil; Dumaguete where Ritual's Bea Misa led them to delicious tablea; and Bacolod where restaurateur Gaita Fores showed them around the city and introduced them to a lot of herbs, seafood, lamb and, of course, sugarcane. Their itinerary also included Palawan, Cagayan de Oro, Iligan, Bicol, and Sorsogon. "It helped me discover a lot about Philippine cuisine-what the flavors are, where they come from, and why they are cooked that way." He narrates, "We went to Pampanga and went up the mountains. We met a community of tribes who cooked with bamboo. They prepared something like sinigang but not made with tamarind. (Inside a) bamboo, they put water, pork or fish, and this leaf called alibangbang." The leaf comes from the bauhinia tree and it releases a citrusy fragrance and distinct sour taste when boiled.

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Back home, these newfound ingredients became the highlight of a 10-course degustation stamped with the Gallery's unique and modern style. It proved to be a challenge, but none the chefs couldn't handle. "First, there's the problem on logistics. Also, they are not our own products so it's not easy. So we've been working hard to cook them to the level that we want," shares Chef Chele.



TABLEA: millet, mint, eucalyptus; STEAK: talinium, kang kong, native basil; MAIS: corn, crab, cilantro


CASSAVA: coconut, carabao milk, dayap


VASK Gallery’s Kulinarya dinner series will hopefully not only satiate the guests' appetite for fresh and innovative takes on food, but also reinforce their appreciation and pride for our natural bounty. "People need to feel proud with the produce they have here. The Philippines is amazing and we need to show it to the rest of the world," says Chef Chele.



VASK Gallery’s Kulinary will be held from June 26 to August 2 (dinner only). For reservations, contact 0917-5461673. Only 20 seats are available per night.

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