The Blackboard by Chef Michel is located at the fifth floor of The Podium. Photo by Karen Flores, ABS-CBNnews.com
MANILA – Expect to see something different every day in this new restaurant at The Podium mall in Mandaluyong City, where the chef creates dishes based on his mood and the ingredients he has in his kitchen.
The Blackboard by Chef Michel originated in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, with the restaurant reflecting French Chef Michel Cottabarren’s creativity and abhorrence of big, fixed menus.
At the center of the concept is a blackboard, where Cottabarren writes his specials for the day. His ever-changing menu contains a mix of hot and cold appetizers, main dishes, sandwiches and a few desserts, which are mostly cheesecakes he created from scratch.
“The blackboard concept is quite current in European cities, especially in France. I won’t say they started it, but they’re pretty well-known for blackboards,” noted Cottabarren, who has worked in different parts of Europe, the United States and Asia over the past decades.
“I’ve always hated big menus. I can’t stand looking through a large menu because you tend to forget what was it you like to eat in the first place,” he added. “I don’t like it when I have to rush to the store and buy this and that. When I don’t have it, I don’t have it. I don’t want the customers to say, ‘oh, I like that,’ only for us to say, ‘sorry, we don’t have that.’ What you see here is what you get.”
The restaurant’s offerings are written on this blackboard. Photo by Karen Flores, ABS-CBNnews.com
Cottabarren was able to bring his restaurant to Manila (the one in Kuala Lumpur is already closed) thanks to The Cravings Group, but the chef stressed that the homegrown company has no control over what he serves to his customers.
Because his menu is mood-driven, Cottabarren’s bosses and colleagues in Manila initially had a hard time adjusting to the concept.
“They say, ‘Chef Michel, sorry to bother you but it’s already 11:30. What’s our menu?’ I say, ‘I am an artist so don’t rush me,’” he recalled, laughing. “The menu changes every day, and at first they couldn’t conceive how it is going to work. They thought, ‘how is this possible? How will you get the ingredients and this and that?’ I said, ‘leave it to me.’”
“And at the end of the month, they saw the bottomline, we’ve been going up. They saw how the food cost is lower than the others.”
The key, he said, is to make the most out of available ingredients so nothing goes to waste and his dishes are always fresh. If he has 500 grams of prawns, for instance, he can offer a portion as one dish and incorporate the others into other items.
He also stays away from expensive ingredients such as Chilean sea bass and scallops as these may be harder to sell and may just end up inside the freezer or refrigerator.
“I set a ceiling for the prices. P659 is the most expensive dish that we have, which is US tenderloin. I also have some lamb shank sometimes. I don’t want to go over there, I don’t know if we really have the market for that so it’s better if we put average prices and try to get more people in,” he explained.
“I can’t really afford cod, things like that. Or Chilean sea bass and scallops. I’d love to do those but I’m scared that I might not be able to sell that and it’s going to stay… I’m always watching my costs,” he added.
The Blackboard serves mainly continental cuisine but this can easily have Asian elements, depending on Cottabaren’s mood.
Some of the items that appear on the menu from time to time – the customers’ favorites – include the Chicken Liver Parfait (P129), Crispy Salmon Croquetas (P159), Pollo de la Casa (P299), Grilled Salmon Fillet with Coriander Pesto (P399) and Crispy Cajun Fried Chicken (P299).
Chicken Liver Parfait. Photo by Karen Flores, ABS-CBNnews.com
Rich, creamy and silky smooth, the Chicken Liver Parfait makes an excellent starter and may require an extra order of toasted bread.
The Crispy Salmon Croquetas are delicate and flavorful but should be eaten immediately as they tend to be on the oily side.
Crispy Salmon Croquetas. Photo by Karen Flores, ABS-CBNnews.com
Cottabarren proceeded to serve more salmon dishes in the recently held lunch for select food writers – there’s the Homemade Gravadlax (P159) with the citrus adding freshness to the fish; and grilled salmon sliced into bite-size pieces, which were not even included in his blackboard.
Homemade Gravadlax. Photo by Karen Flores, ABS-CBNnews.com
For the main course, he prepared a grilled salmon fillet on ube mash – again, this was not even priced yet – and his bestselling five-hour braised beef brisket.
Five-hour Braised Beef Brisket. Photo by Karen Flores, ABS-CBNnews.com
Each dish had simple and clean flavors, with Cottabarren letting the freshness and quality of the ingredients shine through.
“So today, you get the salmon on ube mash. So maybe the next day, I’m going to stir-fry Asian vegetables and I’ll do away with an orange caramel sauce on top. I like playing around with the ingredients,” the chef said.
Grilled Salmon on Ube Mash. Photo by Karen Flores, ABS-CBNnews.com
While he likes playing around when cooking, Cottabarren stressed that this is a right that he obtained through years of hard work in the kitchen.
“When I arrived at chef level, that’s the time when I can run my own show and do what I want,” he said. “Before this, I did a lot. Eventually, during service, I was able to learn how to improvise easily.”
While the concept of changing menus is quite new in the Philippines, Cottabarren shared that The Blackboard has so far been well-received by his customers in Manila. True enough, the restaurant was packed on a weekday lunch despite its location at the fifth floor of a mall.
If this continues, he hopes to open another concept in Taguig upon the approval of The Cravings Group.
“It’s pretty unique here in the Philippines. And so far, I think they like it,” he ended.
THE BLACKBOARD BY CHEF MICHEL
5/F The Podium
Ortigas Center, Mandaluyong City
For more information, visit www.theblackboardbychefmichel.com or the restaurant’s Facebook page