With everyone stuck at home, these days have brought massive opportunity for home cooks and home bakers. One such home baker and chef is Bryan Francisco, the 29-year old has been toiling in the backroom bakery of his home churning out pan de sal as fast as he can shape and bake them.
I’d say he’s one of those up and coming chefs who are just turning heads and palates as a result of his creativity, talent, and work ethic. It’s been a long time since he started scooping ice cream at Häagen-Dazs in Las Vegas 14 years ago. Since then, it was a series of jobs in the fast-food industry, studying at the local American Hospitality Academy, taking up Italian and European cuisine at the prestigious Apicius International School of Hospitality in Florence, and finally ending up at the one-Michelin star Bouchon Bistro and Bakery by celebrity chef Thomas Keller. It was at this job where he got his hands kneading dough and learning the techniques to make fantastic bread, croissants and baguettes.
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At 23, he moved back to the Philippines and, after selling cookies one Christmas, opened “Kapeng Mainit.” This started out as a teeny-tiny “modern tapsilogan” that is still one of the best kept secrets of BF Homes. People went for home fare that was done well, with technique seen in meals that were twice or thrice the price. Of note are Bryan’s silogs made with kimchi fried rice way before it became a trend. To finish off the meal, Chef Bryan would offer delightfully crispy-on-the outside-fluffy-on-the-inside, Beignets (English fritters) of all sorts of flavors topped with snow-like powdered sugar with a cup of Salabat Barako on the side.
At the latter part of 2019, Bryan has been keeping busy by opening a new branch in Tagaytay and taking on challenging projects. Most notably, creating and mass-producing a giant fortune cookie for the Philippine launch of Panda Express.
Kapeng Mainit was co-conceptualized with Bryan’s half-brother, international DJ Ron Poe, whose father was legendary cinema icon, Fernando Poe Jr. Bryan shares that it was an environment full of love and acceptance as FPJ was fully supportive of his sons’ pursuits. As a matter of fact, the late action star once joked he wanted a “pan-de-salan” in one of the family gatherings.
The inspiration was a natural fit as few things are better with “Kapeng Mainit” than hot pan de sal.
This baker seems to thrive in adversity. When Taal blew its top last January, Bryan was at the Tagaytay branch of Kapeng Mainit. He recounts the terror of the combined darkness, the hourly earthquakes, and then the eerie silence as Taal calmed down. This was a very stressful time for him as people kept on asking him to repeat his ordeal.
He funneled his anger and his frustration into what he calls his Ash De Sals—pan de sals made with activated charcoal giving it a distinct black-grey color. As he was experimenting on the recipe, it turned out that the ingredient was just more than the color. The potassium in activated charcoal gave the pan de sal a soft chewy texture unlike any other.
These days, Kapeng Mainit is closed to customers. But at the back, Bryan’s ovens are ready, red-hot, and able to churn out 400 pan de sals a day.
On March 13, the Friday before the official lockdown. Bryan looked at his kitchen. “The Lord blessed me with all of this equipment, I have to use it to bless others. People are gonna need bread, I have to do something to help.”
That moment, he decided to only make pan de sal and bread loaves for the community. People would be stressed and all surrounding food businesses would be closed for the mean time. But after surviving the Taal Eruption, Bryan was ready to be there for others, in terms of service.
Bryan recounts that the first 14 days of the lockdown were very difficult. He got over fatigued from mixing, shaping and baking all the pan de sal with the stressful addition of coordinating different orders, with different delivery services, to different destinations.
Orders from Doctors and Nurses orders are prioritized. Since then, Kapeng Mainit Regular, Ube and Ash De Sals have reached front liners in from as far south as The Medical City in Laguna, and far north as the Kidney Institute in Quezon City, all from word of mouth from those who’ve enjoyed his breads.
For frontliners, he has a different ordering process where he is given a budget and stretches that amount as much as he could. Since everything is made by hand, Bryan can accommodate requests such as making the pan de sal smaller so that he could make more and will be easier to distribute. Some have even had special requests, such as rice meals.
“At this point, how can I say ‘No’ to the people who are doing their jobs, saving lives, and risking their lives in the process. So, I just kept my head down, put my skills and talents to the test and worked hard for others. By faith, they fight, I fight.”
Until the lockdown ends, Kapeng Mainit fans will have to wait until they can get their silog and beignet fill. We’ll be happy with the pan de sal. Which isn’t a bad thing since Bryan is going “all-out” with his versions.
“Let’s be real. It’s basic and it’s Filipino. The gloves are off. Let’s make pan de sal the best possible!”
Photographs by Jeeves De Veyra