With Metro Manila now on general community quarantine or GCQ, more and more restaurants are reopening as restrictions are slowly easing up. I’m putting the spotlight on three chef-driven establishments currently exploring creative ways to address the challenges of takeout and food delivery. These three have managed to come up with high-quality offerings that they’re known for but can now be enjoyed at home.
Spanish comfort food from the Chef Chele’s mom—and more
Gallery by Chele AT HOME, www.gallerybychele-athome.com, Instagram @gallerybychele
After focusing on feeding medical frontliners at the start of the lockdown, Chefs Chele Gonzalez and Carlo Villaflor finally revealed last May 31 the new direction their restaurant is taking with Gallery by Chele AT HOME. The new offerings include not one but two extensive set menus (Celebrations and Planned Meals), a vegan/vegetarian menu, an à la carte menu filled with the Gallery’s bestsellers, a craft beverages menu, and a special menu that brings back some of the native Spanish chef’s signature Spanish dishes.
Customers can order their dishes either as “Serve it up” or ready-to-eat, or as “Fire it up” or ready-to-cook. Gonzalez explained that when he and his team were developing their new menus, they knew some dishes would not travel well and would need to be completed at home for best results, like their well-seasoned Cochinillo Quarter that is best enjoyed freshly cooked to a crisp.
As an added treat, Gonzalez also includes some of his own comfort dishes that he enjoyed as a child growing up in Spain, especially his mother’s Lengua con Setas (ox tongue with mushrooms), the Spanish version of a Filipino favorite. What I see myself craving often, though, is Gonzalez’s Chorizo Burger made with homemade chorizo jazzed-up with jamón, caramelized onion, and cheese.
Desserts have always been a strong point at Gonzalez’s restaurants. So I was super thrilled to try his signature mini Bibingka Cheesecake at home, that is, until I took a bite of the extra gooey-creamy Tarta de Queso Vasco, which is his take on the traditional Basque country-style cheesecake. Hands down the best version in town.
A very special Nasi Lemak from the guys of Hey Handsome
Sambar Homestyle Asian Food Instagram @sambarph, (0917) 899-9363
On his 36th birthday last May 31, the day Chele revealed his at-home menu, Chef Nicco Santos, together with Chef Quenee Vilar, his chef de cuisine from the now-defunct Hey Handsome, also formally launched their newest food endeavor, a home-style Asian food delivery service called Sambar. Operating out of Santos’s condominium unit, the Sambar founders recently sent a special care package to their friends and avid supporters, including myself. The pack contained their sedap (“delicious” in Malay) take on the famous nasi lemak of Malaysia. This fragrant coconut rice dish happens to be Sambar’s first offering for pickup and delivery, with three variants offered: Fried Chicken, Curry Kapitan, and Otak-otak (depending on availability).
The concept of Sambar was incubated during the early days of the quarantine period while Santos and Vilar were busy feeding medical frontliners. As chefs, they are happiest cooking for other people and they missed being able to do so. They decided to launch a food delivery service that would provide comforting meals, while promoting healing during these trying times.
Moving forward, Sambar will be offering a limited rotating menu every Wednesday and Friday, as they are working on offering a playful spin on the Sambal Nasi Lemak next. Make sure to check out their Instagram account for the latest offerings. Warning: they tend to sell out early. Aside from their signature Nasi Lemak, they are planning on serving some other Malay classics as well, like Malaysian rendangs, more curries, noodle dishes and “well, more rice meals,” says Santos, laughing.
Burgers, tater tots and rice bowls a la Josh Boutwood
The Test Kitchen Bakery Instagram @thetestkitchenmnl, @thetestkitchenbakery, (0977) 288-5751
During the start of the ECQ, Chef Josh Boutwood humored his followers when he publicly announced on his Instagram account that he will not be doing cooking videos like other chefs on quarantine, citing his fatherly duty to keep his two young kids entertained as his main priority.
But soon after, he opened his Rockwell-based restaurant, The Test Kitchen, for a few hours on weekends to serve a limited menu of freshly-baked sourdough breads, fresh pastas, and pasta sauces. Quite a commendable feat for a one-man operation, as he had to prepare everything himself as none of his team members could commute to Makati during the ECQ.
As the quarantine restrictions were relaxed, Boutwood was most likely able to recruit another team member or two to help him, as he then launched a fine selection of ready-to-cook fare. This was soon followed by a new à la carte menu that Boutwood calls a “temporary menu of comfort deliciousness.” This menu offers a fun selection of burgers, tater tots, and rice bowls. Definitely a “friendlier” menu pricewise, without compromising The Test Kitchen’s fundamental philosophy of using only the best ingredients available.
To make things even more exciting, Boutwood just announced that he will be opening The Test Kitchen Bakery. It’s a separate business from The Test Kitchen restaurant, in a sense, as he will be taking over an actual bakery to produce breads and pastries to be sold very soon.
Boutwood shares that he had already been toying with the idea of opening a bakery even before the pandemic. “Bread is much like therapy for me,” he says. “It’s slow and precise and very relaxing.” He claims he just didn’t have the time to focus on baking until he found himself with more downtime due to the quarantine. He plans to initially offer a limited number of subscriptions for the first few months, so as not to overwhelm their systems. Follow @thetestkitchenbakery on Instagram to get first dibs on their offerings.
Follow the author on Instagram and Twitter @cyrenedelarosa