My first thought when I finally made it to Tilde Bakery and Kitchen was how I wish this was located near my home. What a great place to hang out, have a light lunch, eat the cake you have been dreaming of with good coffee, encounter friends, and make new friends. Alas, I have to travel several kilometers, brave the traffic, take three rides to get there. Which is why it took some time before my visit, never mind that my friends and I had plans to do so since it opened three years ago.
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But once I did, it seemed to be easier to go there. The draw of excellent pastries, cookies and bread, food that I like, and take-home goodies are temptations I can easily succumb to. And the company of the proprietor, Virginia Roces de Guzman or Ginny, added to the appeal.
De Guzman’s name was first heard when her cakes were the draw of Sugarhouse, a business she opened with several partners in 1983. The cakes were tall and voluptuous. My sister who bakes would copy the best-selling French apple pie with its open top strewn with cheese and chunky apple pieces. De Guzman admitted in an interview that she named it that way to distinguish it from American apple pie. “French people would never put cheese on top of anything sweet,” she admits.
That clarification sounds authoritative because de Guzman has been baking since she was 10 years old. She taught cooking to children in the neighborhood by age 13. She experimented with fancy presentation and her eyes twinkle as she describes a rice ring she once made surrounded by cubes of Spam. She taught herself from culinary magazines and books. She went to local cooking schools (Constancia Maramag, Sylvia Reynoso, Henry Leung, Heny Sison, Ed Quimson). She dreamt of going to culinary schools abroad but was only able to go to the Culinary Institute of America to take patisserie lessons after she married and had five children.
After 25 years, the partners decided to sell Sugarhouse in 2008 because each had different ideas on how the business should continue and evolve. It was best, de Guzman said, to keep the friendship. In between those Sugarhouse years and after, de Guzman was busy creating books. Her first The Philippine Cookbook (Bookmark, 1990), co-written with Nina Daza-Puyat, was a collection of recipes from family friends. The launch was my first time to meet her and de Guzman wrote how she hoped that the book would be my “constant cooking companion.”
Little did she know that, aside from a perusal to do my review, I would only really check out the book more than 20 years later. The black pancit she offered me to taste had been made with the adobong pusit recipe of her mother, Marietta Adriano Roces, cooked with many tomatoes. And so, I followed her advice and had the best tasting pancit pusit since my son started to make it a few years ago.
What she seems to be most proud of is Sabrina’s Cookbook Diary (Boobooks Publishing, 2004) written with Fran Ng. The format is a notebook of recipes contained within diary entries. It won the National Book Award, under the Children’s Book category. To this day, she smiles as she remembers how the more academic awardees wondered what she was doing at the award ceremonies.
De Guzman joined five of her cousins to publish the recipe book Celebrations (Anvil Publishing, 2010) documenting the heirloom dishes of the Roces-Reyes familes. Their uncle, Alfredo R. Roces, National Artist for Literature, suggested a hilarious title for the book, Too Many Kooks.
The next year, de Guzman launched Bake Me a Cake (Sketch Books, Inc., 2011). She set out to prove that with just four basic cakes—sponge, chocolate, butter cake, meringue wafers—those can result in a multitude of creations. She said that she wasn’t sure about her prose because she mostly wrote recipes but her descriptions are imaginative yet precise. She describes sponge as “light, air-headed,” that meringue wafer always “travels in packs,” how butter cake is “straightforward, confident and well-adjusted,” while chocolate “knows it’s irresistible.”
The book’s photography by Neal Oshima was not done in the straightforward recipe book way. It was visually engaging. Sometimes the photos would combine black and white and color in one frame. Certainly the lighting and angles produced three-dimension cakes. If you check the bookstores and even digital stores, the book is out of print. But while de Guzman wants it back on sale, she would rather not make it the expensive coffee table book that it is but a more affordable, smaller size, soft-bound cover book.
Bake Me A Cake was her first collaboration with Oshima, They would continue to work together, de Guzman this time testing recipes and doing the styling for My Angkong’s Noodles written by the late Clinton Palanca (Elizabeth Yu Gokongwei, 2014 ). And then the Malagos Book of Chocolate (Malagos Agriventures Corporation, 2018) where de Guzman’s work is described as both food styling and “recipe wrangling.”
Because de Guzman needed a commissary after Sugarhouse, she opened Gustare in Bonifacio Global City to do what she says is “our bread and butter.” This is where cakes were baked and food cooked for restaurant clients, and where food company recipes were tested. She provided a few tables for diners. It was also there that Oshima set up his studio, Bono.
When she found the current space at Matilde Street in Poblacion, Makati, she moved operations there and named the place after the street. It was quite different when they started, she said. There was a communal table that was the shape of a “tilde,” the punctuation mark on the “ñ.” Later, tables were either very high or very low because she was told that ordinary tables are “not cool.” Now it’s back to the normal table and chair sizes, maybe uncool but more practical. Neal Oshima became her partner here and used to sell his craft beers. Her other partner is long-time friend-since-kinder, Chiqui Lara.
It is back to normal at Tilde where the blackboard lists the food available that day, and the cakes are being baked at the kitchen across the small lobby, some reminiscent of Sugarhouse like the French Apple Pie, Turtle Pie, and Chocolate Truffle.
The sourdough bread calls my name because it is my favorite, as is the Babka which Ginny describes as akin to a cinnamon roll but with Nutella and chocolate swirl. What we taste as our dessert after the food tasting and photography is the Canonigo, light as air with just the right sweetness.
The dishes to shoot come one after the other. The Pancit Molo, she said, has chicharon on the side. One pasta had sisig incorporated with carbonara sauce. The green ravioli is colored with malunggay.
There is Loco Moco, a Hawaiian favorite that has rice topped with hamburger then with egg. But my favorite is the kesong puti with guava jam on toasted bread that can be breakfast food or dessert. That’s how she eats, she said, and that is why she offers it.
De Guzman likes to go to the Centris weekend market because she can buy ingredients from the provinces that are hard to obtain in the city, like the Señorita guavas for her jam and carabao’s milk for her native cheese. And she learns about other food from those vendors, how it’s cooked and served. She incorporates those but in a modern way, she said. Her purchases also include those for her grown children which she finds funny because that’s the way her mother used to do it. She smiled as she recalled how girls grow up not wanting to be their moms but they eventually do.
While you dine at Tilde, your eyes already scan what you want to bring home. In the freezer are bags of viands that you can “heat and eat” like Beef Caldereta, French Onion Soup, and Pot Roast. There are bottles of jam made in-house and my new favorite, the mango jam. There are cookies with Filipino names like champorado and salabat. There are bottles of pickles of ampalaya and chili.
Which is why I wish that Tilde was just in my neighborhood, a place where you can chill with friends or, if alone, kill time deliciously.
Tilde, Matilde Street corner Gen. Luna Street, Poblacion, Makati City, (02) 771-2764, IG @tildecafe
Photographs by Chris Clemente