There’s something about Chef JP Anglo and Dubai. We knew it from the time the Negrense chef shared stories to us about his first special engagement at the city’s Edge Hotel restaurant called Halo-Halo.
That was back in December 2020. The pandemic has derailed the vacation plans of our kabayans who were especially hankering for a taste of home that Christmas. Saving the day was Chef JP’s heartwarming ten-course Filipino degustacion that did not only feed tummies but also homesick souls. The event was both memorable and warmly received such that the Sarsa chef followed it up with two more similar feasts, also blockbuster hits.
But as early as the second event, the chef and his wife Camille were already sold on an idea: they should open a Filipino restaurant in the City of Gold. And in the past several months, the couple has actually been shuttling between UAE and Manila trying to make that happen, while keeping business preparations under wraps. Chef JP’s social media accounts started posting teasers about the venture in December, and now there’s no denying Kooya Filipino Eatery is here.
“It’s eight months in the making,” Chef JP tells ANCX, sounding thrilled. “Siyempre gusto namin, gawin muna natin [before we tell everyone]. And finally, we were able to do it.”
The restaurant’s name is clearly a play on the word kuya, the Tagalog term for older brother. But the two Os are a nod to the playful, pa-cute way Pinoys say it when trying to get an older guy’s attention, or a member of a restaurant’s wait staff—as in “Koo-yah, extra rice please.”
Kooya is the chef’s way of bringing the sidewalks of the Philippines to Dubai, and even the island experience of fun, food and friends, something very close to the occasional surfer’s heart. It will be serving hearty Filipino merienda fare and many other dishes our kababayans miss, the local sorbetes among them.
Kooya is not Sarsa with a new name, let’s make that clear. “Wala kaming isaw dito at wala kaming baboy,” Chef JP says. “I guess same cooking approach but different menu because there are different ingredients here.” He boasts a very good slow-cooked kaldereta, done with a tomato sauce made from scratch. He is especially proud of his pancit molo. “It’s super no-frills, not gimmicky. It’s your straight-up honest-to-goodness soup na parang pag hinihigop mo, as I like to say, para kang niyayakap.” Since pork is considered haram (forbidden) in Muslim culture, the pancit molo at Kooya uses chicken. “Surprisingly, masarap pa din siya,” he assures.
“The concept came from a greenhouse,” says Gabby Lichauco who designed the space. “The space is a venue for introducing Filipino food and culture similar to how greenhouses are used to show and educate visitors on tropical plants.” His team, which included young architects Stephanie Alimurung and Bea Candano, wanted to incorporate local materials from the Philippines but it posed too many challenges. Instead, they focused on colors, primarily the different tones of green. “We wanted to reflect the idea of a forest canopy,” says Gabby.
Now that he’s also an OFW himself, Chef JP knows he’s got to learn to adapt to his new environment. And part of his duties as a chef-restaurateur is exploring ingredients at the local market. “It’s super stimulating, clean and just amazing,” says the chef, describing the markets he’s visited. “Pero at the same time, nakakapagod din to haggle. Yung bakbakan with the local vendors, grabe kailangan matibay ka din. Game face on ka dapat.”
Because it all began with his very receptive audience during that first dinner event at Halo-Halo back in 2020, it’s no surprise that the Filipino overseas worker is the lead inspiration for Kooya. “I have a soft spot for our OFWs. They work so hard and they deserve a good meal from home,” the chef says. “Pag nakikita mo ang mga mukha nila na sobra mo silang napasaya at naiuwi mo sila sa pagkain mo, yun ang ultimate reason why I do what I do.”
[Kooya Filipino Eatery is located at the Jannah Place Dubai Marina hotel apartment and will be serving diners very soon.]
Photographs courtesy of Chef JP
Design rendering from Gabby Lichauco