It’s 5:30PM on a Saturday and diners are starting to fill up the seats at Chicks ni Otit, Wilma Doesnt and husband Gerick Parin’s “five-star carinderia” in General Trias, Cavite.
“Table for six,” says one diner.
“Table for 12,” says another.
The servers spring up from their seats and dutifully re-arrange tables and chairs so the bigger groups could sit together. Before we know it, the 60-seater restaurant is packed. “Ganito kami dito seven days a week,” Gerick offers, smiling. “Minsan as early as 9:30AM may nag-aantay na’ng customer. Kasi we open at 10AM.”
Upon entering the restaurant and browsing the menu, you’d think Chick ni Otit is just your ordinary roadside eatery. They have the familiar offerings—chicken inasal, laing, pinakbet, ensaladang talong, sisig, grilled liempo, boneless bangus, sinigang, caldereta, and the usual silog options. But you’d also note how the joint lives up to the “Five Star Carinderia” tagline once you sit down and experience the food and the service.
The ambiance is homey. Everyone’s welcome here. “Kahit na tricycle driver ka, hindi ka mahihiyang kumain dito sa amin,” says the ever bubbly Wilma, former model and sometime TV personality. “Para ka lang pumunta sa tiyahin mo na masarap ang ulam.”
“Kaya siya five-star carinderia kasi hindi lang masarap ang pagkain, malinis din, and we make sure it’s well-plated,” offers Gerick. “It’s a carinderia kasi we keep our prices affordable.”
Gerick is the restaurant captain here. The guy knows a thing or two about five-star flourishes, having worked in the kitchen of Shangri-La Hotel in Malaysia as well as in a cruise ship where he was in charge of preparing a la carte Italian dishes. “Ang linis ng pagkain sa barko, maselan sila doon,” he offers. “Ang kitchen malinis. They don’t use MSG.”
Prior to these culinary stints, Gerick took up a basic culinary course with Wilma. These learning experiences, plus lessons from his late grandmother, mother-in-law, and his travels around the country equipped the guy to put together a Filipino menu for his maiden restaurant venture with his wife.
Why Chicks ni Otit? “Meron kasing kumalat na fake news dati na may chicks daw ako [kaya ‘yan ang ipinangalan namin],” he says, laughing. But the name eventually turned out to be fitting; the eatery became known for its chicken inasal.
“I want to bring the provinces closer to our diners,” Gerick says, explaining the idea for their menu. Thus, he has the sisig of Pampanga, the inasal of Bacolod, the laing of Bicol, the pancit of Lucban, Quezon, and the bangus of Dagupan. A big believer in the old school, no-shortcuts way of preparing dishes, he adds: “Talagang inaral ko kung paano nila napapasarap ang mga pagkaing yan.”
He cooks his beef caldereta Batangueño-style. “Hindi ako naglalagay ng carrots at patatas, bell pepper lang. After i-marinade ang karne, papakuluan ko ng 4 to 5 hours hanggang mag-reduce. I don’t use a pressure cooker.” Wilma says the caldereta is one of her favorite dishes in the menu.
Gerick is also particular about the way he prepares his crispy pata. “Hindi ko basta pinapakuluan ang pata. I scrub it first with alagaw leaves, which adds a certain aroma to the meat. I clean it with salt, water, vinegar,” he offers. “Then papakuluan na. Ide-drain ang water, then ibibilad [bago i-deep fry],” he says.
Their sisig is not excessively oily because after boiling the pork, instead of frying, he grills it. Meanwhile, he says the secret to his very tasty Pancit Lucban is the stock. “Nagpapakulo kami ng sabaw, hindi basta water lang at lalagyan ng seasoning.” Plus, the added crunch from their homemade chicharon also makes a big deal of difference.
Since Chicks ni Otit caters to families—lolos and lolas and kids included—Gerick says they stay away from artificial preservatives, colorings, and extenders. “Ayoko din talaga ng nilalagyan ng ganon ang pagkain kasi nagkaka-migraine ako. At saka, mas naalat ang food,” says Wilma who, according to Gerick, is his No. 1 critic.
We totally get why people keep going back to Chicks ni Otit. The chicken inasal alone is worth the trip. It has a distinct smoky taste and is perfect with their homemade atchara. The tuna in their hearty sinigang sa miso tastes fresh (its brought in from GenSan)—and the dish is the perfect comfort food, equal to a warm hug from your lola.
Celebs, designers, and Wilma’s colleagues in the modeling world have dined at Chicks ni Otit, including John Lloyd Cruz (he loved the tuna panga and liempo), Gary Estrada (loved the caldereta), and comedian, talent manager and entertainment reporter Ogie Diaz (“Si Ogie, lahat gusto niya,” says Wilma proudly).
Apart from enjoying the food, it’s a delight to watch the husband-and-wife team manage the restaurant operations. While Gerick entertains us, Wilma dispatches orders from the kitchen. On the side, she gives in to requests for selfies and even rolls out a “Happy birthday” banner for a customer. Meanwhile, one of their daughters is manning the cashier while their nine-year-old son helps in the kitchen.
It’s only been three years and four months since Gerick and Wilma started Chicks ni Otit, and it looks like business has nowhere to go but big. In fact, they will soon open a branch in Tagaytay. While it seems second nature to the Parins, treating their diners like family has clearly benefited their enterprise. It has not only earned Gerick and Wilma the nicknames “Otit (tito) and atit (tita) ng bayan,” it’s also endeared them to an immediate community of patrons.
“Nagiging part na kami ng buhay nila,” says the former model. The best compliment they received came from a Belgian customer, the couple share. It went: “You are not building a business, you are creating a big family and that is very good for the business.”
Photos courtesy of Chicks ni Otit
Chicks ni Otit is located along Sampalukan St., General Trias, Cavite. Near the Public Market and General Trias City Park.