When 70-year-old Maria Luisa "Marissa" Gerodias built Casa Luisa, a vintage-style home in San Pedro, Laguna in 2018, she intended it to be a haven where family and friends can gather. Most of the Gerodiases have migrated overseas so she decided to build a private rest house that brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, etc. could visit and stay in when they’re in the country.
While the matriarch works in logistics and commercial leasing, her creative eye and refined taste are on full display at Casa Luisa, which is her vision. The structure features intricate woodwork and beautiful chandeliers, plus lots of glass windows that let the light in. The antique furniture and décor give the space an unmistakable nostalgic feel; the family pictures give it a sense of history—even if the structure is only five years old.
“It’s a heritage house in a way because the materials and furniture used are from old houses,” offers Luisa’s daughter, Chef Jen Gerodias, the youngest child. The window frames, for instance, are made from reclaimed wood. The eclectic tilework at the entrance are spare tiles from kitchen and bathroom counters of the homes Luisa has constructed. “Each one has a memory of a different project,” says Jen. Some of the old furniture are from the houses of her titos and titas who now live abroad.
What makes the house even more idyllic are the fruit-bearing trees that surround it: mango, balimbing (starfruit), rambutan, atis, cacao, suha (pomelo), kaffir, avocado, and coffee. But more than just making the property look straight out of Sampaguita Pictures, the trees these days serve a different purpose: their fruits and leaves provide both inspiration and ingredients for the meals Chef Jen prepares for her private dining business, which is now the new feature of the house her mother built.
Before coming home to the Philippines in 2011, Jen took up Culinary studies in Le Cordon Bleu Paris and later trained at Michelin-starred chef Guy Savoy’s Le Chiberta restaurant. She then honed her pastry making skills at Chef Roland Passot's La Folie in San Francisco.
It was in May of 2021 when Chef Jen and her two kids left city life and moved to Casa Luisa. She used to do consultancy work for LaunchLab and also ran a commissary kitchen that supplies meals to different restaurants around Metro Manila. But when the pandemic hit, her consultancy work took a downturn and many of her clients' restaurants closed—she had no choice but to also close her commissary.
But soon Jen was back in the food biz, albeit on a smaller scale, thanks to a happy accident. There were many food businesses born during the pandemic, and one of those that became a hit on Instagram was Chef Jen’s French onion soup empanada. She wasn’t planning to make money out of it. “It so happened that we had extra dough from the commissary,” recalls Chef Jen. “Then we had remaining French onion soup na ayaw na kainin ng mga anak ko kasi ilang araw na nila kinakain. What I did was I turned the soup into an empanada filling, added some cheese, and served it to my family during lunch.”
Chef Jen posted a snap of her flaky pastry on her IG and food writers Angelo Comsti and Alicia Sy asked if they could order from her. The two then posted their empanadas on their respective Instagram accounts and the interest in Jen’s savory pockets of goodness grew even bigger. Inquiries started pouring in, prompting the chef to open a bakery in Casa Luisa. When she found out the family driver Fred used to be a master panadero back in the 80s and 90s, it was like things were just falling into place. She tapped him to help her run the bakery. With a system that Jen put in place, she and her team were able to make as many as 700 empanadas in a day.
Casa Luisa’s empanadas are really quite special, just ask their loyal fans. The fillings are unique yet familiar (Mango Sampaguita Cheese, Chorizo Fundido, Pizza Ala Diavola, 4-Mushroom Duxelles, Spinach Feta Bacon), and the casings as flaky as a good croissant. “It’s dough, butter, dough, butter and you have to work fast or you always have to have a freezer. It’s like a labor of love,” says Chef Jen.
Just like the empanada biz, opening the casa as a private dining destination was also not in Jen’s plans. It all started when her Tito Raul Gerodias, a lawyer, would invite his clients and team over for private lunches. “[My uncle] is my biggest fan,” the chef says, smiling.
News of her delicious meals eventually spread by word of mouth, and soon she and her household staff were preparing feasts for family reunions, wedding showers, team-building events. Recently, the casa launched its open table offering—where those interested to experience the casa and Chef Jen’s meals, whether you’re a solo diner, a couple or a group, can reserve seats either for a Sunday brunch or lunch.
This is the first time the French-trained chef is serving food under her own brand, after creating dishes for other restaurants for years. ANCX was able to sample Casa Luisa’s lunch menu recently and we must say it’s worth the drive to San Pedro.
Our lunch started with a sampling of the casa’s flaky and savory empanaditas and house-brewed hibiscus calamansi iced tea. The onion soup filling of the empanaditas is made with real marrow bones that’s roasted and turned into a beef stock, and then reduced for 18 hours. The pastry has goat cheese from Malagos Farms, and is served topped with beautiful figs from La Petite Ferme in Lipa, Batangas.
This was followed by the sinuglaw—which is a combination sinugba (grilled) and kinilaw. You’re supposed to wrap the fish and pork in lettuce like a samgyupsal together with the chicharon, and ensaladang manga. Add some heat to the mix with a drizzle of their homemade mango chili sauce.
The sinuglaw is a perfect prelude to the next dish—lamb adobo. The lamb ribs were simmered in coconut milk, coconut vinegar and coconut sugar. There’s none of the usual soy sauce so it’s essentially adobong puti, but the inspired use of Bagoong Balayan gives the necessary salt component. The dish is topped with native garlic and etag (smoked and aged salted pork from the Cordilleras). The casa typically serves this with suman sa ibos, burong mangga, and salted duck egg from Victoria, Laguna. There’s also a bowl of short-grain black rice for those who can’t imagine eating their adobo without rice.
Next is the Yellow Gingerfish. The kind of fish served actually depends on what’s fresh and abundant, and on our visit it just so happened to be talakitok. It arrived on a bed of dill and onion leeks slathered with turmeric oil. It comes with a Bagoong Balayan citrus sauce, peanuts, and fresh chilis.
Rounding out the mains is the Beef Wellington—US beef tenderloin seared with salt and pepper, wrapped with mushroom duxelles, prosciutto, and encased in the casa’s signature flaky, buttery pastry, served with kaldereta-inspired brandy beef demi-glace.
Chef Jen goes all out with her dessert menu as well. We were already so happy with the Baked Alaska—macapuno ice cream on a passion fruit jam base and flaky butter pastry, covered with torched meringue—but this was soon followed with a sweet encore of Burnt Basque Pumpkin Cheesecake Pie, Kalamay Latik, and ice cold seasonal fruits. All in all the Casa Luisa lunch is worth the P3,700 per person meal price, and the drive to San Pedro—which is really just 20 minutes from Makati.
Like coming home
According to Chef Jen, many of those who dine at Casa Luisa are her regular empanada buyers. “Actually nakakatuwa ang mga regulars because they're kind of emotionally attached to the product somehow,” Jen says. “They sent us DMs and talk about their stories and how they connect to our food. So seeing them and meeting them right now and having this as an open place is a different experience.”
The chef clearly puts a lot of thought in the food she prepares. Having done research and development for clients for many years has obviously paid off. “Kung may naririnig akong bagong produkto o harvest, I’m always so excited,” she says. “I always make sure to support local communities by sourcing the best ingredients around San Pedro, Laguna and all over the Philippines.”
Chef Jen doesn’t like to label the Casa Luisa service as “fine dining,” nor would she use the phrase to describe her food. “These are foods that we’ve tried and refined. It's family style. It's not so stiff. I really want the casual feeling still. You can come here in your shorts,” she says.
She doesn’t even like to call Casa Luisa a restaurant. “Because our staff are not regular restaurant people. They are people who have been working for me for a long time and I’m training them for food service,” she says. “This is really a home because I actually live here. That’s why I always try to put it in our messaging: ‘Welcome to our home.’ Because to me that’s what hospitality is all about—when you feel welcomed.”
Casa Luisa is located at Magsaysay Road Brgy, San Antonio, San Pedro, Laguna.