MANILA, Philippines - Sometimes bright, sometimes blue: that is the world of legendary artist Vincent Van Gogh, a Dutch post-Impressionist painter known for his vivid-colored and rendered artworks. His feverish production of art is said to have come with sustained enthusiasm and manic episodes, followed by exhaustion and depression.
Van Gogh is Bipolar: that is the name one intriguing restaurant hidden in a quiet corner of Teacher's Village, Quezon City goes by.
Inspired by Van Gogh's struggle with his own genius or condition, it strives to offer its own version of comfort food on a street appropriately called Maginhawa.
Travel photographer Jetro Rafael runs the place, transforming it from his home in the day to a restaurant by night.
|Jetro Rafael at work in the kitchen
"It works perfectly for me. I cook and it's part of my therapy. When I had this space, it's one way of liberating myself, of accepting and celebrating who I am," he said.
Food for healing
Rafael was diagnosed as bipolar 3 years ago. This started him on a personal search for alternative natural medicine. Having always loved cooking, even as a child, whipping up his own food became a natural direction, something he eventually strove to share while seeking his own private space for his art and his healing.
"I discovered that there are types of food that are sensitive to mood alteration. I discovered that when you're depressed, anxious, agitated, in a bad mood, there are ingredients that can lift your mood or calm you down.
"The food is designed to activate neurotransmitters in the brain like dopamine, serotonin, epinephrine that can help you become happy and calm.
"This is the first time a restaurant has used the theory of happy, calming producing food," he said.
Certain food like black mountain rice--which is rich in vitamin B and folic acid--and salmon and halibut, which are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, can make people happy, said Rafael. Turkey meat, which is rich with tryptophan, can help inhibit anger and compulsive behavior.
Cabbage, which is known to activate serotonin in the brain, is known to beat depression. Mango is known to lower cortisol, while wild honey can eliminate anxiety.
"It's very important to be aware of the kind and type of food we are eating. If you incorporate food in your lifestyle, the effect is surprisingly better. There's no side effect," Rafael said.
Dishes named after bipolar people
He drew up a list of ingredients that are sensitive to mood alteration, which later evolved into recipes that have since become part of Van Gogh is Bipolar's cuisine. It's a hodge-podge of recipes named after popular bipolar personalities--writers like Virginia Woolf, artists like Courtney Love and Mel Gibson, and American Presidents.
The items include President Roosevelt's Norwegian Salmon Belly, President Clinton's Australian Lamb, and President Lincoln's Organic Orange Turkey.
|Larry Flynt's Cabbage Experience
An interactive salad which is among the most-ordered items on the restaurant's menu is named after American publisher Larry Flynt: Larry Flynt's Cabbage Experience. It is a salad sampler with cabbage, salted egg, a slice of ripe mango, banana chips, fresh basil leaves, cashew nuts, capers, and fried dilis served with Rafael's own special concoction--Van Gogh's secret black vegetable sauce.
Virginia Woolf's Tears is an organic turkey soup slow broiled with homemade banana chips, herbs, carrots and edible flowers.
There's a healthy fruity drink called Courtney Love's Potion of the Day--a juice concoction made from fresh fruit pulps and extracts of fruits in season (mango, lemon, cucumber), fresh mint leaves and pure wild Palawan honey.
|Courtney Love's Potion of the Day
An alcoholic dessert-drink has also been dubbed Mel Gibson's Darkest Sin--Belgian dark chocolate, wild honey, jagermeister (a German herbal liquor made with 56 herbs, spices, roots) and walnut, while a a dessert of iced carabao milk is called Marilyn Monroe's Iced Lolly.
But Rafael admitted that most of his recipes are spontaneous.
In fact, in recent weeks, Rafael has opened his kitchen for interactive food demos for his customers.
For this week's "Taste Buds" episode on "Mornings@ANC", Rafael whipped up a dish using Greenland halibut.
He seasoned the fresh halibut and fried it in a pan with olive oil, added fresh tarragon, parsley, and basil leaves which he said go well with any fish. He then topped the fish with lightly seasoned and sauteed apples, added a dash of orange juice, sweet mango, cabbage and a dash of Palawan wild honey, topped it with a sprinkling of marigold petals and local dill, then served it with black mountain rice.
For all the spontaneity that comes with it, the dish is surprising as it is delicious.
"Creating recipes is like exploring the unknown. Sometimes, I'd be in the kitchen not knowing what to cook. I'd have the ingredients and I spontaneously whip up these dishes.
"There's one ingredient I always use and it's called love: it's the passion while cooking. When I prepare the food. I make sure I taste the final dish," Rafael said.
A haven for diners
Two years since the restaurant opened, Van Gogh is Bipolar has become a haven for diners, some of whom are willing to wait in line for a chance to enjoy his menu.
"It's first come, first served. The place is good for 12 diners only. There's a nice garden where others can wait for a free seat," Rafael said.
Despite the restaurant's peculiarities, Rafael is pleased with the public's reception. Celebrity host and manager Boy Abunda even celebrated his birthday here once.
Other visitors include popular personalities in politics and entertainment. A couple even got engaged here, with the man's proposal on a Post-it note a prominent feature in the restroom, and beside it their formal wedding invitation.
"It's more than I expected. It's an overwhelming magical experience for me, to think kung ika'y mag-aapply sa trabaho at sabihin mong sira ulo ka, ikaw ba'y tatanggapin? There's that challenge, there's that stigma. What better way to love and accept yourself than by celebrating your imperfections and accepting your flaws and weaknesses," Rafael said.
Much like the food, the restaurant's interiors are also spontaneously decorated.
|Fruity-herby Green Halibut
There are house rules written on one board. It includes the 12-diner house limit. Diners have to leave their shoes outside along with their inhibitions and expectations, enter the place barefoot and be open to the unique food experience Van Gogh is Bipolar offers. On one table is an assortment of teapots from which you choose where to mix your own tea--part of the total Van Gogh experience.
"The place is chaotic. It's a mishmash. There's no design. Everything develops spontaneously. You keep adding just like the food," Rafael added.
One corner of the restaurant features a red room and a cursing wall filled with violent outbursts and a dark room that invites you to unleash your inhibitions and spill your secrets. On one wall is scribbled Rafael's own confessions: the story of his struggle with the condition written in by now faded ink.
"Everybody's welcome here. The good thing about this place is, you're here and you're not being judged. Sira ulo ka man, you can just be who you are and be thankful for the life you have despite the imperfections."
Van Gogh is Bipolar is at 154 Maginhawa St. Sikatuna Village, Quezon City, tel. nos. (632) 394-0188 and (63) 929-163-8592. The restaurant opens at 6 p.m. (serves free soup at 10 p.m.).
"Taste Buds" is a weekly food segment of Mornings@ANC which airs on Tuesdays between 10:30-11 a.m. It features chefs and talented foodies, their food ventures and the stories behind them, their house specialties, and new introductions to their menu.
|FRUITY-HERBY GREENLAND HALIBUT
1 medium halibut fish, cut
black and red pepper
fresh basil, tarragon and wansoy herbs
fresh fruits: green apple, orange and mango
1. Pan-fry the halibut fish with olive oil.
2. Season fish with pepper and sea salt.
3. Add fresh herbs to fish. Saute.
4. In a separate pan, saute fresh fruits. Season with pepper and sea salt.
5. Squeeze fresh orange extract.
6. Serve with fresh herbs and fruit.