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3 Filipino chefs at dinner with 6 hands

A restaurant, three Filipino chefs, a six-hand dinner – that was the premise behind “Filipinas”, the latest event in the Avec series by chef Miko Calo at the Metronome restaurant.

Metronome has always been about collaboration (‘avec’ means ‘with’ in French) – be it with chefs, farmers, producers or artisans – and Filipinas was an opportunity for Calo, with Tatler Dining Chef of the Year 2022 collaborating two world-class talents: Asia’s Best Female Chef 2016 Margarita Forés from Cibo, Lusso and Grace Park; and World Gourmet Awards Chef of the Year 2021 Johanne Siy, who lives in Singapore and cooks at the renowned restaurant Lolla.

“It’s exciting to work with, learn from, and share experiences with these two amazing women,” said Calo. “This is a great start to our year!”

Forés added: “It has been amazing to see the progress women have made in the professional kitchen over the years. The advancement of women into corporate leadership is greatly enhanced today in this very male-dominated industry. And while we still have a long way to go before equality becomes the norm, it’s events like Filipinas that help draw attention to the amazing work women can do when they work together in the kitchen.”

Siy remarked: “Being in Singapore has changed my worldview. It’s a global food hub that gives you access to amazing products from around the world, as well as different techniques and cuisines. This gives one a deeper appreciation for products and a desire to truly maximize them. In the same way, when I’m not in my country of birth, I want to incorporate more of the flavors I grew up with into my cooking. Sometimes it’s not until you come out of the bubble that you realize how beautiful things really are.”

And last January 17, all 12 courses were beautiful in the hands of these culinary virtuosos.

A tiered trio of snacks provided an excellent introduction to the menu, inspired by the flavors and textures of the homeland that shaped their culinary perspectives and shaped them into the chefs they are today.

“This is actually the most important course because it’s where we say thank you to the Singapore Tourism Board for hosting this event,” said Forés.

The first snack was Love Letters, Chef Johanne’s declaration of love for Singapore, a parmesan crisp with a herb paste made from leftover herbs in Lolla’s kitchen, according to Forés, who presented all the dishes that evening. Topped with alyssum blossoms and pansit pansitan, the crunch in this tiny, highly-refined “taco” was a hearty treat. Besides being a love letter to Singapore, I thought it was Siy’s love letter to taste.

The next snack was ukoy from Forés’ home province of Negros. “In Negros we put shrimp batter in hot oil made from rice flour, collect the crumbs, make a small pancake out of it and top it with hibe (dried shrimp), but tonight your hibe is from Korea and on top of it is gambero rosso – red shrimp from Spain A bit of tartare kinilaw style, pickled with Mindanao Biasong lime and topped with my favorite Singapore flavored sauce, Hainan ginger sauce and sorrel.”

Ukoy has always been more of a casual comfort snack for me, but Gaita has taken it to the level of a Michelin star – slightly crunchy and incredibly good, with surprising flavor hits. I could nibble on this all day.

Crowning the trio was host chef Miko Calo’s escargot, snail with vermicelli soaked in laksa broth and topped with ikura roe and coriander blossoms. The laksa was such a heavenly counterpoint to the earthy flavors of the snails that I sipped it from the shell. What a new and clever way to Laksa.

As a pescetarian, I didn’t partake in the sweetbread, pigeon, lamb, and lengua courses that night, but got no FOMO at all for the numerous seafood dishes, including crab, Chef Johanne’s specialty made with three types of crab: snow crab from Japan , blue crab aligue paste with paprika and tomato foam. That was a total stunner. It took me a spoon to scoop up all the deliciousness of the large chunks of crab, braised cabbage, and pearl couscous in one bite, resulting in amazing smoke, spice, and the clean spiciness of kaffir lime.

This was followed by Siy’s Huat Ah – an auspicious dish to celebrate Chinese New Year as its abalone resembled gold bars. One of the Metronome owners, Elbert Cuenca, served us the mushroom broth – intensely flavored with eight types of mushrooms.

Grace Park’s river prawns have always been my favorites, so I really enjoyed Gaita’s Ulang, Bulacan river prawns with butter. “The orange cream is the cream from the head of the shrimp, but we also put the cream from the Gambero Rosso in the tartare because these red shrimp have a really, really good head cream,” Forés said. “The yellow flour is actually corn and rice tinigib from Negroes. So it’s like our version of polenta and I’ve enriched it with two Italian cheeses: Piave and Taleggio.”

A red paste on meat eaters’ plates that looked like sambal was made of etag, meat that they smoked with guava wood or mango wood in sagada to flavor their vegetables. “At least now we have a lot of sources to bring it to Manila,” Gaita said.

Then came the highlight of the evening for the pescetarians at the table (which included our very own Cheryl Tiu): a cod dish that all three chefs helped create. “We just got this dish together tonight,” Gaita admitted. “That’s Johanne’s sauce, Miko’s fish and my pavé. Miko was very proud because this is the only collab dish.”

Every element of this salt-baked cod with gremolata, espagnol sauce, onion and herb salad, root vegetable pavé and sakura pickles has been executed to perfection and worked together in harmony to create an exquisite dish that I am truly grateful to the three chefs for creating.

Desserts were Miko’s Roselle, a bowl of pink roselle raspberry granita, vanilla coconut foam and lychee gulaman that tasted as refreshing and beautiful as it looked; and Gaita’s Hojaldres, a confection made with pili crust, local figs, smoked Kesong puti and candied tomatoes that transcends its rustic origins and becomes a masterpiece of fine dining.

While the three Filipinas’ personal dishes showcased their individual brilliance, the fish dish they collaborated on suggested even greater creations when they put their heads, hearts and six hands together. I would definitely look forward to that.

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Metronom French Restaurant is located at G/F, The Grand Midori Makati, Bolanos St., Legazpi Village, Makati, Tel. 283-5706. For updates and reservations, visit www.restaurantmetronome.com or email [email protected]

Grace Park is located at Rockwell Center, Rockwell Drive, Makati, Tel. 8843-7275.

Lusso is located at 5 Greenbelt, Ayala Center, Makati, Tel. 7756-5893.

Cibo is located at 5 Greenbelt, 4 Glorietta and Power Plant Mall, Rockwell.

Lolla is located at 22 Ann Siang Rd., Singapore Tel (65) 6423-1228 or visit www.lolla.com.sg.