Chef of the Week: Jessie Sincioco
A mango cake began the life-long journey of the chef Jessie Sincioco in the culinary world. Known for the flair of her trademark dishes' tastes from different countries, the low-key chef tells her humble beginnings and simple joys to Philippine Tatler Dining.
A finance graduate and former businesswoman who declares having had little enthusiasm for cooking during her younger days, Sincioco gladly says that her success is indebted to her aunt Lita Dy, who encouraged her to join a baking contest. Upon winning the grand prize in the baking category of the Great Maya Cookfest in 1983 with her original mango cake recipe as the star, everything started to fall into place for Sincioco. She could not contain her happiness when the reputable Intercontinental Hotel Manila generously offered her a three-month training course in pastry.
The fulfilling event revealed Sincioco's first love affair with baking. "As I grew up, I wasn't passionate about cooking because what I saw being done in our kitchen was hot food. I wasn't interested. But when I discovered baking, I fell in love with the kitchen."
After the training, better opportunities brought Sincioco's passion for cooking to greater heights when the Intercontinental Hotel offered an opportunity for employment. Several prestigious awards were acclaimed to the property during her loyal seven-year tenure at the hotel, which led her to more in-depth training at all the Intercontinental branches in Europe. All of these achievements made her the country's first Filipina pastry chef.
Blessed that her "horizon became really wide," Sincioco explored the restaurant business with a partner through the flourishing of Le Soufflé into the dining scene. Le Soufflé is a fine dining restaurant that showcased excellent French-Mediterranean classics for the diners' delight with Sincioco as the chef patron. Scrumptious French staples were the restaurant's highlights, but after several years when the partnership untied its knot and decided to part ways, the restaurant has welcomed an international cuisine with new names Chef Jessie at Rockwell Club and Top of the Citi by Chef Jessie at the Citibank Building.
Elucidating a unique take on the straight-cut fine dining destination, Sincioco expresses a more casual theme in her restaurants that are almost close to fine dining: "I don't want to be identified with fine dining. I don't like to create an impression that when you come here [to Chef Jessie at Rockwell Club], you have to dress up. People can come here in jeans or in decent shorts. This is more casual, more relaxed, but with five-star cuisine."
For over four years now, satisfying the demands and preferences of the chef's patrons indeed reflects the signature dishes served in each restaurant. Located in a bustling corporate set-up, Top of the Citi by Chef Jessie gives home-style choices that showcase a mix of Asian and Filipino inspirations. Chef Jessie, being in a posh city resort-type of area in the Rockwell centre on the other hand, depicts a more delicate type of dining in its menu and food presentation of international flavours. Both restaurants boast cosy and warm interiors that mirror her accommodating character.
Sincioco also emphasises that her dishes "let people feel that they're home." Because of this principle, some staples are named after the regulars who have loved their favourites like Ambassador Manolo Lopez Salad and Salad à la Jose Mari Chan.
Changing the restaurant's name didn't become an issue at all, the chef says, rather even helped the restaurant to gain the diners' trust. "We thrived because of repeat guests every now and then, and they bring more. It's word of mouth." A sweet and encouraging note that came from one of the chef's avid customers says, "the more we know that it's you, the more that we will be coming to your restaurant."
Asked about the level of happiness in her career right now, Sincioco says in a fulfilling nod that more than the business, "to let people (her employees) have a decent source of income" is an achievement for her.
With two competitive restaurants with stellar cuisine fusions, added back-to-back catering events operating almost daily, a new revolving restaurant soon coming up in Eastwood City, and a more expansive menu to be launched next month in Chef Jessie, Sincioco wears a lot of hats with hard work and determination. Philippine Tatler Dining can't wait to see the fulfillment of Sincioco's dream of having a bakeshop of her own as the last blank to mark with an X on her list of life goals.