#ChefsTable: with Chele Gonzalez
Chef Chele Gonzalez is known for his talent and skill in creating beautiful dishes from unique and enticing flavours found in indigenous provinces of the Philippines. Despite originally coming from Spain, his passion for Filipino ingredients and culture has led him to work with local producers to find exotic flavours and bring into the light the true flavours of the Philippine islands. His stint in Vask has earned him and the restaurant multiple accolades accross the region and the globe, including the most recent one, being named the 39th Best Restaurant in Asia.
PHILIPPINE TATLER: How do you describe your style of cooking and how did this evolve?
CHEF CHELE GONZALEZ: What we do in the restaurant is complex. Gallery Vask’s philosophy is clear and distinct. We call it anthropological cuisine. When I was young, I was fascinated with history. Now, I apply two of my favourite things, which is history and culinary. The heart of our cuisine is the Philippines, culturally and historically.
I’ve always been exposed to fine dining and modern-innovated cuisine and that is my passion. After traveling most of Southeast Asia and some parts of the world, I have been exposed to different cuisines and styles of cooking, but when I finally settled here in the Philippines, I was able to create my vision and identity in cuisine. It is a unique cuisine wherein we create our own language.
PT: How does Vask fit in with your above stated philosophy?
CG: Our experience with the Aetas, indigenous communities, and the nature of the Philippines inspired us to deeply connect anthropology and culinary. Learning from them stirred us to the direction of working on this kind of cuisine and philosophy. Gallery Vask uses indigenous techniques and products that are combined with innovative craft then translated into flavours. We understand that everything we learn about the Philippines – nature, culture, history has to be preserved.
PT: What is the most challenging meal you have had to prepare?
CG: Every new menu that we develop in Gallery Vask has evolved from the previous one. The biggest challenge is to create something better than the previous menus. One of the most beautiful and at the same time challenging experiences was when I cooked for Andoni Adurriz and Joan Roca. It’s always nerve-racking to cook for renowned people in the industry but as long as everyone in the team knows what they’re doing, there will be no problem. Everyday is a challenge.
PT: Who would you like to cook for and what would you serve?
CG: I would cook for my mentors and people that I respect. I would like to give them the experience that I learned from them. Because of these people, I was able to develop my own identity and personality in cuisine and giving back to them would be good. At the end of the day also, the most important thing is to cook for anyone who come to the restaurant and dine in Gallery Vask. I want to make sure that they get the wonderful experience that they deserve and most important - MAKE THEM HAPPY
PT: What is your idea of comfort food?
CG: Comfort food is the food that I grew up eating. Comfort food is what makes me feel at home with my family and it connects me with my roots. My Mom’s homecooked food will always be the best comfort food may it be lentils, fabada, roasted lamb, etc. But throughout the years of traveling and staying from one country to the other, I have developed comfort food from each place.
In any culture, I believe that soup will always be the main comfort food.
PT: Do you cook for yourself? Why or why not?
CG: I haven’t really been cooking for myself because I’m very busy at the restaurant, but I love cooking for my fiancé at home.
PT: Where do you see the Filipino culinary scene in a couple of years? Are you happy with its progress?
CG: The Filipino culinary scene is rapidly growing. A lot of restaurants are opening and closing at the same time. The good thing about the current Filipino culinary scene is that it has a lot of Filipino players in it, meaning Filipino chefs who are coming up with their own concepts and allowing Filipinos to experience and appreciate it. Another wonderful thing about the status quo is that a lot of foreign establishments are investing in the Philippines, which means that the food scene in our country is fast becoming known worldwide. We have a some of the best restaurant chains coming in and also Michelin star chefs who are choosing to be known in the Philippines out of the rest of Southeast Asia. A lot of work and things still left to do like creating networks to bring the wonderful produce to Manila is still a big challenge; we are, after all, in a 7,000-island tropical country.