Metiz Restaurant's Chef Stephan Duhesme Re-Interprets Filipino Food
Food is an international love affair to many, but to Chef Stephan Duhesme of Metiz, it's a lifelong journey that's taken him across the globe and then back home. Having trained in megalopolises such as Tokyo, New York, and Bogota, Chef Stephan has seen—and tasted—quite a bit of the world. Now he says, he misses home, and has taken his chef's whites with him to a new kitchen in Chino Roces Avenue, at the hip Karrivin Plaza, where other foodies and restaurants have been known to gather. "I figured," he shares, "[that] there is no better place to cook Filipino food than in the Philippines".
Chef Stephan tells us that Metiz is without a doubt a Filipino restaurant. What makes him a stand-out is that he re-defines what it means to serve Filipino food. It definitely isn't the place to go to if you're looking for "just the usual". He says passionately: "If I need to make adobo, or sinigang to have a Filipino restaurant, then we will never think progressively as a nation". This chef (like other notable culinary talents) pays homage to the classics, revisits, and then innovates.
Metiz is the place for gastronomes, for people who understand the fluidity of flavour, and can appreciate the growth of a culture. "We will most likely keep pondering on the 'what is Filipino food?' question. It allows us some focus and perspective on how we cook," Chef Stephan comments.
Metiz' ever-evolving menu makes for exciting eating and courses such as egg mollet with carabao cream sauce infused with bangus tinapa or corn salad with hibe and fermented tomato and sautéed bagoong only add to the fun. Chef Stephan has intertwined his personal experiences and techniques into creating his fresh take on Filipino food. "[In terms of taste however], I think there are a lot more similarities [between Filipino and international flavours] than we imagine from a 'balance of flavour' perspective. The palate looks for similar things across cultures. Many of the obvious differences lie in how we achieve these notes and flavours through the ingredients and the way they are used, cooked, prepared, preserved, fermented based on geography, access to resources and culture," he explains. "In a way, we could say that I brought everything with me to Metiz".
And truly he and his team have. They aren't lacking in ideas either. In such a fast-paced kitchen, discovery is always just around the corner and needless to say, they play around with flavours. "We [recently] added a pancit dish. We are bringing out a dessert of corn, ube, nata de coco and dikay leaf," he says. "Changing dishes keeps us sharp, the more you create, the more the ideas flow and I don’t like us falling into routines".
Seeing this fluid interpretation of flavour is refreshing at a time when most restaurants pop up based on food that's simply trendy. In the Metiz kitchen, conceptualisation takes on a little more heart. "Sometimes we get excited with an ingredient, and we work around the ingredient to make it work in a dish. Sometimes it’s the emotion a particular traditional dish makes us feel," he shares. "We always take into account the heritage, context and the culture of our country".
While there's obviously a lot of thought about what "Filipino food" is truth be told, Chef Stephan hasn't fully answered the question. On some level, there's doubt he will. "Our kitchen’s understanding of [Filipino food] is a lifelong 'work in progress'. There is so much diversity from region to region, from the flavours to the ingredients used. Recipes are frameworks that provide us with an interpretation, or rather a snap in time of all of these elements, which form a part of our evolving cultural heritage."
Right now, however, a restaurant marquee of that interpretation seems to be in fermentation. Although many foodies seem surprised at this, it's actually a lot more common than you might think. "Fermentation is already naturally a part of Filipino food. We eat fermented foods all the time, almost in every meal in the form of vinegar, patis, bagoong, toyo. These are the basic ones. How can you make Filipino food if you don’t incorporate fermentation?".
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With all this innovation, it's hard to imagine Metiz ever having difficulty in drawing a crowd. But, as Chef Stephan tells us candidly, "2020 was a kick in the ass paired with a slap to the face." They'd had to reimagine Metiz a handful of times amid the "new normal" but, he adds, "working and cooking are what kept my team's morale up." There were plenty of bumps in the road. "By June, there was too much competition from home kitchenettes so we tried to re-invent our take out concept. It failed miserably, so I decided to focus only on our dine-in menu. If we were to close our doors forever, we were going to go down cooking what we wanted to cook. So we focused on creating our best menu yet".
Fortunately, this worked well and the Metiz menu continues to create a buzz around the Metro. Now, they are looking into expansion and creating a vegetarian menu on top of everything they have. So while 2020 hadn't been exactly kind to the team, it was, they assess, a kick in the ass and a slap to the face-but definitely in a good way.