This was by no means its first lab experiment. In the name of R&D, a noble cause if ever there was one, ten “guinea pigs” arrived for the much-hyped launch of the Studio Lab. Upon entering the contemporary room, the feeling of intimacy was certainly alive and well: the 10-seater space adjoining the main dining room of Gallery by Chele looked unassuming… but promised big, big things.
Though warm and welcoming (of course Juan Carlo Calma played a hand here), a “look” or style was not of particular concern since, at the end of the day, the Studio Lab’s primary function, though a dining venue, is that of a Research and Development kitchen. Nothing was overly extravagant and the visual elements more organic. Besides the shelf display of the chefs’ culinary trials and tribulations (read: anything being fermented and aged) and cook books, the open kitchen is centre stage.
One half of the consultancy team behind the lab (chefs Chele Gonzalez and Carlos Villaflor) were already at it in the kitchen; the other half, the husband and wife restaurateur guru-sommelier tandem of Cyril and Pierre Addison were working the 50-square-metre room, greeting the lucky ten with a none too sweet cava. The motivation behind this dream team, dubbed ADVICHE (derived from ADdison, VIllaflor, and CHEle), “is to bring their decades of accumulated knowledge and experience to hospitality groups seeking to establish their own ventures or improve on their understanding of the F&B industry.”
Pointed out Cyril, who moved to the Philippines with Pierre eight years ago “‘ADVICHE’ already sounds like we are giving advice—which is true!” but, he expounded, “We are essentially a one-stop food and restaurant solutions consultancy. We can go in and do audits, we can help you open new restaurants, or even help with existing restaurants in terms of renovations and re-conceptualising them.”
Further to Cyril’s point and tying into the progressive platform of the ADVICHE consultancy, are the all-important once-a-month Studio Lab dinners, which, according to Pierre, “Will showcase our combined seventy-plus years in the industry. These dinners are going to be our group’s collaborative test kitchen to experiment and be creative with beverages—wine especially. This is our passion project; we decided to put our heads and talents together and come up with something great so we can help people and at the same time be in our own element.”
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One can almost imagine the four interacting in their culinary playground, bouncing ideas off each other, lifting limitations, and just having pure, unadulterated expressive fun. “It’s the connection between our consultancy and Gallery by Chele,” shared Chele. “We are usually back here in the morning, we put a record on, create, and have a good time.”
Already hugely popular in Europe, these types of establishments or spaces exist to collaborate with agricultural as well as food & technology institutions. To date, Studio Lab is already liaising with the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB). Perhaps owing to the underdog of Asian cuisine, Chele has always felt it his mission to expose and highlight our “under-appreciated” local ingredients, flavour profiles and regional cooking techniques.
To this end, a secondary function of Studio Lab is to work closely with these organisations and to “marry this local knowledge with global culinary ideas and methods,” such that it is able to “fashion out-of-the box creations to delight and thoughtfully provoke the guests at Gallery by Chele.”
Clearly, pre-launch, some progressive ideating and exchanges had been undertaken and so finally, for the official launch, a series of seven “bites” (or canapés) made the cut followed by 10 courses. These were all written down—in no specific order nor in their final plated format—in whiteboard marker across one entire glass wall panel. It would be of no exaggeration to say that only ADVICHE and their team could decipher the sequencing of lines, symbols and arrows.
The sounds and smells from the kitchen were welcomed elements that noticeably impacted and elevated the Studio Lab experience. One felt privileged to be among the first few, excited to take on and pick apart one dish after another of this novel collaboration.
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The sheer creativity and playfulness was seen in the use of ube (purple yam) in the flat round shell of the adobo octopus taco; or in the localised version of takayoki made with grilled eggplant, green mango, pinakurat (spiced coconut vinegar) mayo, octopus, and garlic crumbs. Here, the traditional katsuobushi (dried, fermented, and smoked skipjack tuna power) was replaced with our tinapa (smoked fish) to achieve the desired umami factor. “The flavour profile of this dish is inspired by our own “tortang talong” (eggplant omelette),” shared Carlos.
The crew also had their fun with fermentation when conceptualising the Brioche Bun. Carlos explained that this particular “bite” was influenced by a very Asian dish: the patatim and bao, except “to create the brioche, three fermentation processes were used, and instead of pork, a beef humba stew recreated something very comforting and familiar.”
Pushing the envelope on the wine front, Pierre, who’s not shy about bending the rules where she can, paired a light red Sangiovese with a white fish dish aptly named “Snap.” Best enjoyed with fork and spoon, Filipino-style, the Josper-grilled snapper was served with a dollop of fluffy purée of eggplant and basil liberally sprinkled with cacao nibs and submerged in a shallow savoury broth. “The Poggio Uliveto has a lot of earthiness and a bit of acidity to it to complement the meatiness of the fish and smokiness of the sauce” she justified, before adding “A fruitier wine would have overpowered the dish.”
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For the “Heritage” (“peanut sauce,” banana heart, Jamon Iberico), Pierre did well to pair the sweetness of the chenin blanc of the Tresors de Loire Vouvray with such a salty, earthy dish (thanks to the cashew kare-kare sauce). A brilliant turn was the Cap (Wagyu, laing, rabanos). The laing (creamed gabi) brought out the subtle oak ageing in the Rioja, a nice terroir-focused (as opposed to ageing-focused) La Vicalanda Reserva 2012.
Dessert was a standout—for me at least. The layered and perfectly tart Tart (calamansi custard and sampaguita ice cream) was such an intricate and well-thought out gem. As if it couldn’t get any better, the Pelissero Moscato d’Asti superbly rounded off and tempered the acute citrusy tartness and was just as good alone.
Interactive and curated seem to be the operative words here but whether for an off the cuff menu or a tasting menu of Gallery by Chele signatures (perhaps a combination of both?), the Studio Lab can be booked for such, either way. Add to that outstanding service and attention to detail and there you have a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
“This is any chef’s dream and to be able to have this space is only possible because of ADVICHE,” said Chele. “It is something that is truly magical,” agreed Carlos. “These are the perfect people to work with.”
All photos by Dre Ferrer. Get to know more about Gallery by Chele & Studio Lab when you visit their website: gallerybychele.com.
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