Vasking in Glory
Lying between the mountains and rivers of northern Spain, the Basque country is a wonderful slice of nature featuring a blend of vibrant greens and blues. It is home to scenic landscapes that show off the world's untainted beauty rarely seen on the other side of the world. But picturesque views are not just the main attraction in this region - food also is.
The heart of the Basque culture is in the kitchen; and with such glorious cuisine and interesting eating traditions, it's hard to imagine why it would be anywhere else. Its food scene is nothing less than exhilarating, and bringing the delicious party to Manila is chef Jose Luis "Chele" Gonzalez, the gastronome in the kitchen of the newest and hottest food destination in the city, Vask. "I'm introducing Manila to the fun side of the Basque country," says Gonzalez. "The flavours of Basque cuisine can be complicated, but here, we make the flavours more understandable for everyone, more modern." Being a Spaniard who has lived and worked in different parts of the world, Gonzalez holds in his hands both traditional recipes and new techniques - a perfect combination for creating classic favourites with a modern flair. "We create a balance between modern and traditional food so that they complement each other," he says.
Sitting on the fifth floor of Clipp Centre in Bonifacio Global City, Vask offers authentic Basque cuisine and modern tapas in three different areas of the restaurant, each with their own unique vibe. It is a concept formulated by architect Carlo Calma and five other partners who fearlessly dove into the food and beverage industry. "Guests can enjoy modern Basque food in the main dining room. It has a pintxo bar that's very typical of northern Spain, especially San Sebastian," Calma says. Pintxos or tapas, a wide variety of finger foods, are popular in the Basque region, and one of the major draws for tourism.
"For a more private dining experience, we have The Gallery. It's a 20-seater degustation section, perfect for private dinners and romantic dates," he adds. "What makes this space unique is that it's an art gallery by day [thus the name], and transforms into a fine-dining area come dinner time." The first exhibition, which launched in June, featured the works of photographer Francesca Balaguer-Mercado. "After Mercado, we're featuring a foreign artist. The plan is to showcase different artists every two months, alternating local and foreign," explains Calma.
Now, for the younger crowd and for guests who love to chill and hang out as well as eat and drink, Vask has an outdoor lounge called the Deck @ Vask. With a fantastic view of the Fort Bonifacio skyline on one side and the Makati skyline on the other, the Deck provides a relaxing vibe and even allows you to watch a beautiful sunset whilst enjoying your favourite drink.
Calma, who also does abstract and functional sculptures, has his creations scattered all over the place. "The idea is for the area to become some sort of a sculpture garden. We will be changing the art pieces throughout the year so the lounge will have a new look every now and then," he says. It also doubles as a gallery and showroom for his work as guests can purchase some of the sculptures on display.
One of the most interesting pieces on the deck is the "Transformation Utensils" which is a giant spoon-fork-and-knife sculpture. "It's a functional piece that guests can use and play with," says Calma. The spoon's ladle is a loveseat, the knife is a see-saw, and the fork is a lighting armature that stands tall, with the beautiful skyscrapers of Makati as its background.
For Calma, who comes from a family of architects, the restaurant business is unfamiliar territory, but he certainly isn't intimidated by new challenges. "The hard part was looking for the perfect place. When Chele and I were looking around, nothing seemed good enough," says Calma. "Then I took him here for the first time and we agreed that this is a great spot for the restaurant." Clipp Centre is a new 12-storey building owned by the Calmas and designed by Carlo's cousin, Ed. "The view is really what won us over. It just couldn't get any better than this."
Vask has the key ingredients to a successful opening and a lasting victory: delicious food, great concept, and a perfect view. For a first-time restaurateur, Calma sure knows what he's doing. He says, "In a way food is art. And at the end of every meal, it's the whole experience that counts. A customer's satisfaction isn't based on the food alone. You have to come up with great service and a multi-sensory experience like no other."