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During their interview with asianTraveler Magazine, Chef Sunshine Pengson, joined by her husband and fellow Chef Rob, shared the secret ingredient to their healthy and prolific partnership: space – an answer we initially found surprising.
From a distance, space from each other appears to be a luxury the two are ill-afforded. The couple met back in 2006, according to their interview with The Glamour Blog, and since then, they’ve been co-workers, lovers, business partners, and eventually, husband and wife. Nowadays, the Pengsons are working on raising two boys. And if they’re not doing that, they’re working on a bunch of other things in and out of the kitchen. There’s the Goose Station, for one, a degustation restaurant which the two kick-started back in 2009. And there’s the Global Academy, the culinary school which Chef Rob founded along with Chef Benjamin Ledesma Jr.; Chef Sunshine currently teaches there.
But while they seem inseparable, make no mistake: boundaries are not foreign to the Pengson couple. They may spend a lot of time working together but they do so mostly in ways that complement but never overshadow each other.
It’s all about trust, according to Chef Sunshine, the capacity to properly designate clear jobs for each other and believe that the requirements for those jobs will be met. And trusting these two with food is not a difficult task given their respective resumes.
Despite being quite young, a host of culinary awards and success stories make up the couple’s curriculum vitae. Chef Rob, for starters, completed a two-year Associates Degree course in the California Culinary Academy. He is also a graduate of Entrepreneurship from the Asian Institute of Management; currently, he has a hand in managing a number of dining establishments in and around the Bonifacio Global City area. These include Vyne, Hungry Hound and Niner Ichi Nana, and Olive Tree Kitchen and Bar.
Chef Sunshine, on the other hand, pursued her culinary and pastry degrees in Tante Marie’s Cooking School in San Francisco, Institute of Culinary Education in New York and at the Ecole Ritz Escoffier in Paris. Just two years ago, she launched Gourmandise Patisserie, which is known for serving French pastries. A year after that, she opened Shine Bakery and Café.
All things considered, they are a talented and promising pair now set to redefine local cuisine.
What are the pros and cons of being a couple that shares the same interest?
Rob Pengson: Pros would be that we share the same passion, which is great. A con would be that sometimes work occupies our conversations more than we would like.
Sunshine Pengson: The upside is that we understand each other’s work, schedule and passion. We speak the same language, it’s our work, our hobby, our main interest. The downside is that it’s never-ending, and we have to remind ourselves to talk about other things and to sometimes leave work in the workplace.
How would you describe your respective styles in the kitchen, and how do you complement each other?
RP: My style is about being original. I don’t like cooking other people’s food so most of what I do is original.
SP: I’m a little bit more classic, but I also like to change things up a lot, with unexpected flavors and combinations. I think this makes us work well together. We’re constantly bouncing ideas off of each other, saying what we like and don’t like, so it’s a great partnership.
The Goose Station is arguably the most well-known of all the projects you two have worked on together. What are your respective roles in this project, and what was your secret to pulling it off as a couple?
RP: My role is managing the restaurant and cuisine, but Shine helps me decide which dishes are worthy to go on the menu, and also she is the master of our desserts.
SP: We made a deal early on that nothing goes on the menu without both of our approvals. I do handle the desserts, but taste all the other dishes as well and give my comments and suggestions.
How does innovation usually occur in the Goose Station or in the other projects that you two work on together? Do you usually work on it as a couple, do you each pursue your own ideas while consulting your partner or do you pursue innovation independently?
RP: Hmm. Sometimes we innovate together, sometimes it happens independently, sometimes it just happens.
On the website of the Goose Station, it is stated that, “Today, the team is enjoying the renewed energy that comes with a fresh purpose: to innovate and create a New Filipiniana Cuisine that it can present to the world.” Please tell us more about this. What constitutes a “New Filipiniana Cuisine” that you can present to the world, and how far along are you in achieving this goal?
RP: We have only just begun. We are very excited and motivated to see how far this will go, as it is something the world has never seen before. If it will be appreciated at this day and age is the risk that we face.
SP: As Rob said, it’s really only in its early stages. We wanted to do something that would put our cuisine onto the world gourmet stage. But cooking classic Pinoy dishes was not our forte, so we had to find a way to serve our country in our own way. We believe we have now found it by creating dishes inspired by emotions, times, people, etc.… that bring honor to our country. They are not traditional Filipino recipes, but at heart very Filipiniana to us and very personal as well.
The Goose Station is also known for offering “New Continental Cuisine.” Please tell us more about this and how it was developed.
RP: As mentioned, our style is original, but also inspired by everything from all over the world. This is why we call it New Continental Cuisine.
SP: I like to say that we are locally rooted yet globally inspired. We get a lot of inspiration from our travels and learning’s around the world.
We read online that Paris partially influenced Chef Sunshine to establish Gourmandise. Apart from Paris, what are the cities or destinations that have greatly influenced your culinary ventures and styles? How did they do so?
SP: Our favorite cities are San Sebastian, where we honeymooned; Tokyo, which we keep going back to; and Paris, where I studied ten years ago. Three cities known for their incredible food and chefs, each with its own distinct vibe that pulls us back to them again and again.
Going beyond the culinary side of things, what are the places you two love to visit as a family and why?
RP: As a family, we love Disneyland, zoos and places where nature is abundant. These are the places where our kids are the happiest.
You two are known for being very active in the local culinary scene. Currently, Chef Rob is involved in Hyve and Vyne, Hungry Hound and Niner Ichi Nana, and Olive Tree Kitchen and Bar. Meanwhile Chef Sunshine is involved in Gourmandise Patisserie and Shine Bakery and Café. Of course, both of you are involved in The Goose Station and Global Academy. What inspires the two of you to be this active in the local dining scene?
RP: Something I read that really touched me was “when I stand before God at the end of my life, I want to say that I have no more of the gift of passion you have given me because I used it all up to the best of my ability.”
Looking at all of these ventures from a distance, it appears that they are all different from each other. But is there a common trait that all these ventures have aside from the fact that it involves at least one of you?
RP: Actually they’re all a reflection of who we are. We have a fun side, serious side, adventurous side, humorous side, etc.
We noticed that the majority of ventures you are involved in are either located within the BGC area or situated nearby. In your opinion, what is so special about BGC?
RP: It’s beautiful there.
SP: We love its location and think it’s definitely the place to be in the restaurant scene. Living in the south, we also didn’t want to work any further away.
All things considered, do you two even manage to spend enough time together away from the kitchen? If so, what’s your secret? If not, how does that affect your relationship as a couple?
RP: We love watching movies together and being really hands-on parents. We also are very active in trying to help understand and improve ourselves.
SP: Any time I have away from work is spent with our two boys, Santiago and Sebastian, aged 3 years and 5 months [respectively]. It’s a tough division. Rob and I also enjoy weekly movie dates together, which I really enjoy.
What advice can you give to couples who pursue business ventures together or couples who are pursuing a similar profession?
SP: From the beginning, have clear-cut designations and job roles. Try not to overstep, as you have to trust your partner’s ability. And at the end of the day, remember that your relationship is more important than any business.
How would you gauge the overall culinary scene in the capital? What are the most predominant trends among dining establishments nowadays, and how have you two reacted to these?
SP: Growing at an exponential rate which is both very exciting and sometimes worrying as we hope we can all be sustained. When we opened, we were one of the only few tasting menu restaurants around. Now, we see so many new and extremely talented chefs around. We just try to stay true to ourselves, cooking for ourselves first, and hopefully people keep coming back.