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Chef with Killer Looks and a Restless Spirit
Chef Sau del Rosario, if I may say, looks as “delish” as any of the dishes he conjures. What makes him even more attractive, aside from the obvious darkly, lean good looks and punk hairstyle, is his passion for all things culinary – and cultural. This passion also keeps him on the go, exploring every nook and cranny of the Philippines in search of unheralded culinary gems. On Facebook, simply search for him and voila! – you get to travel with him and eat, vicariously.
Even when preparing to travel with him vicariously, prepare to do so at high speed, because Chef Sau is one person who can never seem to sit still. He is on the go at 7am and can run on four hours of sleep even when he ends his days late. Weekends find me trying to catch hours of sleep, but for Chef Sau, it is a time to reconnect with his passion (through long drives which would bring him anywhere) – and that would be Filipino food.
When asked what Filipino cuisine is all about, he answers emphatically, “Our cuisine may have been influenced by those who had colonized us, but that’s our history. And our culture and food is influenced by our history. These are facts we can’t change.”
He goes on to explain, “Let’s take Thai food for example, People view it as an authentic cuisine because it doesn’t have any other culinary influence. That is because Thailand hadn’t ever been colonized. But, who’s to say Filipino cuisine isn’t as authentic because of our historical culinary influences? Could we say that ‘lumpia’ isn’t Filipino because of its Chinese influence?”
He sighs with a little exasperation, “We over-analyze too much. If you want me to tell you what recipes could be authentically Pinoy, I’d say, adobo (a popular dish of meat or seafood using a cooking process which involves soy sauce, vinegar and garlic), which seems to have 101 recipes depending on the region; paksiw (stews made with vinegar); and sinigang (a Filipino stew characterized by its sour flavor, usually associated with tamarind).”
He wryly observes with a shake of his head, “We should stop apologizing for our cuisine. It is my goal to represent my country through our food. It cannot promote itself. Love your cuisine and be proud of what you have.”
Chef Sau’s Culinary Journeys
“Spreading oneself too thin” is an idiom that doesn’t seem to fit Chef Sau. Most days would fi nd him at his restaurant Le Bistro Vert – “a novel concept in casual dining. It features the latest trend which is SUSTAINABLE FOOD. Le Bistro offers a special sustainable food menu which ensures that food products support earth-friendly initiatives and help sustain local farmers.”
It is on weekends, however, where the real journey begins. To Chef Sau, life is indeed a personal journey – and food is tightly intertwined in his own strands of existence.
Chef Sau started his journey on the culinary landscape early in life, but he did so unwittingly. His father was a professional chef and everyone in his family cooked. He reminisces thoughtfully, “My mother taught me the ABC’s of cooking. But even if my father was a professional chef, I didn’t want to be like my father. Ironically, I turned out to be just like him.” He breaks out in an impish grin after stating this.
He goes on to recount that he once worked at the reception desk of a hotel, and because of his odd schedule he’d be hankering for some tidbits of food at strange hours. He would connive with the chef, who’d willingly allow him to snitch cookies time and again. Before long, snitching cookies would turn into asking for recipes from the chef, who gladly obliged. This would be a classic example of the “Universe” conspiring to set one’s direction in life. And so, Chef Sau just went gleefully with the flow. That “flow” took him to different parts of the globe, where he also learned under Michelin Chef Alain Ducasse.
Despite working and being recognized for his culinary prowess in 30 cities and 3 continents, however, according to Chef Sau – “nothing beats home”. After experiencing the peak of his career in various culinary capitals of the world (including Paris), he begins another journey and it would be – in the Philippines.
He exclaims, “You’d be surprised at the variety of Filipino food! And I usually like to go and eat at the source. If I want some seafood, I go south. If I want something exotic, I go to the North part; Pampanga, I’d say, is the gastronomic capital of the country.” Fingers going through his laptop, he shows us shots of various “food trips” and chuckles at one particular picture showing him underneath a shade at an al fresco place, tummy distended, apparently full. He adds, “I’m usually fit, but here, it looks like I have a beer belly. I’d go anywhere to eat the food a region offers.”
In fact (as shown on his Facebook page), he recently went to Iloilo, not only to enjoy the Dinagyang festival, but also to savor the culinary treats of “Tatoy’s Manokan”, an Ilonggo culinary landmark that has been a ‘must-eat’ for decades! He gleefully chomped on a succulent barbecued chicken and scarfed down bites of gigantic prawns you’d get your hands on, only in the South.
In this lifetime at least, food and cooking are his passions. When he is asked, however, if he’d live his life all over again as a chef, he answers with a stricken “No!”. His eyes grow wide, “I’ve learned all I could from this life, why would I want to do it all over again! Pwede ba?! I’d like to learn from a different life. Why not learn from being a woman (in another life), for instance? I could do that.”
He grows wistful when he says, “I’ve lived a fuller than full life. If God says – Sau, times up, let’s go. I wouldn’t say no.”
What Makes Chef Sau Tick?
“Would you like to have more on your plate at this point in your life”, I ask. He answers without hesitation, “Oh there’s more to do! I’d like to pass on what I have learned. I occasionally teach at CCA (Center for Culinary Arts) in Manila. Don’t get me wrong, however, I may be supportive, but I can be as temperamental as Chef Gordon Ramsay. I am quite demanding when it comes to formation of values, discipline – and integrity. Integrity is crucial, I cannot sacrifice it. When a student tells me he owes me, I also quickly refute it. A student doesn’t owe me anything. He owes it to himself to make the best of what he has. I absolutely disagree about ‘utang na loob (debt of gratitude)’, I don’t believe in it.”
He adds to his already full plate eagerly, “I’d also like to work on a cookbook with organic recipes, combine it with a travelogue with my impressions of a place. Not only that, I’d also like to encourage young people to broaden their horizons through travel, learn all they can from different cultures – but, and that’s a big BUT – they should come back and pass on what they have learned.”
He becomes animated when he adds, “Most Filipinos spend their youthful years abroad, and other countries benefit from their youth, knowledge and expertise! When do they come back to their country?! They come back when they’re retired, old – and sickly! Liability pa sila!”
He ends the interview on a high note, “I want to help my country in the best way I can, by focusing on what we HAVE. At Le Bistro Vert, we offer sustainable food, and at the same time, we patronize local farmers. We get tomatoes from Tagaytay; oranges from Sagada; cheese from Davao. We even use malunggay for pesto pasta, and tamarind for vinaigrette.
“So are you ready for my dishes?”, he asks with a roguish twinkle in his eyes brushing his faux mohawk back with long fingers.
Justin de Jesus (the photographer) and I nod. We definitely are!