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Why chef Sau is in love with Pampanga


CELEBRITY chef Sau del Rosario, who had spoken at the prestigious San Sebastian Gastronomika culinary conference in Spain before the pandemic, shared his love for Pampanga during a luncheon at his Angeles restaurant, 25 Seeds by Café Fleur.

The restaurant is located at the Dycaico ancestral house, an impressive pile in that city, with wooden floors, marble-topped tables, and wrought-iron banisters. BusinessWorld was there on the sidelines of a trip with Mama Sita earlier this month (story here: https://www.bworldonline.com/arts-and-leisure/2022/04/13/442326/all-in-the-family-5/). It seems appropriate that Mr. Del Rosario’s restaurant is located in such a storied house when his favorite thing about Pampanga is its history.

Pampanga is sometimes pegged as one of the country’s culinary capitals. Asked if its reputation has merit, he says, “I agree 100%.”

“We’re in the middle of Luzon. When the Spaniards came to the Philippines, most of them stayed in Pampanga,” he said as he explained why Pampanga then has such a rich culinary heritage. Owing to its location, he says, it was easy for them to defend this space. “I think it’s a melting pot.”

Furthermore, its coordinates give the province another advantage. Since it is located in Central Luzon, where no large bodies of water are present (save for its rivers), “walang fish (there aren’t any fish),” the chef pointed out. “Our specialty is really meat… it’s very unique in the Philippines, because a lot of Philippine regions rely so much on seafood. And because we learned from the Spaniards, it’s so meticulously done,” he said.

Ang taas ng kalibre ng panglasa nila (their standards for taste are so high),” he says about Capampangans.

His restaurant 25 Seeds is named so for the 25 years he had spent in the culinary industry sq.m. at least when it opened in 2017. With an additional five years of staying power under his belt, Mr. Del Rosario discussed what he has learned thus far.

“It’s not easy. I was away for quite some time,” he said, citing stints in Paris, Singapore, Thailand, and China. “I’ve always wanted to put up something like this, in honor of my mom. It’s not easy because there are so many factors. For example, marami nang chefs dito (there are already a lot of chefs here),” he pointed out.

“I’ve learned that I have to do what I need to do. I have to have good food, and that’s what I did.”

On one hand, while he’s devoted to the land, he does cite one problem while also warning that “I’m generalizing Filipino food.” The problem is “it’s so hard to sell it abroad.”

“My mission is how to refine it,” he says, but then he speaks about the efforts of other chefs: “When they refine, redo Filipino food, it’s very extreme… they make it so degustacion that you can hardly see the food.”

His idea of refining Filipino food is not so extreme. “I will stay in the middle. I will not change the recipes… but [I will] make it more presentable, make it look nice.”

There are a number of differences between running a restaurant in a big metropolis like Metro Manila and one is a smaller provincial city. He should know, since he opened Cafe Fleur in Makati’s Poblacion, and plans to open another venture in about three weeks.

“In Manila, it’s very challenging, because it’s very competitive,” he said.

“Here, hindi eh (it is not). You could excel here if you want. But then, wala pang market dito (there isn’t a market here). The spending power is not that great as in the city,” of the food scene in Angeles.

In jest he says, “Kuripot ang mga Capampangan (Capampangans are stingy). They have their dinners at home sq.m. because they’re all good cooks,” he said sq.m. that, and according to him, they can’t resist the chance of showing off their antiques and china.

“I always come back. I will never give up on Pampanga. I love this place so much.” sq.m. — Joseph L. Garcia