Arts & Leisure

Dreaming of Italy in Malaybalay

Posted on March 29, 2012

MALAYBALAY CITY, BUKIDNON -- Residents of this provincial capital are privileged to have in their midst a restaurant offering excellent and authentic Italian cuisine -- though one can’t tell this outright from the name of the place.

Mint Leaf Café on Sta. Cruz St. is owned and operated by the family of Lloyd Pangilinan Lagman, a member of the sophomore batch of the Center for Culinary Arts (CCA) in Manila who worked as a chef at various Italian restaurants in Makati and abroad.

After his graduation from CCA in 2000, Mr. Lagman went on to work at Grappas Ristorante in Greenbelt 3 where he was head chef; Osteria Italia owned by Ara Mina in Timog Ave., again as head chef; and Absinthe Café Bar in Greenbelt 3 as a part-time chef and purchaser. He also did two tours in the Princess Cruises to Alaska and the Mediterreanean as third cook and, later, assistant cook. He went on to become assistant chef and head chef of the Barbados Café Lounge and Restaurant in Bunbury, Australia.

In 2010, Mr. Lagman came home and eventually took over the Mint Leaf Café from his younger sister Lynn, a pastry chef who is also a graduate of CCA. Ms. Lagman opened the Mint Leaf Café in 2004. It was a pastry shop serving sandwiches and the famous Monk’s Blend Coffee organically grown by the Benedictine monks of the nearby Monastery of the Transfiguration. Upon Mr. Lagman’s arrival, he transformed it to a family dining place, which, aside from his Italian dishes, also serves American and Filipino dishes. Among the clientele’s favorites are Mint Leaf Chicken, crispy tadyang (ribs), tacos and desserts.

The family plans to expand the café into a bed and breakfast place when the school the family operates in an adjoining lot closes down for good later this month.

But its Italian pedigree aside, Mint Leaf Café’s specialty is its Bukidnon Brew made from fresh Arabica coffee beans hand-ground on the premises just before being served with brown sugar for that bracing mountain taste and smell.

The more adventurous can try the durian coffee which is basically Bukidnon Brew flavored with durian preserve.

Of course, the place also serves the usual café latte, espresso, cappuccino and coffee variants urban foodies have come to expect from their favorite tambayan (hangout), regardless of where it’s found.

The chef has plans to expand the coffee menu with even more varieties indigenous to Bukidnon and the region. The province’s high elevation makes it ideal for coffee growing especially varieties which thrive at cooler, higher altitudes like Arabica.

So what made Mr. Lagman come back to Malaybalay after roaming the culinary world? “I like people to enjoy the food the way I’ve found it best to be -- simple with a big taste,� the journeyman of Italian ristorantes said.

“Now is the time to raise the level of taste here in Malaybalay by sharing what I’ve learned with my clientele.� -- Michael D. Baños