Young chef Miko Aspiras channeled memories of childhood playgrounds in the Philippines to create a special dessert for his presentation during Madrid Fusion Manila 2016.

For many Filipinos, playtime would consist of playing in the hot sun on a swing set. Aspiras gathers these elements together, creating a story from sensory memory: the taste of sweat, rust, and santan flowers. “It’s a memory of when I was a child, through flavors that I didn’t really intend to taste, but I’ve tasted… it’s part curiosity in my head.”

Parks and gardens around the country have santan bushes growing in them, filled with bunches of its tiny flowers. Many people’s childhood memories include plucking out a tiny flower and sucking out the sweet tiny drop of nectar from within its long hollow stem. Aspiras gathered a humungous bunch of these flowers and extracted the nectar to use in his dessert.

As for sweat and rust, the chef relied on the help of an “extraction system,” a machine which enables one to get the approximation of a flavor of something. Aspiras placed in a sample of his own sweat, and a sample of rust in the machine. “It’s… something that I can remember all the time,” he said, talking about the sensory memory of childhood sweat, which he says tastes like alkaline and salt. With this in mind, he added this to salted caramel, which he then distilled, leading to a clearer consistency. “It’s perfect for my dish, because it looks like sweat,” he said.

Aspiras is currently involved in restaurants under the Tasteless Food Group, which includes the French-Japanese bistro Le Petit Souffle.

He started out learning about bread and pastries under chef Sau del Rosario in 2007, going on to refine his skills while working in the pastry sections of top hotels including Fairmont, Raffles, Edsa Shangri-La, and Resorts World Manila where he worked with Cyrilly Soenen.

The young chef has received a slew of awards in his short career, including awards and citations from the Philippine Culinary Cup, World Association of Chefs Societies Congress, and the Hong Kong Culinary Classics.

According to the souvenir book for Madrid Fusion 2016, Mr. Aspiras has used, or has tried to use, ingredients such as pig’s blood and rotten milk to achieve his sensory goals.

At a press conference after his presentation, he was asked whether he knew that the odd ingredients and the odd techniques he likes to use would become hits, especially in the Philippines, where slices of cake can be more than enough to satisfy most people’s sweet tooth.

“I didn’t know. I really didn’t know. It’s just that I’m pursuing my dreams… I’m really happy that a lot of people are appreciating it.”

First published in BusinessWorld on April 14, 2016.