An inside look at how Noma’s René Redzepi reimagined Filipino food
The lone Filipino restaurant on this year’s Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list continues its global ascent after Noma’s René Redzepi reinterprets its menu
Dec 17, 2019
Earlier this December, Toyo Eatery, with its mandate of taking the essence of Philippine flavors, traditions, and techniques and applying it to fine dining, were included in the Grand Gelinaz! Shuffle: 2019 Stay in Tour as the sole representative from the Philippines.
The Grand Gelinaz Shuffle randomly pairs participants and menus (called Matrixes). From those pairings, chefs interpret the given menus and attempt to recreate it, called a Remix, in the style, approach, and philosophy of their own restaurant. The identity of the owner of the recipes are kept secret to both chefs and expectant diners until the night of the event.
May Navarra, wife of chef Jordy Navarra who runs the inventive and seemingly borderless Toyo Eatery, admits that she was stunned, excited, and nervous when the announcement from The Gelinaz came.
“We were in Hong Kong for an event and Jordy was still sleeping when the video got posted. I knew he slept around 5 a.m. but when I saw the video at 7 a.m., I had to wake him up right away!”
In that fateful draw of Matrixes, René Redzepi, head chef of Michelin-starred restaurant Noma in Copenhagen, Denmark and arguably one of the world’s best got the opportunity to reinvent Toyo Eatery’s menu. Noma is currently second on the World’s Best Restaurants list and Redzepi is famously known for his refinement of new Nordic cuisine that includes solidifying sustainable sourcing practices and partnerships with local farmers and fishermen.
On the night of the dinner, held at a private dining room in Noma, May and Toyo Eatery’s sous chef, JP Cruz, were the only ones who flew in from Asia Pacific. This is incredibly telling of how momentous the opportunity was for one of the most celebrated chefs in the world to reinterpret Filipino dishes. May recounts how they were able to talk to Redzepi regarding the menu and Filipino cuisine in general, saying that “he’s never been to the Philippines and has not eaten Filipino food. He mentioned that it was a challenge for him and his team to come up with a menu.”
The team behind the reinterpretation had minimal time and exposure to Filipino food—most of it was limited to what they see online or some discussions with their Filipino friends. But the Toyo Eatery team helped bridge that gap by bringing condiments that are commonly used at Toyo. The response of the diners, however, dissolved feelings of unfamiliarity almost immediately.
“The general reaction of the diners was positive. Most of them have never had Filipino food so they were curious about the flavor profile of our cuisine. They were really amazed with the calamansi that Noma used (we brought it with us!) as well as the banana ketchup that we gave them.”
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On this day in 1893, Maria Orosa was born. A food chemist and educator, Orosa was a key figure in the Philippine food movement's goal of being self sufficient. She experimented on things like preservation, fermentation, and dehydration, resulting in such things as preserved macapuno, fruit vinegars, banana flour (in the absence of wheat in the country), and, most notably, the banana catsup (our version, pictured above). The last of which being the result of a tomato shortage when the Second World War broke out. Orosa was also a war rebel that preserved food in tins and devised a way, with fellow guerillas, to smuggle food into internment camps. Her contributions to Philippine food's identity will always be remembered. So today, have yourself a tortang talong, or a piece of Pinoy fried chicken, or a whole serving of sweet party spaghetti, with the essential banana catsup in tow. All in honor of Maria Orosa, the legend that made it possible 🍌🍝
Among the dishes that Noma was given was kwek-kwek, kinilaw, sinigang, buro, halo-halo, and tsokolate at tuyo. However, the standout for May was their interpretation of silog. It was made by steaming rice in bay leaves, mixing in brown crab meat, aligue, sea urchin, and Toyo’s own buro. It was also topped with an egg yolk that diners broke and then mixed in with everything. According to May, it’s “just the way we do at Toyo.”
Back home, Jordy also participated in the shuffle and for the young team behind one of the most creative and innovative Filipino restaurants in the country, the whole experience was their small way to show pride in Filipino cuisine and culture—and to share that pride to different countries as well.
Header photo courtesy of Toyo Eatery
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