Meet chef Giuseppe Bonavitacola, the leader of Tacloban’s famous restaurant

Published July 14, 2021, 9:35 AM

by John Legaspi

Learn how this young chef takes the lead in running a 28-year-old restaurant amid the challenges of a pandemic

Giuseppe Bonavitacola in the kitchen of Giuseppe’s

As the COVID-19 pandemic threatened the lives of millions of people all over the world, it also posed great challenges to the food and restaurant industry. Although declared as among the essential services, many food establishments rely heavily on foot traffic to keep their operations going. Sadly, the mandated curfews and restrictions to keep everyone safe became the cause for many food brands to shut down their operations and food spots, especially legacy restaurants, to close their doors.

For Giuseppe’s Fatto A Casa, a 28-year-old Italian-Filipino restaurant in Tacloban, surviving the pandemic was never easy but it doesn’t mean it can’t be conquered. And its leader, chef Giuseppe Bonavitacola, is determined to not let the decades-long legacy of their family restaurant to fade.

Much like other food businesses, Bonavitacola and his family are curious on how things would settle during the initial months of the pandemic. According to him, prior to global health scare, their family business was first tested by super typhoon Yolanda.

“Having experienced the biggest storm Yolanda, I wouldn’t say we are used to daunting situations,” he muses. “I would say it gave us a mindset to move forward instead of worrying. My father and mother always made it clear to work through even the hardest times because there is always an opportunity to serve.”

After a month-long closure, the longest time the restaurant has ever closed since it opened, it got back on its feet by gradually starting to accommodate take-out requests and moved the restaurant to cater “to-go” orders. Their family purchased more cold cuts and, being the chef of the restaurant, Bonavitacola started to work on other products.

Giuseppe Bonavitacola

“We came up with the idea of becoming a one-stop shop. Since traveling was not an option for many of the locals, we thought it would be great if we could bring the travel experience to them through food,” Bonavitacola says. “We already made pizza a classic and staple of our restaurant so what followed next was only natural. They were able to buy fresh bread made in our brick oven to go along with various cheeses, meats, and wines which we started distributing as well during the pandemic.”

To his surprise, Bonavitacola noticed that the locals responded well to what they were offering. Eventually, customers became a little more adventurous and willing to try new things that they even came to the restaurant to buy ingredients to make their own versions of pizza and pasta.

“That’s one take away I feel like people used to take for granted—the impact food can have on a person. Especially coming from the province, people tend to look elsewhere when the answer to their craving can be right next door,” he says. “This really opened up for us a new avenue in the now growing city of Tacloban, to branch out and become more than just a restaurant. Now, people come to have dinner and buy other items to bring home to enjoy because they trust us, and we try our best to give the city of Tacloban nothing but the best.”

From that, Bonavitacola remembered an experience he had with Chef Marc Chalopin who had him teach everyone how to make arancini. Chalopin is the executive chef at École Ducasse Manila at Enderun Colleges. He maintains the standards of Alain Ducasse and ensures that the philosophy, culinary principles, and techniques are properly transmitted to students.

“As I finished making one and gave it to Chef Marc, he asked me ‘How is it?’ Then, I said, ‘I hope it’s good.’ He looked at me and said to be confident in what I cook,” the chef says. “That spoke more to me than anything else I’ve learned in the kitchen. Since then, I live by that, to be confident and competent with whatever I make in the kitchen. The food isn’t good? Fine, we go back and fix it and move forward unafraid of making mistakes but at the same time trying my best to not make one in the first place. Serve and cook with full confidence always, if it falls short of that then there is a problem.”

In a life after the pandemic, the young chef hopes to have a world-renowned restaurant highlighting the flavors of Italian and Filipino cooking. He also dreams of joining in the culinary awakening in the Philippines especially in big cities which have a high demand for good restaurants like Manila and Cebu.

“I saw that food can be so much more than just the action of eating to be full,” he says. “There is so much history and challenge to making a dish which is simply art. The art of making food attracted me, so here I am trying my best to fill the role of chef.”