Island boy meets Panglao’s Little Darling on Alona Beach

Published December 9, 2021, 9:00 AM

by AA Patawaran

Amorita collaborates with British-born Filipino chef Josh Boutwood on the seventh instalment of Bohol Eats

CHEF DE CUISINE Josh Boutwood leads the kitchen of Amorita for one night only in its latest edition of BEats

We think of Bohol, we think of many things unique to it, like we think of tarsier, the Chocolate Hills, Baclayon church, the Blood Compact Shrine, or the Loboc River. I do remember the first time I ate on one of those famous Loboc Floating Restaurant, a large bamboo raft on the river, replete with a hammock, a band, and a buffet of grilled seafood, and chicken and pork barbecue, but I don’t remember eating anything that was distinctly Bohol.

Through the years, I must have eaten peanut kisses in the shape of the Chocolate Hills and the Ladyfingers or broas, but before I started joining Amorita’s BEats, I couldn’t—or did I ever—think of one dish that would be to Bohol what batchoy was to Iloilo or laing was to Bicol or bagnet with KBL (kamatis, bagoong, lasona) was to Ilocos.

BEATS VENUE The Saffron Restaurant, the normal venue of BEats, is found near the infinity pool of Amorita

Enter BEats, short for Bohol Eats, a culinary pop-up series held at the resort’s signature restaurant Saffron and an advocacy project initiated by Amorita Resort Panglao, whose name literally translates to ‘little darling,” as a pandemic response.

What started out as a charitable impulse to help Bohol’s food producers, such as farmers and fishermen, get back on their feet after the big blow the total lockdown of early 2020 dished out on their livelihoods has now turned out to be a regular event. It has only recently wrapped up its seventh edition and its last for 2021, with British-Filipino chef and La Liste 2021 awardee Josh Boutwood of the Bistro Group taking over the kitchens of Amorita for a one-night-only degustacion.

FERMENTED AND CHURNED Sourdough and herb butter

Josh’s was only the second of BEats that I have caught, the first one, that is, the fourth edition, featured multi-awarded chef Florabel Co Yatco best known for her eponymous restaurant. This is to say that, in fact, I missed the first few runs, which showcased the works of Boholano chefs and cooks and, more important, Boholano ingredients from small batch food vendors and producers. Florabel and Josh, along with Greg Villalon, executive chef of the boutique hotel group One-Of Collection, which manages Amorita, and the one behind the fifth edition of BEats, “Flavors of South America,” have been challenged to raise the bar even higher on what is possible with Bohol’s culinary riches, especially in terms of introducing them to global palates.

GRAIN AND FAT Adlai and Crab

Nestled on top of a limestone cliff on the southern edge of Panglao Island, Amorita was just the perfect setting to get Josh Boutwood even more inspired, or to even loosen up a bit, after navigating the challenges of the pandemic while at the helm of not one, not two, but three different concept restaurants—Helm, Savage, and The Test Kitchen. Yet, this chef is no stranger to island life, whose first restaurant in the Philippines was Alchemy in Boracay, where he also spent some years growing up.

DRINKS OF THE EVENING Don Papa Rum cocktails, a mojito, a coco cucumber, and a negroni, as well as wine were also offered during dinner

While the sound of breaking waves wafting from Alona Beach into the garden restaurant Saffron might have reminded him of his Boracay roots, for the seventh edition of BEats, the English-born chef chose to anchor himself to his three restaurants under the Bistro Group in Manila that, together, would symbolize how he had matured as a chef and restaurateur from his beach days at Alchemy.

DRY-CURED ON SOURDOUGH Duck Prosciutto on toast

To Josh, cooking is an art, meaning it is an expression, and a cook—or a chef—has an artistic signature, sort of a mark that adds a rich layer to the experience that the food he serves allows for the diner. For his turn at BEats, he prepared an eight-course dinner representing the amalgamated philosophies of Helm, Savage, and The Test Kitchen and then combined them with the dynamics of the Amorita kitchen and staff, as well as a few of Bohol’s unique ingredients and cooking styles. The result, to put it simply, was in fact the essence of all successful collaborations—Amorita x Josh Boutwood.

REFRESHING APPETIZER Watermelon and tuna

Dinner started with house cured duck prosciutto on wafer-thin toast with fresh cheese, pickled carrots, and garlic emulsion. More than a taste of what was to come, the starter conditioned the taste buds for a serious enjoyment of the senses, especially as served next was a dish borrowed from Helm in which cubes of raw tuna camouflaged themselves in color, cut, and texture with compressed watermelon drenched in sesame and wasabi vinaigrette and finished with adlai puffs. Josh’s famous sourdough from The Test Kitchen followed, along with baked potato gnocchi and cured lamb in pecorino Romano and chive oil. Carnivores rejoiced when braised pork belly and then the slow-cooked wagyu beef cheek took their turn in the order of dishes, the former with burnt eggplant puree with pickled chili and chili oil, the latter, also a favorite at The Test Kitchen, with cauliflower puree with ash and fresh horseradish.

PREP A LA HELM Chef Josh Boutwood preparing the BEats with the Saffron restaurant staff

Most of the ingredients were sourced from the local community, but to be distinctly Boholano, Josh, his kitchen partner Paolo Bayani, and Amorita’s kitchen crew prepared takla, a crayfish species or a pistol shrimp common in Bohol, presented in a crab fat adlai porridge. Dessert was as Boholano as Boholano could get—calamay, although instead of a coconut shell, as you would find calamay in the pasalubong stores, Josh served it as a light-as-air mousse with some dark chocolate rum and candied fruits thrown in.

SAVORY MAIN Pork, Eggplant, and Chili

The house was full to bursting at Saffron when Josh cooked for BEats and why not? Not only was it Josh Boutwood, whose work spoke for himself, but also because all that you could have for only ₱2,000, inclusive of three bespoke Don Papa Rum cocktails—a mojito, a coco cucumber, and a negroni—plus red wine to pair with the heavy meats.

MEAT AND VEGGIES Beef Cheek and Cauliflower

While the sound of breaking waves wafting from Alona Beach into the garden restaurant Saffron might have reminded him of his Boracay roots, for the seventh edition of BEats, Josh chose to anchor himself to his three restaurants—Helm, Savage, and The Test Kitchen.

SWEET AND STICKY Calamay and Rum

“It’s not about money,” said Leeds Trompeta, Amorita Resort GM, adding that he felt guilty for having had to turn away some dinner guests, though Saffron, sprawled on the cliffside, where the luxury resort’s centerpiece pool is, could easily extend to the surrounding gardens. “It’s been seven installments, but we have never lost sight of why we came up with BEats. It’s really to help the local community by buying their produce, showcasing them, finding ways to make the produce more top of mind for both cooks and diners. It’s also education for the young chefs and restaurateurs of Bohol, a kind of skills exchange program, and many of them are here. Of course it is also to push Bohol as a dining destination. It’s about time.”

Bohol to me is an underrated paradise with myriad adventures to offer, from whale watching to waterfalls to sinkholes teeming with National Geographic-worthy turquoise waters. With support from the likes of Cebu Pacific and Tumi, Bohol Eats is laying the groundwork for one of the most irresistible pleasures of travel—eating. What’s next on BEats?