Best food forward

Among the sectors most affected by the health crisis is food.

What are the motivations and eating habits of diners today? How has the ongoing pandemic changed food preparation and preferences? How are chefs making food extra? These are some of the important questions whose answers are shaping the future of the local food industry. Here’s what some of our chefs have to say.

It’s all changing in stages. We saw a surge of revenge diners after the lockdowns. This group just wanted to be out and live a “normal life” again.

After we slowly experienced a resumption of normality, the value of the experience was greatly compared to the value received. This is fine for us as we focus on the whole experience. But we saw a lot of restaurants suffering with the rising prices of ingredients and that made a lot of restaurants change recipes to adjust. We decided not to.

Cooking is largely the same. We make a point of incorporating learnings from the pandemic without sacrificing any part of the dining experience.

I feel we are stronger today than we were. Ultimately, I am grateful for the challenge we faced during those lockdowns. —Josh Boutwood, Helm


For me, the pandemic not only changed the way people eat but also why they go out and eat in the first place. Now, we’ve seen quite a number of people who don’t come in anymore to celebrate occasions. They just come in to experience something new and have a good time.

We haven’t changed our approach to curating our menus, but ever since the pandemic, I’ve always made sure we have at least one comforting, familiar dish. This stems from the idea that most people want something less fussy after a tragedy. As for my food, we are still exerting as much effort as possible to curate menus. The pandemic has given me this push to further develop and go deeper into the philosophies of my restaurant. Not only are we now traveling to discover the nooks and crannies of the Philippines but we are also working with a farm to reintroduce forgotten vegetables and discover more of our native and wild produce. —Don Baldosano, Linamnam


As humans, we are social animals. We love to be out and interact. The pandemic deprived us of social connections. But positive things came out of it also. One of my observations is in some ways the pandemic created more options. Years ago, when I first arrived in the Philippines, hotels were the best option when people wanted high end. Now, it’s more on the independent restaurants.

More fine dining restaurants are emerging, and I am happy for the evolution of the Philippine culinary scene. It’s because people are now looking for more gastronomic dining experiences. They are willing to spend more for premium food.

As a chef, personally and in keeping with the Chele Gonzalez brand, I prioritize quality, experience, and sustainability. We keep our main values the same. At Deli by Chele, for instance, I do everything myself. I am very proud of that.
We continue to evolve. Now we offer different dining experiences not only to the high end market but to all segments.—Chele Gonzalez, Gallery By Chele


People nowadays eat smarter and have a taste for elevated food. They know how to discern flavors better and are more open to explore. When the pandemic happened people slowed down and processed food a bit more deeply. That’s also why food trends during the pandemic, from sushi bakes to the selection of ube and cheese renditions were a bit more complex.

We’ve developed a simpler, more family-oriented food palate, without sacrificing flavors, of course. We realized that to the Filipino, feeding your family is a priority, especially during this pandemic. With that in mind, we now make the food familiar, but we add elevated twists to it to show that we are still evolving and growing. —Jorge Miguel Mendez, Modan


I feel guests are a lot more involved now. They ask a lot more questions. They pay attention to the little details they never used to notice. Some patrons openly share their pandemic experiences, both the good and not-so-good sides. We have this common enemy and we get to tell each other how we are surviving it, which ultimately makes us more involved. Being more involved, however, means expectations are also a lot higher now. Those who have been cooped up in their homes would list down places they plan to visit based on what they’ve read online. Now they are slowly going through that list. That’s just a lot more pressure for us for sure.

A regular guest, whom I haven’t seen in a long time, came in just last week. I happen to be the one who welcomed her in. When I asked what she would like to eat, she asked if I could choose her meal for her because she had forgotten how to dine out. I thought she was joking, only to find out that she had lost her husband a few months back and this was really her first time dining out after everything that had happened.

Everything is just more personal now.

It was a privilege we were spared from closing completely at the peak of the pandemic. I guess that validates that our job is a lot more important than we thought. So, I took it as an inspiration to make menus or dishes that I think guests would want at a difficult time like this. It has become my motto to try my best to give my guests what they want. I toned down being too experimental and tried my very best to go all out being straightforward and fun. Our new menu is, I think, the epitome of comfort food—Very familiar, comforting flavors during uncertain times. Flavors, colors, and textures to me connote happiness, which I think is very much needed as we start to go back to our lives again.—Tina Legarda, Bamba Bistro


I think people became more conscious of their daily diets and they also reward themselves every once in a while. I personally changed the way I eat through a more balanced diet that fits my daily caloric intake. The pandemic pushed me to be healthier in terms of my food choices.

The long months of multiple lockdowns helped us make food that takes huge amounts of time. We used the downtime as an advantage to dive deep through fermentation. Now, almost 80 percent of our menu items include a certain type of ferment. Time is truly an ingredient at Hapag. —Thirdy Dolatre, Hapag


I think a lot more people have realized how valuable eating out is. People appreciate food as an experience more now. Once all the lockdowns were lifted we saw how most of them enjoyed being out, just having a good time.

The health crisis has changed the way we approach food. We now make sure people come out for more than just food. We make sure to educate them about the food we do. We tell them stories behind each dish. We give them all these details to help them appreciate the dishes more. We’ve also improved our service a lot. We want it to be impeccable, so they can have the most of the experience.

More than anything, the pandemic has changed both the diners and the restaurant industry. We now have better appreciation for something we never knew could be taken away from us. —Kevin Navoa, Hapag


There is an increase in the volume of diners today. I observe that people are more forgiving when the staff makes a mistake, a bit more patient.

Cooking today requires more discipline when it comes to cleaning and sanitizing, thanks to the pandemic. Right now, I’m trying to put at least 20 percent of vegan and vegetarian items on the menu because I believe that will be the future of dining. —Kalel Chan, Cha Cha’s Boracay


Diners progress along with the innovations on the food scene, getting more curious and adventurous because of the accessibility of information. People know where to go to fulfill their needs and expectations. This challenges us in the food service industry to consistently find something to improve upon. I’d lie if I say it’s been easy. It’s been difficult mainly because of the inflation. It is a challenge to keep costs low while trying to make something special. On top of this, caution must be made about how people are just getting back on their feet after the pandemic. We cannot just easily hike up prices just to meet the costs. For now, our approach is to create concept dishes that are familiar but utilizing resources that are not too exposed. There’s still a lot of produce being wasted in this country. If we continue creating out of them we might be able to lessen not just the waste but the costs in our business. —Charles Montañez, Alegria