Sustainability for us is cultivating the relationships we have with the people who nurture our country. —Jordy Navarra
On today’s menu, the main dish is sustainability
A 10-course collaboration dinner, featuring Singapore’s LG Han of Labyrinth and Vijay Mudaliar of Native and our very own Jordy Navarra of Toyo Eatery and Stephan Duhesme of Metiz
At a glance
At the core of food writer, book author, and culinary champion Angelo Comsti’s Asian Culinary Exchange (ACE), a passion project he launched just before the pandemic, was to expand the playing field in which Filipino cuisine, including its regional variants, could be discovered, developed, prepared, and consumed.
Singapore Tourism Board (STB) was the first to see its vast potential not only as a bridge between the Philippines and the region or even the world outside, but also as a common ground in which, other than exchanging culinary ideas, ideals, techniques, and methodologies, industry players can be more in tune with what’s really going on in a world that has become more and more interconnected, if not even interdependent.
A recent ACE and STB collaboration under the latter’s “Serve It, Singapore” campaign brought acclaimed chefs from Singapore and Manila together—LG Han of Labyrinth and Vijay Mudaliar of Native and Jordy Navarra of Toyo Eatery and Stephan Duhesme of Metiz.
It was a one-night-only 10-course dinner affair, held at Toyo, but what was served in essence, if digested well, should last a long time, if not a lifetime, for it to take full effect.
From the get-go, as a spread of snacks got us started, it was clear that the main dish was sustainability, a hallmark of which is local, available, in-season ingredients.
The starters included Toyo’s Siomai Rice made of fermented organic black rice from Tarlac wrapped in radish, Native’s version of the Thais’ miang kham, literally, as it translates, a one-bite wrap of veggies made flavorful by pineapple shoyu, Metiz’s fried ensaimada made of a puree of ubod with mustard greens, and Otah, Labyrinth’s take on the Southeast Asian otak-otak or fish cake using local tanigue. There was also Lucban favorite pancit habhab, miki noodles served on an edible leaf, which we literally, as tradition would have it, slid into our mouths.
Next was a cold-noodle course, somen with white kimchi in a broth of spices from Native, which was immediately followed by Metiz’s inihaw na puso ng saging sprinkled with caramelized cashews.
Also served, from Toyo Eatery, was a chawanmushi of kamias, kamatis, kabute in ode to the sour power of Central Visayan cuisine while Labyrinth’s take on Singapore’s national dish, the chili crab, came in a crab claw stuffed with a meat patty of mud crab and blue crab from Cebu in a sauce whipped up from a variety of tomatoes, including cherry tomatoes, tamarillo from the Mountain Province, and gooseberries. The dish was served with a crab fat mantou with which to wipe your plate clean of the very last drop of the succulent sauce.
The mains were served family style—Labyrinth’s chicken rice featuring native chicken from Baras, Rizal and the tinawon, an heirloom rice variety harvested only once a year in Banaue, a potato shrimp dish with shredded cabbage on top from Metiz, Native’s masa-mole curry with belimbing salsa, and Toyo’s kalabasa pancake with ginataang langka, pinaputok na munggo, and a catsup housemade out of saging bulkan.
All these courses, including the dessert spread of tostadong bigas shaved ice, ube halaya, kaya toast, pandan mocha, and pili nut, were all just side dishes, the main dish—as I wrote earlier—being sustainability.
“We should start normalizing sustainability,” urged Angelo in his welcome remarks. “It’s not just a buzzword.”
In fact, all four chefs handpicked for this collaboration have been champions of sustainability. “We brought them together because they really are the industry heavyweights in the space of sustainable dining,” said STB’s new area director Fang Xun Ong.
Jordy’s Toyo Eatery, 42nd on the list of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2023, in fact, also won the Flor de Caña Sustainable Restaurant Award this year. “Sustainability for us is cultivating the relationships we have with the people who nurture our country,” he said.
In 2021, LG’s one Michelin-starred Labyrinth also won the Flor de Caña Sustainable Restaurant Award at the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants, where, this year, it occupies the 11th spot. “We are proud to say that anywhere from 60 to 90 percent of the ingredients used in our dishes come from within Singapore,” he told us at the start of the dinner at Toyo.
Stephan’s Metiz, as he confessed when asked about his advocacy, is a product of his disillusion. “I was disillusioned about the lack of thought over what existing processes were in the industry,” he explained. “Instead of saying I should stop working in the industry, I said, why not just create a restaurant where I (would) want to be working? That’s really what you can do to change things for future generations.” So sustainability is basic to his operation, which makes sense when you think of how he and Metiz, 48th on Asia's Best Restaurants this year, have mastered fermentation. Fermentation, after all, can turn even food scraps into something delicious.
Native, a cocktail bar-turned-restaurant, took charge in collaboration with Toyo Eatery of every drink served at every course, from the Roku gin concoction with white peony, calamansi, and gingerflower to the whisky cocktail with suha syrup, Tublay lemon, and bignay, more commonly known as wild cherry. Owned by Vijay, who is also its chief bartender, an urban forager in his spare time, Native won the Ketel One Sustainable Bar Award at the World’s 50 Best Bars in 2019. “There’s a lot of things that can be changed in the industry that are almost 100 percent in our control,” he said. “We saw that we could either look for convenience, look for something quick and fast, sellable, or take the time to go out to talk to farmers to get the produce, if it’s not in season, not force it into the menu, things like that.”
It would take more than a 10-course meal, rife with lessons on eating local, using ingredients that are available and in season and easy to find, helping farmers, fishermen, and other food producers, and minimizing waste, but every great culinary journey starts with a single small bite.
The Singapore sustainability dinner, featuring these four chefs, has at least shown us that sustainability does not necessarily have to taste like a sacrifice.