Cover A stunning mural at Mrs Saldo’s (Photo: Lauren Golangco)

Chef Rhea Rizzo draws inspiration from her travels to transform an old pineapple field into a stunning gastronomic destination

“I was watching Chef’s Table on Netflix and was in tears,” recalls chef Rhea Rizzo, perhaps better known as the elusive Mrs Saldo. After completing her studies in Hotel and Restaurant Management and Culinary Arts to boot, Rizzo wasted no time getting into the thick of it and dove headfirst into a professional kitchen. Unfortunately, this stint was fleeting.

With her son diagnosed with speech delay and her daughter with autism spectrum disorder, Rizzo dedicated the next ten years to ensuring her children’s exacting needs were well-met. But one marketing certification and short-lived start-up later, the devoted mother found herself craving culinary creativity once more, moved by the lauded documentary series. “My husband asked if I wanted to go back in the kitchen, and I said yes.”

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This fateful exchange soon led Rizzo to take the plunge once more, kicking off her odyssey as a stagiaire at Bangkok’s Gaggan, no less. “It was tough,” she confesses, “I had forgotten the long hours and the physical, emotional toll [that comes with it].” Resolute and impassioned, Rizzo was far from discouraged.

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Mrs Saldo’s officially opened in October 2021, albeit with much hesitation from the chef herself.  “I’m such a perfectionist so I wanted everything to be perfect, which I’m perfectly aware is impossible,” she concedes, noting it was her husband who pushed her to open. “So I closed my eyes, looked up at the universe, prayed, and just did it.” 

Eclectic, cosy, and irresistibly inviting, the lush escape in Silang, Cavite feels as though everything had been hand-selected. “That’s because they are,” she quips, “down to the doorknobs.” Hidden amidst a crowded barangay with suffocating roads, the tropical expanse greets you with a refreshing sense of calm, challenged only by an unshakeable urge to explore the many enclaves within the former pineapple field. 

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Straight ahead lies the bakery, cleverly named Mrs Saldough’s. Lined with exposed red brick and industrial metal detailing the space will soon house Rizza’s array of baked goods (including a wonderfully springy sourdough fermented for 48 to 72 hours), as well as the restaurant’s weekend brunch offerings. Upstairs you will find a Balinese space that will serve as Rizzo’s future cooking school, an exciting work in progress. Even the small garden outside the bakery is a welcome reprieve, complete with a firepit, stylish seating, and the relaxing rhythm of the quaint outdoor waterfall.

To the left of the property lies a private Morrocan garden inspired by Yves Saint Laurent’s Le Jarden Majorelle, and further down, a striking red door that opens into a well-appointed wine cellar. Having resided in Napa, Rizzo is an oenophile through and through, with a WSET Level 2 certification to prove it. Even her pseudonym, Mrs Saldo is a testament to her obsession; inebriated off a red zinfandel called Saldo, Rizzo and her friends had been brainstorming potential names for the restaurant. “The Argentinian in the group told me that in Spanish, [Saldo] means balance, which I really liked,” she shares. The rest was history.

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Our final stop on the tour was the private dining area, a quirky yet harmonious collection of artwork, foliage, and furnishings as stylish as Mrs Saldo herself. The structure is comprised of three private dining rooms that can accommodate six, eight, and twelve guests, and can be combined for larger parties. It is in these vibrant spaces that gourmands are treated to one of Rizzo’s worldly set menus, with five currently on rotation: Asian, Southern (Creole), Latin American, Mediterranean, and vegan.

The colourful selection of cuisines is a dazzling outcome of the Rizzos’ gastronomic globetrotting. “Whenever we travel, I always make sure to visit and attend a cooking school whenever I can,” she remarks, “I’ve been doing that for the past 16 years.” When asked about her signature dishes, Rizzo meekly replied: “Like any parent, I don’t have a favourite…but if there’s one menu that’s the closest to my heart, that would be the Asian set menu.” 

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Sure enough, her adoration for Asian cuisines shines throughout the five-course menu, a delicious journey spanning Indian, Vietnamese, Thai, Indonesian, Peranakan, and Filipino cuisines. The Thai fish curry is a rightful favourite among guests, spotlighting beautiful hamachi air-flown from Tokyo topped with bright cilantro and crispy shallots. The dessert took the form of coconut-jackfruit ice cream on a soft honey bun, another show-stopper thanks to the kaffir caramel, crunchy peanuts, and fragrant langka. A balance of flavours and textures graces every plate that leaves the pass, something that Mrs Saldo considers to be a key priority—and an apt one at that, for someone with her alias.

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Inclusivity is another key cornerstone of the restaurant, driven by Rizzo’s compassion for her daughter, who has a handful of food intolerances, and her frustration with the lack of restaurants that could accommodate such sensitives. In fact, she was so committed to providing an inclusive experience that she flew to Ubud, Bali and underwent a two-month-long immersion programme to receive her raw vegan chef certification. “Operationally, it’s difficult to do,” she admits, referring to their plant-based menu. “But what I always tell my team is that we need to embrace what’s difficult—that’s the only way to grow and move forward.”

Currently booked out until May, Rizzo discloses that she was flabbergasted by the overwhelming response they’ve received thus far. With plans to voyage through Europe this June, the part-vacation and part-research expedition is certainly well-deserved, and will undoubtedly fruit mouthwatering menus upon her return. 

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