Tatler Close Up: This Is Why Chef Jordy and May Navarra of Toyo Eatery Are Successful
Most chefs will tell you that they grew up loving food and began their culinary journey at a young age. The same is true for chef Jordy Navarra, except he did not grow up aspiring to be a professional in the industry. Eating and enjoying food was always an integral part of his happy memories in life, yes, but it was only after he learnt more about the ins and outs of the brutal, cutthroat and brilliant world of food that he says he got hooked. His fascination with culinary culture, cooking techniques, produce and farming is what he says still drives him today.
Toyo Eatery has been on Asia’s 50 Best restaurants list for two years running, and is one of the country’s top dining destinations, while Panaderya Toyo (a bakerycafe spot) successfully won over the hearts and stomachs of the Filipino. Before these winning concepts were born, Jordy was running a different restaurant with the same core team. “We all had been working together for a while and we felt we were finally finding our voice so Toyo, basically, is a continuation of that journey,” he reveals.
I would say I’m very influenced by the rural approach to cooking, a more raw and natural approach with wood and charcoal.— Jordy Navarra
May, Jordy’s wife, is the secret sauce behind concepts Toyo Eatery and Panaderya Toyo (Jordy proudly calls her his boss at work). “I am the reason for his success,” she teases. “Joking aside, it’s not easy work at the restaurant but it’s easy to support the people you love,” May shares. Once upon a time she was entwined in the whirlwind realm of finance; she left banking simply because of her personal passion for dining. “Jordy and I have always loved food and restaurants so working in F&B lets me make a living doing something I love with the people I love. I do miss certain aspects of banking but I’m just really happy at Toyo now,” May admits.
This general manager of both brands says that she did not expect to discover what she did about the F&B industry, a world she had never worked in before. “What surprised me the most was the amount of work involved. I learnt that I could be resilient and that I could be adaptive. The finance world taught me to deal with the extreme pressure to perform and to prepare as much as we can for the many variables that could change or go wrong.” She adds that it is not that different from the restaurant world: “You need to be really quick on your feet since so many unexpected things can happen on any given day."
You need to be really quick on your feet since so many unexpected things can happen on any given day.— May Navarra
To say that building a restaurant is difficult is an understatement. Creating a dining experience that clicks is an art. Making a concept that lasts in the F&B industry is something to shout about. After working for a variety of chefs, Jordy became highly attuned to the level of commitment and effort that was required by a large amount of people to forge something beautiful, tasty and inspiring. However, he felt a bit of a disconnect because he noticed that “everyone else around [him] grew up with an intimate relationship with the food they were cooking which gave those chefs that specific edge required to really make something great”. This was that It-factor that Jordy felt he was personally missing. He was working in kitchens making food that he had not grown up with; the flavours and the DNA of their cuisines were not resonating with him on a level that totally grabbed his attention. “I was missing the food I loved and was familiar with. The dream for Toyo Eatery really was to be a place for me and my team who wanted the same connection with the food they make. Panaderya Toyo was a natural extension of it, focused on bread and snacks that we could be creative with and have fun with,” Jordy said passionately.
When he and May threw themselves into Toyo, they gave it their all, down to the last detail. “We had a very specific look we wanted for Toyo Eatery but we wouldn’t have been able to make it happen without designer Jacy Medina, with pieces from E Murio and Milo Naval,” shares May, adding that the identity of the restaurant was conceptualised by Lady San Pedro. Not only will diners be able to feast upon Jordy’s dishes but also on stunning art by painter Nicole Coson and photographer Neal Oshima.
It’s not easy work at the restaurant but it’s easy to support the people you love.— May Navarra
On the other hand, Panaderya was crafted by Arts Serrano with the concept and design of Dan Matutina who even had the idea to name it Panaderya with the “Y” instead of the more Spanish Panaderia. This played perfectly into Jordy’s vision for the elevation and promotion of Filipino flavours.
Jordy says that the cooking style and philosophy at Toyo has always revolved around food inspired by Filipino culture. His goal is to ensure that the ingredients and techniques he uses develop flavours that people would relate to, emotionally. “It’s basically our take on what Filipinos eat using what’s around us and what we know. I would say I’m very influenced by the rural approach to cooking, a more raw and natural approach with wood and charcoal,” he elaborates.
In his life, Jordy has faced many roadblocks that have tested him and ultimately contributed to his success, making him the man he is today. The hardest challenge thus far? 2020’s health pandemic. “It’s really difficult because the problem is influenced by a mixture of what you can and cannot control,” he says, hoping to tell us one day that he dealt with, and moved on from this situation stronger, wiser and more equipped for the road ahead.