Two Chefs, One Mixologist—Let the Nomadic Taste Games Begin!
Gonzalez and Navarra have done it. And now Boutwood has done it. Everyone is on a merry collaborative roll.
There’s the massively successful Serie Kulinarya (Chele Gonzalez’s) and then there’s the popular Salu-Salo of Jordy Navarra. Owing to his peripatetic background (the UK, Sweden, and now the Philippines), The Bistro Group’s Executive Chef, Josh Boutwood recently premièred The Nomad Series at Helm together with the big guns of Old Manila.
Alone, each Individual brings something seriously inspired to the table. A coveted seat at any one of their special one-off lunches or dinners guarantees diners an inimitable experience. Collaborations, however, bring out the playfulness in the participants, and, every now and then, when the dynamic is truly in sync, delicious magic happens.
To wit, the unbridled sorcery recently wielded at the kick-off 6-hands luncheon of Boutwood’s nomad-inspired series was thanks in due part to the international backgrounds of his collaborators but also because four hands were dedicated to food, and the other two, drink.
Forming the tantalising triangle with Boutwood was the newly appointed Beverage Manager of The Peninsula Manila, Federico “Rico” Deang, and the Chef de Cuisine of the hotel’s revered Old Manila, Allan Briones (the first Filipino to head up this post).
Funnily, Deang, a B.S. Math and Computer Science graduate ultimately found his calling in the F&B world and his previous postings took him to Singapore, initially as the Bar Manager of CUT by Wolfgang Puck in Marina Bay Sands, and then later on as the Group Bar Manager of Red Door. Deang has reunited with his Manila and his fresh perspective is raring to shake things up at The Pen (in fact, T.Dining overheard at the lunch that he’s working on a small bar concept within Old Manila and we cannot wait!).
Briones, meanwhile, trained under culinary superstar Marco Pierre White in London and also enjoyed a stint in Abu Dhabi.
Boutwood’s opening remarks revealed that it was quite the stressful ordeal to bring the Old Manila and Helm elements together being that it was both Briones’ wife’s and Boutwood’s son’s birthdays a day prior to. Nonetheless, however which way it was stitched together last minute, the result was finessed and seamlessly sophisticated.
To whet “nomadic” appetites, if you will, Deang’s “Blondie” was a refreshing cocktail that could be best likened to a Lemon Drop with a touch of sparkling wine. Intensifying the already citrus-forward Martin Miller’s gin, Deang infused a bottle of the fine spirit with five whole lemons for three hours. Balancing out the long tartness on the palate was a tipple of Chase elderflower liqueur and a little Prosecco fizz.
Briones’ take on the classic Caesar, the “Baby Gem Salad” was a cross-section of baby lollo rosso (à la classic wedge salad style), herbed sour dough croutons, crisped Jamón Ibérico, egg yolks and pistachio. This version’s dressing, I must say, had a nice vinegary smack to it.
Boutwood’s follow-up was his tongue-in-cheek sea & land masterpiece of octopus and snail porridge aptly called “Surf & Earth.” Here, he went with escargots from France as the local species can come off a tad too—as he put it—“earthy.” He then opted for Japanese rice for more bite in his porridge. To tie in all the textural elements nicely was a liberal scattering of sourdough crumbs and a dash of bitter-sweet moringa powder.
“Grains” was Boutwood’s dish of king crab, Thai basil, lime leaf and chilli. Paired with Deang’s “Start Me Up,” a spicy concoction of Plantation 3 Stars rum, labuyo, lemongrass, kaffir and pineapple juice, the tandem was a complementary nod to many of our favourite flavour profiles in Thai cooking. Presented in a copper mug with a special matching filtered straw to prevent seeds and crushed ice from travelling up (often used by yerba mate drinkers), and garnished with a dehydrated pineapple slice glazed in honey that gradually released a little more sweetness as it slowly disintegrated into the drink—this was hands down Deang’s prettiest cocktail.
Another creation from the sea came by way of Briones’ delicate rosettes of cured Mediterranean seabass with aubergine, burnt coconut and grapefruit. Earthy and creamy all at once, the smattering of caviar was a nice rounded salty touch to counter the sweet acidity of the pomelo (Asia’s sweeter counterpart to grapefruit). This was served back-to-back with Briones’ perfectly pink lamb loin with cabrales fondue, grape confit, chanterelle and walnuts—portioned just right given the rich—but not overpowering—sublime blue cheese sauce. A dish that ought to find its way to the Old Manila menu permanently.
Deang’s “Poor Man’s Tea” was a clever Asian-inspired prelude to Boutwood’s duck dish; Genmaicha (a Japanese green tea mixed with roasted popped brown rice) infused with vodka, fresh lemon juice and sugarcane syrup. In true Boutwood fashion, he prettified his so called “Ugly Duckling” with pink Cadena de Amor (chain of love) flower petals. The first bite was far from ugly, too; Prepped with a sourdough glaze, tender cuts of local pink duck breast peeked out from under a sublime thick miso sauce. Rounding off the dish nicely was a naughty sprinkling of crisp fried duck skin and an interesting side of morels and oats.
Transitioning over to the sweet side, and textured like a mousse, Boutwood’s “An Ode to the Test Kitchen,” was a nostalgic dollop of his flagship outpost’s (the soon-to-reopen Test Kitchen) dessert of black rice ice cream swimming in smoked caramel and topped off with popped rice. Somebody please make this our national dessert!
Raising another nation’s flag and the perfect Italian preamble to Briones’ fruity dessert was Deang’s Americana, a concoction of Campari, Mancino Bianco vermouth, orange bitters and soda. Dubbed the “White Chocolate Magnum” the lime green popsicle, which was heavier on the tartness and booze rather than the sweet, was filled with champagne gel and frozen macerated berries within. Served on a chunky dish that looked to have come straight out of an episode of The Flintstones, the Chantilly cream and a sprig of mint provided a delicate distraction.
Finally, a shot of frothy Absolute vanilla vodka-infused and Hershey’s chocolate espresso topped with dark Auro was an unexpected albeit sweet surprise from Deang. Though not served together, this coffee course was perfectly matched to the flavour profile of Boutwood’s “Ode.”
And speaking of coffee, a dark roast from Sagada capped off the luncheon and sent us on our way out the door with layers of roasted nut, brown sugar, and liquorice lingering on the palate along with high expectations for the second Nomad instalment.