This Sydney based restaurateur is on a mission to put Filipino cuisine front and centre

Having invested himself in the corporate world for over 15 years, Will Mahusay felt the need for some serious change. He took over his parent’s business in 2016 and took a deep dive into the world of F&B. Fred and Fely Mahusay are the pioneers behind Cebu Lechon, taking their passion for a perfectly roasted, crispy pig overseas to Sydney’s shores in the late 80’s.

“In 1987 we left the Philippines for Australia and to ease that feeling of homesickness my parents started roasting Cebu Lechon. More than 30 years later we have become the oldest purveyor of the traditional Cebu Lechon. I’m honoured to be part of the Filipino food movement community, and one of the many FilOz (Filipino-Aussies) unapologetically promoting Filipino food so that one day Filipino cuisine will become part of mainstream Australia,” shares Mahusay.

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As the restaurateur behind Sydney Cebu Lechon, his mission to promote the Philippines’s cuisine is a dream shared with dear friends in the city like Yasmin Newman (author of 7000 Islands Cookbook and Under Coconut Skies) and Luisa Brimble (James Beard Award Nominee Food & Lifestyle Photographer). Mahusay mentioned that over in Melbourne other foodie friends are also working to push Filipino food into the mainstream. “The Entree.Pinays are doing an amazing work when it comes to bringing Filipino cuisine, culture and community to the hearts, minds and tastebuds of Australians in Wurundjeri Country,” adds Mahusay.

On his home-turn of Sydney, he and Luisa Brimble started a kitchen incubator called Ang Tahanan, aiming to help aspiring restaurateurs kickstart their dream. “We do this by offering them a temporary residency and operate as a pop-up at Sydney Cebu Lechon restaurant at no cost. We also offer mentoring throughout the process and practical assistance,” he explains. On top of that, he and Luisa are working on a food podcast and a cookbook too!

Mahusay has guested on The Cook Up and Taste Of Australia too, where he served up Filipino dishes to the delight of eager viewers.

While there is no shortage of beautiful Filipino food in Australia we wanted to know what flavours, restaurants, and bars he mises the most from the Philippines while he is overseas.

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What do you miss most on the food/drink front when you are away from the Philippines or haven’t been back for a while? 

Taho. I miss it so much! The last time I ate taho was in Boracay which was in February 2020. Yes, I can buy taho here in Sydney but the experience is nowhere near the same. Whenever I feel homesick I’ll grab a container of taho from my nearest Filipino shop, and eat it whilst watching a Filipino movie or listen to OPM tunes to make myself feel like I'm in the Philippines.

What is the first dish you want to eat when you return, and where do you go for it? 

Chocolate truffle cake. I go to my sweet happy place: Mary Grace Café & Bakery. The best blend of moist chocolate cake and the soft velvety Callebaut truffle is simply divine. My go-to Mary Grace is in Greenbelt. While I’m there devouring a whole cake, I’ll also order the same cake to go. . . and that takes care of my midnight snack cravings.

Do you have a favourite restaurant in the Philippines? For fine dining and for more casual experiences? 

In Manila, it would be Manam or Mesa (casual dining). During my last trip to the Philippines, I had lunch at Margarita Fores’s Grace Park Dining together with Angelo Comsti and Ate Dedet (Lechon Diva). I can’t wait for our International borders to open again so I can go back to Grace Park Dining! When it comes to fine dining it would be Jordy Navara’s Toyo Eatery. And because I frequently travel to Cebu City, I also need to mention these places I’ve been going back to for the last 15 to 20 years—AA’s BBQ (for their many varieties of fresh protein), Golden Cowrie, Sabel’s Pocherohan (which serves an amazing pochero), Café Laguna, and Lantaw Restaurant.

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If you have visitors/guests with you, where do you go to give them a real taste of the Philippines? 

On more than a few occasions, my friends from Sydney have travelled with me to the Philippines and I’ve taken them to all the restaurants mentioned above but I would also take them on an experience like: Su-Tu-Kil in Mactan Island (Cebu). It’s a seafood feast cooked either by sugba (which is to grill), tuwa (which is broth/soup based), kinilaw (which is cooked by calamansi and/or vinegar (kilawin). I would also take them to the iconic Larsians known as the ihaw-ihaw precinct located in Fuente Osmena, Cebu City. When in Manila, stop by Dampa Seaside Market. I enjoy and love to take my guests to these places because they serve flavours that hit home—not to mention the vibe and energy make for a wonderful experience that I cannot keep to myself.

Where do you like to meet up with old friends for food/drinks? 

If I’m in Cebu City, I like to go to a place called IT Park which has lots of different hangout joints there (you can easily restaurant hop or bar hop by foot). While there, I’d go to Sugbo Mercado that has live music and plenty of food stalls. If I’m in Manila then I can’t go wrong with Poblacion! Joints like NoKal (currently closed), Alchemy Bistro Bar, Filling Station Bar and Café (to name a few) are great; it’s such a different energy and vibe. I wish we have this type of set-up in Sydney!

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Do you have a favourite bar and/or café in the Philippines? 

In Siargao, a place called Kermit is my personal favourite bar. It’s also a restaurant that turns into a nightclub after 9pm, and yes I’ll stay there way after midnight. There is so much truth to the phrase #itsmorefuninthephilippines. I love this place because everyone there is all about fun, and one could go there alone and finish up the night with new friends. For a café, it would be Commune (in Poblacion) by Rosario Juan. I do feel like I’m in Melbourne each time I step into Commune; besides their fine coffee, I love how they also provide coffee making lessons.

Any other must-visit food/drink spots when you are back? 

In Manila, I will always make sure I get my hands on Michelle’s Putong Ube, I get them at their kiosk in Trinoma mall or Glorietta mall or Landmark in Makati. I also need to get me Baby Pat’s Breads premium ube ensaymada: these are baked to order and I will have to ask Ate Dedet (Lechon Diva) next time I’m in Manila to secure me a box.

Related: The Lechon Diva Opens In Las Vegas

Do you take any food or treats back home with you from the Philippines? 

If I’m in Cebu, I would go to Taboan Public Market. There I can buy danggit and they even vacuum pack-seal it for you (I personally ask the vendor to double pack it for me, if you know the beautiful smell of danggit, then you’ll understand why). I’ve taken kilos of danggit back to Sydney—my parents go crazy whenever I bring this back! For myself, I’ll take back Mary Grace’s chocolate truffle cake, some Dunkin Donuts, Mister Donut, Michelle’s Putong Ube and Baby Pat’s Breads. These things are important to me because they’re not available in Australia.

Where do you go to find authentic flavours of home where you live? 

In my city of Sydney, we are blessed with plenty of traditional Filipino restaurants and eateries. Whenever I’m craving for silog meals then I would hit up A-Team’s Kitchen located in Rooty Hill. Just down the road, there’s Kamayan Eatery which serves traditional Filipino food, and it’s a turo-turo style eatery too. I also love the Filipino-American burger bar called Mate Burger. Besides their ube burger and ensaymada burger, they also serve a Jolibee-inspired spaghetti & fried chicken. You also have Sizzling Filo in Lidcombe or Pamana in Chatswood: both these restaurants offer a Boodle Fight experience. And of course, Sydney Cebu Lechon.

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