Ijo Bakery: The Batangas Viennoiserie Run By A Michelin-Trained Chef
It’s no secret that Lipa, Batangas is a food lover’s paradise. The historical destination is rich with long-loved panaderyas offering traditional Filipino bread, filling the air with the tempting aromas of fresh-baked pan de sal and pan de coco. Throughout the bustling markets, family recipes for vibrant sapin-sapin, fragrant biko, and other kakanin take centre-stage as vendors audibly lure hungry customers to their stall. Lipa is also home to a wealth of celebrated artisanal producers such as Esguerra Farms’ Kurobuta Pork and the array of dairy products from Pinkie’s Farms.
However, Lipa’s best-kept secret (though, probably not for long) comes in the form of flaky, laminated pastry, lighter than air and so buttery you’d think it melts in your mouth: enter, Ijo Bakery. Helmed by Michelin-trained pastry chef and proud Lipeno Joaquin Katigbak, the bakery rolls out some of the most impressive croissants, pain au chocolat, and other delicate viennoiserie you can find in the metro - or rather, about two hours south.
After graduating from the College of Saint Benilde in 2015, Katigbak worked as a commis pastry chef and stagiaire at Miramar in Spain, and Gaggan in Thailand, creating fine desserts with a focus in molecular gastronomy. Upon his return to the Philippines, he then took an apprenticeship under celebrated bread baker and sourdough specialist Richard “Richie” Manapat. Given his formidable background in both pastry and bread, exploring the art of viennoiserie was a natural next step. But why Lipa?
“Lipa is my hometown”, Katigbak says matter-of-factly. Although his time in Llançà, Bangkok, and Manila were certainly rewarding, he reflects: “[I've spent] all my life spent on honing my craft, [but] I’ve always been far from home”. Finally, back in Lipa, the experienced baker first opened Ijo Bakery during the pandemic as a one-man, online-only brand, taking pre-orders for their once-a-week pastry offerings. Not long after, he decided to open up a brick-and-mortar store "to tap a wider market”, and the rest was history. Today, the brand is fueled by a team of seven as they continue to perfect their croissant products, made with top quality ingredients and meticulous craftsmanship.
Despite their success, one can’t help but wonder what it’s like operating a Viennese bakery so far beyond Metro Manila. “I wasn’t sure which market to tap or whether the target market was big enough,” Katigbak admits, “it’s challenging to run a viennoiserie here in Lipa; Lipenos are blessed to have many good local bakeries.” Additionally, launching during the pandemic proved difficult, especially operating outside the NCR Plus bubble. “We had to get food and travel passes just to meet our suppliers”, he recalls, noting that many of their raw materials had to be brought in from the metro. Amidst the slew of ever-changing lockdowns and dining restrictions, Katigbak decided to discontinue their dine-in services, losing precious investments in those operations. “We learned that resilience and prompt decision-making is the key to survival”, he reflects, noting the importance of “optimism and being proactive” in a time of such uncertainty.
The biggest challenge they currently face is remarkably bittersweet: the overwhelming demand coming from Metro Manila. “As much as we want to serve all our Manila clients, we only have limited delivery dates (usually every Tuesday)”, Katigbak intimates. Yet, this has done little to discourage those in the know, inspiring many to make the drive down just to buy their products. “It’s an unexpected opportunity” he shares, hoping to “use this as a platform to help our city's tourism and other local business.”
An exhaustive process to say the least, production typically runs from 4:00am to 6:00pm, with the bakery opening for sale at 10:00 in the morning. Croissants, pain au chocolat, and other laminated pastries continue to be Ijo Bakery’s star offerings, fortified by beloved variants like cruffins and almond croissants as well as unique creations like the pull-apart kuron and sausage floss roll. The dulce banana croissant, however, is the pastry chef’s personal favourite and considers it to be his proudest creation. “We do a lot of R&D to keep our menu fresh and exciting - we always keep an open eye to any possible inspiration, whether it's from poetry, painting, people, etc. For me, R&D happens 24/7.”
Just in time for the holiday season, Ijo Bakery will be launching its inaugural series of handcrafted ice cream with flavours inspired by their popular pastries - including, of course, dulce banana. Looking further into the future, Katigbak divulges “my long-term plan for the brand is to have multiple branches that are homegrown and deeply rooted here in Lipa”, disclosing his hopes to expand into Metro Manila’s business district - though, not until the latter half of 2022.
Our suggestion? Call your friends, pack your bags and make the drive down yourself - trust us, it’s well worth the road trip.