The Philippine Adobo. Adapted from the Spanish adobar due to similarities but actually indigenous in origin. Meat of choice, usually chicken and pork or sometimes beef, marinated in the Pinoy flavor trinity of vinegar, soy sauce, and garlic, browned in oil then braised in the same marinade.
The invitation to join a group of chefs for an adobo cook off of sorts was one I cancelled a date night for. In the fashion of Boulud’s critically-acclaimed TV series, we gathered past restaurant closing and into the privacy of Kate Anzani’s home kitchen. I was handed a cold one almost as soon as I stepped through the doors and I immediately knew it was going to be a great evening.
Pockets of conversation broke to accommodate introductions, picked up where they left off, only to converge again at common points of note. Here the chefs, celebrities in their own right and heroes to this foodie, went only by their first names and cooked for themselves and one another. Stefan was draining his ravioli and was plating just as Marco was finishing his dish. On the counter behind them, Godfrey was a jovial flurry of activity but none too busy to exclaim, “Adobo!”, when the Anzani’s house bunny peeked around the corner of the built-in. Raki took over the kitchen as soon as they retreated to nurse Porters each. I was grinning ear to ear at my own Wong Kar Wai until I was reminded I was on assignment.
Notes on their preparations were shared as Alton Brown crossed over to Beakman’s World in the brief history, thermodynamic theory and practical handling of the Tagine. “Maybe we can finally eat tomorrow.”, Stefan said in jest at the wait for Raki to finish. The fondue, bolstered by Marco with Sherry, helped tide us all over until all requisite photos were taken and the Avengers finally assembled.
With their versions, these chefs created dishes layered with their life stories. Salt from sweat and tears, sours from resentments and the sweetness of success all engaged by the bitter fact of time past and time to catch up to. Naked without the mask of the restaurant menu, their voices were earnest in hope for and devotion to the Cebuano culinary scene. Meat of choice, usually chicken and pork or sometimes beef, marinated in the Pinoy flavor trinity of vinegar, soy sauce, and garlic, browned in oil then braised in the same marinade and seasoned liberally with heart and soul. This is their adobo.
Towering and formidable, it was refreshing to see Chef Marco relaxed in rubber flip-flops as he is in high-grade Italian leather. A pioneer of “New Mediterranean Cuisine” and its godfather in Cebu, this consummate Italian gentleman with a career spanning a quarter of a century and the world found home on this island and are we glad he did. With his ever expanding concepts under the Anzani group, he makes gourmet accessible to Cebuanos. He speaks of meals meant to be enjoyed shared with friends and family as a value both in his native Italy and his adopted, adoptive, Philippines.
The Italian connection was established in the marinade of red wine also used to braise the Angus Beef after a brief pan-frying. The wine played up the heartiness of the dish traditionally using the relatively lighter poultry and pork. Charcoal-grilled Polenta brought in a smoky char in reference to the local on-coals corn on the cob. Kalamata Olives, Artichoke, Capers and steamed, buttered Carrots reaffirmed the international treatment in this fine Italian job.
A follower of Chef Godfrey on Instagram, it was a treat to finally meet him and find one so down to earth versus his larger-than-life online persona. For him to recognize me by my handle made him more real and the experience almost unreal. With roots in theater, also, married to theater actress Carla Guevarra, he was ever the showman wisecracking while in full swing in the tight kitchen space. Partial to Japanese and notably having Nobu as one his mentors, his dishes often feature a hint of the Rising Sun. Seeing multiple elements and preparations and a two-assistant team promised a very faceted version of the adobo.
Sushi of Iberico Pork Jowl Adobo
The porcine equivalent of the Kobe, it is only fitting that Iberico Pork ends up in a 24-hour slow-cook Jacuzzi to enhance its buttery taste and texture. Sous-vide Iberico Pork Jowl was grilled then dressed in Adobo Sauce, cutting into the rich flavor. Baked mushrooms imparted a subtle earthy flavor contrasting with the unabashed flavor of liver from the Chicken Liver Sauce tempered by the Japanese rice. A yielding crunch and briny flavor came by way of the torched Nori the above were assembled on.
Married to a Filipina, Chef Stefan is no stranger to Filipino food. He discloses that his first adobo was chicken and pork and done “puti”, that is without the usual soy sauce. Also a man-about-t̶o̶w̶n̶ the world, his wealth of experience, particularly in Southeast Asia, make it onto his plates. Unbounded creativity allows him the most amazing interpretations of one single dish pushing into welcome overreach. He easily puts out three for this special dinner to showcase that ease.
Chicken and Pork Adobo Pate with a Macerated Grape
In what was the most unusual presentation of the night, chicken and pork adobo was pureed into a pate then portioned into individual tasters. Deceptively looking like a chocolate mousse, it had that smooth, light mass with both meat flavors blending in the homogeneity. The second element to this magic act was a Macerated Grape looking like a black cocktail olive on a skewer. Steeped in rum for six months, it provided a strong flavor counterpoint for the pate.
Chicken and Pork Adobo Ravioli with Green and Yellow Mango Puree
The chef again takes the familiar for a spin by packing the classic Chicken and Pork Adobo into a Ravioli. He then pulls it back into tropical territory with the use of the island’s most renowned produce, mangoes, pureed in ripe and unripe stages, to echo the sweet and sour notes of the adobo. Chicken and Pork Adobo with Chili Rice and Native “Pinakurat” Vinaigrette
Third of this Chicken-Pork Adobo triptych was one more familiar with the meats separate and served with rice in novel pine-shaving canape boats. The Chili Rice held a good whole mouth heat none too unbearable. A plastic pipette of Native “Pinakurat” Vinaigrette poked decoratively into the serving as a modernist touch to the Southeast Asian setup.
As is his name, Chef Raki is every bit the rockstar with his wild hair and swagger. Beneath all that is a warmth, humility and sincerity anyone would identify with the Filipino cuisine served at his family’s iconic restaurants. His devotion to his family bleeds into his credo of providing the experience of great home-cooked meals. On the forefront of the glocal food movement, he is passionate about refreshing native preparations to pique the interest of generation now and keeping it accessible to those of yore.
Pork Rib Adobo
Chef Raki paid respect to tradition but took it up a notch with the use of, a cut unusual for adobo, pork ribs. Fall-off-the-bone would be the phrase to use here for the meat slowly simmered in a stovetop tagine, infusing the flavor of the braising liquid. A herby aroma and delicate sweetness came from the banana leaves used to line the pot. “Pork yoghurt” intensified the meat flavor which is balanced out by the steamed sweet potatoes the ribs were served with.
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