'The Blackboard by Chef Michel' Teaches 3 Lessons in Food Appreciation

Diners who, by default, ask “what’s your bestseller here?” are in for a surprise when they visit The Blackboard by Chef Michel.

Because at The Blackboard, there's none.

Chef Michel Cottabarren

The Podium Mall’s newcomer neither has a fixed cuisine nor has a slew of bestselling signature dishes. Instead, it has a du jour menu (menu of the day) inspired by Chef Michel Cottabarren’s mood or what’s available in the local market that day.

Over a six-course meal (four of which featured various iterations of pink salmons: gravlax, croquettes, skewers, pan-fried), we made Chef Michel explain the concept and the challenges in running The Blackboard.

Crispy Salmon Croquetas (P159)

Q. Your menu changes daily. Why did you pursue such a concept?

A. I’ve always hated big menus. I can’t stand flipping through the large ones. By the time you get to the end, you forgot what was at the beginning. I worked somewhere in Paris, we also had a blackboard right beside the entrance. We only had one special of the day. That got me started.

These Salmon Skewers was a result of Chef Michel's whim and not even on the menu when we dined.

The concept is only unique here in Manila. It is actually current in European cities, especially in France. What they have is even much smaller than this. They only have around two or three appetizers, two or three main courses, and a dessert. That’s it. Ideally, that’s what I like. I’d like to be popular that it’ll be an honor for you to come to my place and I’ll be able to say, “Well, this is all I’m doing today.” But unfortunately, Western countries and Asian countries are different.

While there's no point in seeking a particular dish here, I do hope you chance upon this impressive Gravlax (Cured Salmon; P199 per 50 grams)

Q. How so?

A. This is the seventh country that I’ve worked in Asia. I’ve been around here for 16 years. Asians like variety. They like to see a lot of choices. Westerners don’t care if there are only two dishes. I’ve learned that through my many years of experience here.

Q. You first opened The Blackboard in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. How was it received by the Malaysians?

A. In KL, we had tapas at the top, then four or five main courses, and then it was just my cheesecake at the bottom. That’s it. That was enough.

We had regular customers who came for the food and the drinks. But more than that, they came for us. It was their local bar. We threw these great parties and themed events: anniversaries, Halloween. Our first anniversary party was a Free Expression Party. People were writing everywhere! It took us half a day to clean up. We had to repaint the bar. Everyone had fun. That part, we miss. Since we are in a mall here, we have to behave.

Contrary to how it looks, this Chicken Liver Parfait (P135 per 100 grams) is nothing short of impressive

Q. If your menu changes daily, how and when do you come up with the things that you’ll write on the blackboard?

A. A few minutes before this place opens—that’s usually the case. They are like, “Michel? The menu? Michel? I hate to bother you but it’s 11:30am. Can we now have the menu?”(laughs). I don’t like planning. I improvise easily.

Q. What are the advantages of running this kind of restaurant?

A. The good thing about this set up is nothing goes to waste. If I have a 500g of prawns, I can incorporate that to any dish. I have very, very little wastage here. Almost nothing. And I don’t like to be bound to a menu. I don’t like it when “oh, I don’t have that in stock. I have to rush to the store.” This way, when I don’t have it, I don’t have it.  

This Grilled Salmon Fillet with Honey Sauce on Ube Mash blends the harmonious notes of sweet and salty

Q. But there are challenges…

A. The menu changes everyday. My chefs have to be on their toes all the time. As for purchasing and inventory, I do my own purchasing. What’s important is the bottom line at the end of the month.

Mussels in Clams tossed w/ Chorizo in Garlic Butter

Q. You don’t have a staple menu; hence you can’t really define your bestsellers. But so far, which dishes have impressed your diners?

The Chicken Liver Parfait (P135 per 100 grams), the Crispy Salmon Croquetas (P159). I’ve noticed that Filipinos like salmon, so the Gravadlax (P199 per 50 grams). And oh, our Baby Back Ribs. On Sundays, beef is popular with families.

The Blackboard erases the notion that restaurants must have bestsellers or specialize in a particular cuisine. There’s no point in seeking a specific dish because the menu changes every morning. The Blackboard pulls you out of your comfort zone and pushes your palate to be adventurous.

Chef Michel, through The Blackboard, teaches three important lessons in food appreciation. One: that eating what’s local and what’s in season is important; two: variety is the spice of life; and lastly, a great dining experience doesn't always have to begin by asking "what’s your bestseller?"

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