Some people say that your health and fitness can express your happiness and just how happy you are with life. This seems to be ringing and singing true for Carlos Agassi: celebrity, actor, model, and a fitspiration (just check out his Instagram account!) to many. Always smiling and eager to share many of his stories, he didn't seem fazed at the fact that he just flew back from a weekend of work in Cebu, and from the airport headed straight to his restaurant, Brasas in Jazz Mall, to sit down and talk about his first venture into the restaurant business. "We've always dreamed of opening a restaurant," he says, and like a proud parent talking about his firstborn, shared many colorful stories about his experiences running and promoting the Latin American restaurant, as well as his travel adventures and fun food trips.
In this edition of Food Diaries, discover Carlos Agassi's favorite cuisines, food growing up, top picks at Brasas, and yes, diet tips for all you curious readers wondering how he's been in top underwear model shape (no photoshop required!) all these years.
Question: What kind of food were you exposed to growing up?
Carlos Agassi: I was born here. Uso dati yung Star Margarine sa madaming kanin, 'yon! Masarap siya. Tapos pag umaga, tuyo, dried pusit. Big deal na sa mga grade school students yung maka-kain sa tapsilog, diba P30 or P35, tapos allowance mo lang P10? [laughs] I was growing up with that. And then uso din yung Cindy's,Tropical Hut! And then when I went to Bahrain, we'd have kebabs, and we'd eat on the floor carpet, kamayan. The food would be grilled on a stick, then lots of rice that have cashew nuts and dates and raisins. And when I came back here, typical spread would be adobo, tinola, very Pinoy.
What's your favorite cuisine?
Me, personally, I'm into Japanese food. If I'm on a diet, sashimi. Kani maki, but I tell them to take away the mayo. And since I'm half Iranian, I like basmati rice, kebabs. There's Hossein's nearby! I know the owners. It's good there. When I was in the States, I'd always go to P.F. Chang's and I'd always order the hot and sour soup. I love that!
Any fun food memories you want to share?
With my family–my brothers–we have this yearly tradition. We work out like crazy, and then we do buffets, and then we have a contest. Kung sino yung huling makaubos, or pinaka-konting nakain, you will pay the bill. We always do that. Before we'd do that after Holy Week. Last time, we did it here in Brasas. Here, that was on a Friday, there was Salsa Night and they move some tables for dancing. So my brother [Michael] says 'Order one of each!' And his wife and our mom would time us, and we'll see. The goal is whoever can eat the most. 'Okay, game!' [laughs] So the youngest one [Aaron]–if you think I'm fit, he's way fitter! He's ten years younger than me, he used to be obese growing up. I trained him, then he lost 120 pounds and now he maintained it. He was the first to finish eating in an hour and a half! Then I was next, then siya yung nahuli… [pointing to Michael who was at the table across us] And so he paid. Tapos eto na, when you eat too fast, you don't really taste the food, and you get hungry kaagad even though you are full! So, for some weird reason, after we ate and after we danced here, nagyaya pa sila mag-burger. And that was the end of our day, I was so full. I thought I was pregnant at the end of the day!
Is there a kind of food you don't get tired of eating every day?
I love overripe fruits. Especially with the hot weather? You put it in the freezer, it's like a popsicle! If you have a dehydrator, you can make banana chips.You leave it overnight, then it becomes very crunchy like chips, but the nutrients are still there. And you don't add oil or any sweeteners. You put langka there or a pineapple, and it's really good. And with fruits, yes it's sugar, but it's sugar from the earth that has fiber and vitamins.
You've always been in shape, and seem to stick to your health and fitness regimen so well. How do you do it?
You know, I've tried to go vegetarian, and I also tried high protein. Now, my built right now, it's the hardest to maintain: it's the balance of fruits, vegetables, fish, and egg. I'm 34, but people who don't know me usually think I'm younger. So I kind of like that. I've been doing underwear ads for ten years, and when I look at old photos, I think, when I was 24, I looked like my dad. Now that I'm 34, I look 24. [laughs] So now I'm looking forward to how I'll look like next. I'm evolving–sometimes paurong… [laughs]
Photo taken from Carlos' Instagram (@carlosagassi)
You've studied fitness and nutrition when you went to the States, and also learned a lot about diet and exercise through experience. What insights can you share?
What I learned in American Council on Exercise–you can take a certificate course–is that it always evolves, and the one thing that's constant is change. The basic thing that they teach you is the guidelines for workouts, but there is no 'one workout fits all.' You have to seek and find the exercise that works for you. Same with food! There are points you have to see. Like if you're allergic to something, your body's reaction is to retain water. So number one, you'll look bloated; and number two, if you don't digest it well–what you eat–you get bloated again. And definitely, when you get older, your metabolism slows down; so you change your food intake, the amount of workout, because of this.
Is Brasas your first venture in the food business?
Yes, this Brasas in Jazz Mall, it's us three Agassi brothers [Carlos, Michael, and Aaron] and the owners, the Peraltas. We're lucky to be partners with them since they know the business well, and since we live nearby we're often here and my brother also gets hands on with the business. We learn through experience. And all of us–me, my dad, my mom–we've always dreamed of opening a restaurant.
What are your personal picks here from the Brasas menu?
If you want authentic Latin food, this is the place. And if you still want to diet, you can still do it here, just ask for the chicken or the beef–everything here is grilled. You can also request no oil–we use olive oil. And, there's Salad. If you want something when you're on a diet, just ask for something grilled, no salt and no oil, and a salad.
But if I go all out? Breakfast would be the burger–Chivito al Pan (P460), the one with three patties. I'd have that. Then the Mango Panna Cotta (P90)–everyone who has that, ubos! Then the Torta Tres Leches (P130) cake. I'd have that for lunch, probably with the Chivito al Plato (P675 for sharing). That's my favorite dish here, it's the one good for four persons. The Chivito Al Plato, it has three kinds of meat: pork, chicken and beef. But if I'm watching what I eat, what I'd do is to take away the pork then replace it with egg whites. It's like a cheat meal after I work out, when I play basketball, I'd have that. It's good for four people, but I can finish that. And then at night, I'd go light. I'd have the Patacones (P180 single, P320 sharing). The ones who eat here love the wraps, like the Carne Asada Wrap (P290) and the Pollo Asado Wrap (P260).
Do you consider yourself an adventurous eater?
Yes! My motto is: work hard, but enjoy life. Travel with people you love. When you travel, try the local delicacy, try the local traditions, and go to the local places–these are a must, even if I'm on a diet. If I'm in Dubai, shawarma is a must, and then they have inexpensive but authentic Turkish fast food. And you know what? Sobrang sarap ng Indian food sa U.K.! I was blessed to promote TFC back in the day there. And Indian food is number one in U.K. It's so good, like the chicken curry, it's spicy and they have this good basmati rice. In Singapore naman, they made me try some frog legs and some soup. That's really me, since you're traveling to that place, and you're there, you go all out! I was just in Dumaguete and before I left kanina, I was eating their sans rival, I was eating their cakes. And they were like, "Why are you eating it now when you're gonna go to the airport?" And I was like, "You're not going to take a photo of me in my underwear anymore!" [laughs]
Since we're talking about eating all out, what if you can choose your final meal? Your last supper on Earth, and ikaw ang bahala?
Yes, whatever you want!
I would start with a kani maki, with mixed sashimi. And I would have hot and sour soup. And I would have lamb kebab with basmati rice. Then I'd get the Chivito al Pan here. Kung busog na ako dun, I'd move on to dessert. Pero since last meal na 'yon, mag Chivito al Plato pa ako. Tapos Patacones, and then the Mango Panna Cotta. And kung kaya pa ng tiyan ko… I'd always go to Gelatissimo for gelato. I'd always get the Snickers flavor, then they'd always have something for the day. Ako kasi I really have a sweet tooth, so I do my best to either time it before or after a workout or on a cheat meal. So I'd get the one with Snickers, or M&Ms, or sometimes Milky Way. Or I could get my favorite Häagen-Dazs, the Dulce de Leche ice cream, which is so fattening but so good!
Whoah, you have an intense sweet tooth! Sweet teeth.
You know before when I was younger, before I go to the gym I'd eat Häagen-Dazs' dulce de leche, I'd work out, then go to Friday's to have an Oreo Speedwagon–it's Oreos na milkshake. Then go back for a little workout, then go watch a movie with a bucket of popcorn or two. That was when I was around 20? I miss that metabolism! [laughs]
Visit Brasas in Makati at Jazz Mall, Jazz Residences, Jupiter corner N. Garcia Streets, Makati. Other Brasas branches are located in The Podium, SM Aura Premier, SM North Edsa, and Evia. Follow Brasas on Instagram (@brasasphilippines) and Like them on Facebook (/brasasphilippines). Follow Carlos Agassi on Instagram (@carlosagassi) and Twitter (@amiragassi).
Additional images taken from Brasas Facebook page.