"Pinoy flavor, but the look is different," Vicky-Rose Pacheco says, sharing that this has always been her goal whenever showcasing food at Sentro 1771. That afternoon, the COO and Executive Chef of 1771 Group of Restaurants took time from her busy schedule to meet the press at the Greenbelt branch of her restaurant, famous for their take on modern Filipino cuisine as it is one of the (if not the) first to showcase this kind of Pinoy food.
In these fast times of foodies and chefs and culinary shows celebrating the love of food, cooking, and eating, Chef Vicky-Rose confesses she was a late bloomer in cuisine. "How early--or how late, probably?" she chuckled, sharing that she started her 'accidental' career as a chef in her late twenties. Her culinary training ground includes Les Roches Hotel and Tourism School and Switzerland's École Hôtelière de Lausanne, and she moved onward to becoming a partner at the 1771 Group in 1995.
Chef Vicky-Rose Pacheco
Read on to know more about the chef as she talks about food, managing multiple restaurants, eating favorites, and her inspirations behind Sentro 1771's new menu.
How young were you when you realized you wanted to become a chef, to cook professionally?
How early--or how late, probably? How young? Probably about 27? Kinda late. Yung iba nga bata palang tine-train na, eh! Before, I was into restaurant management. I started as assistant manager with this group [Chateau 1771 group of restaurants], and then the chef got married. So I had to do his job, and I learned through the years on the job. I had to do a lot of research--reading, reading, reading, since I had no mentor, on the chef part.
And now, it's not only Sentro, you also have other restaurants. And they're all different cuisines. How do you manage your time among the establishments, and how do you conceptualize for each brand?
Ay, nakakaloka! [laughs] Normally, ideas come. And when ideas come, I think of a dish--"Uy, mukhang masarap 'to." So I store it; I have a notebook where I store it. Iniipon-ipon ko lang siya. So when it's time to do a new menu, I gather everything per category, per restaurant, per concept.
And then anywhere I go, when I travel, may makita akong maganda, I'll say 'Ay bagay ito sa Sentro,' or 'Bagay ito sa Chateau.' So I'm always thinking of the concept so wherever I look, I see kung saan bagay. Every year, I am doing a new menu. For this year I did Sentro 1771. For last year, I did Chateau 1771. The year before that I did Cafe 1771. Every year, may bago, pero sa iba-ibang brands.
What exactly is Sentro food all about? What is its concept?
"We liken Sentro to the modern Filipino person, who has traveled abroad, who is exposed to a lot of information, who reads a lot, who watches movies, who's always updated. In the same way, the restaurant is absorbing a lot of influences, at the same time, being Filipino--retaining its Filipino nature.
For this year's Sentro menu, how long did it take you to do R&D?
The actual R&D, two months. Conceptualization, siguro nasa three years... Kasi una, ganado ka, tapos may tatanggalin ka. Then may maiisip ka and then you think it won't work. And then you travel, and then you see something. So you try. Bagay, or hindi bagay. Things like that. Lots of research, madaming iniisip. Until finally, do or die. So last June that's when I started to cook. Madami din akong dishes na nasayang, na hindi ko nalabas, lots of testing but they weren't included. I have to make sure that the recipe is fool proof, that kahit sino gumawa--ako or the other chefs--it's going to come out the same.
Your new desserts are also very interesting, especially that Keso Flan. How was it conceptualizing them?
Ah yeah, the Keso! Nasasapawan siya palagi ng Halo-Halo eh! Nakakainis![laughs]
Classic kasi ang halo-halo eh!
Oo nga eh. Pero masarap ang Keso Flan (Keso Flan, P220) diba? Before, it's a cheesecake, but we didn't want a cheesecake with a crust, because that's American looking. But I wanted a cheesecake. So ang ginawa namin, we caramelized sugar, para mag mukha siyang leche flan. Pero, cheesecake siya. And then, when we were eating it by itself, parang may kulang. So we started adding. What if we eat it with cheese? Ano kaya if you eat it with itlog na maalat? The salty and sweet blended, and when you eat it together, it's like a bibingka sensation. The experience is like bibingka, it looks like leche flan... but it's not.
Keso Flan: "Parang bibingka na hindi!"
We also now serve Lamb Caldereta (Lamb Caldereta, P480). It's a new rendition of caldereta because we use lamb, and then we have a whole new category of adobo, and then we have a lot of vegetables. This new menu has a lot of variety in terms of flavor, in terms of influence. The caldereta is of Spanish influence, and there's a lot of influence by the countries that colonized us. There are also food that are regional on the new menu.
Lamb Caldereta using boneless lamb shoulder, can be served mild or spicy
Adobo sa Gata: the use of coconut milk a nod to Bicolano influence
Naked Lumpia (Naked Lumpia with Vietnamese Crepe, P270) is our version of lumpiang hubad, but I put a crispy Vietnamese crepe. My intention is, you can eat it as appetizer--you can put it on the crepe--or if you want to wrap it on lettuce. Or you can totally disregard that and eat it by itself. For me, it's an interactive dish. The flavor of lumpia is there, but the look is different."
Naked Lumpia with Vietnamese Crepe with cabbage, string beans, tofu, shrimp, chicken and pork
Among the new main course items, which is your personal favorite?
I like the grilled fish (Fish of the Day Pandan - P220 per 100g), because the stuffing is different. It has malunggay, miso, tomato. It gives a different flavor as opposed to the usual inihaw na isda with kamatis at sibuyas--kasi ganon sa bahay, diba? When I do something Filipino and simple, iniisip ko din, I'm sure may mga tao sasabihin, 'Eh kaya ng nanay ko sa bahay namin 'yan!' So kailangan, up natin ng konti, na kahit kaya ng nanay niya, mahihirapan naman ng konti. [laughs] I like that, and I like all the vegetables. I like the ampalaya (Two-Egg Ampalaya Crepe - P150).
Fish of the Day Pandan
I think serving ampalaya here is a brave move. Not everyone likes it, it's an acquired taste... But I personally like ampalaya.
Because I love ampalaya! And yes, not many people like ampalaya. Pero healthy siya. Sabi ko, 'Eh ano if ayaw nila, iba nalang orderin nila!' [laughs] So nilabas ko. Usually diba ang ampalaya ginigisa, and then you put egg, then you scramble? So I thought, hmm, pag scramble, sa bahay okay siya but if served at my restaurant, 'di ata bagay. So I decided to deconstruct it a bit.
Not your usual ampalaya: sauteed on an egg crepe, topped with salted duck egg
Ang goal ko parati is yung Filipino food, kung paano siya mai-angat eh. Diba goal naman ng lahat ng tao iyon? But then, syempre it always starts with the way it looks.
If you were to cook at home, something quick and easy, what would you prepare?
Nako, daing na bangus. My favorite!
And how are you dressed up when you cook?
I'd wear shorts! I'd wear shorts and a t-shirt. In the house I'd always cook in shorts, clogs, and t-shirt. If in the restaurant, in uniform. One time, I wore a skirt. When I launched this new menu in Serendra, I wore a skirt and my chef's jacket. Sabi ko, anyway, hindi naman nila nakikita from the kitchen eh. [laughs]
Can you share an early childhood memory about food? Something you cannot forget eating?
I won't forget eating fried cow's brains with ketchup and rice.
Brains? How young were you?
Maybe six years old? Kasi yun ang niluto ng lola ko eh! So yun ang kinain namin. Eh masarap.
When you're cooking, what's the ingredient that you like to use?
How about a favorite cuisine?
To eat, it's Filipino. To cook, French.
What can you not give up eating? Mawala na lahat, wag lang ang...?
'Wag lang bangus! [laughs]
If you can choose your final meal on earth, what would you have prepared?
Baka bangus pa rin. Mamamatay ka na, di mo pa kakainin yun? [laughs] Ayoko nga kumain ng foie gras, hello! Bangus pa rin!
Bangus talaga! Okay, now I'm craving for bangus. Anyway, last question. Any tips for budding chefs or restaurateurs? Since it's now a very hot career choice, what advice can you give to them?
Don't jump from one job to the other. Don't be impatient, like "Oh I want to cook, I want to express myself" kalokohan ang ganyang bagay! [laughs] Learn the skills first. Learn what it takes to be in the kitchen when it's hot, when it's full, when it's empty. Learn how to clean everything. Obey your chef. 'Wag kang maging smart-aleck kasi nag-aral ka sa kung anong school. Dapat sumunod ka. At pag na acquire mo na lahat ng skills, at kung mayaman ang parents mo, doon ka mag tayo ng restaurant. [laughs] Until then, just do the job. Be hardworking.
Sentro 1771 is a member of the 1771 Group of Restaurants that includes Chateau 1771 in Greenbelt 5, Café 1771, WineBar 1771 and Sidebar at El Pueblo Real de Manila, ADB Avenue cor. Julia Vargas Avenue, Ortigas Center, Pasig City. Visit www.1771group.com or follow Sentro 1771 on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (Sentro1771).