Truth be told, culinary art wasn't love at first bite for Celebrity Chef Tristan Encarnacion: he actually began with Mass Communications in college, then a change in courses (and schools) had to be made. It was just happenstance that a culinary school had openings just as Encarnacion was moving from one semester to the next. Once he started culinary school, his long time fondness for cooking took over his younger dreams of becoming a television reporter. Both television and food would later on cross paths in Chef Tristan's life, when he becomes a regular face on local television every morning with his cooking demos.
At first impression, the chef is quite intimidating as he moves around Epicurious with a commanding presence. Encarnacion, a graduate of CCA, is part of the establishment's Chef Circle, comprising of CCA culinary talents and Cravings Group partner chefs that are handpicked to create dishes and products for the new concept restaurant under of Cravings group. Located at Shangri-La's East Wing is the new one stop shop for curious and hungry gourmands. Epicurious combines services and products of a deli, cafe, and culinary studio--all of which champion both locally and internationally sourced artisan products.
After a gut-busting lunch at the new store (our menu included delicious numbers like truffle popcorn, breads paired with savory dips and spreads, cheeses and cold cuts, pasta--the food seemed endless!), I sat down with Chef Tristan, curious to know more about his culinary journey. Within the first few moments into the Q&A, that first impression dispells as we broke into laughter.
Question: How did you start? When did you decide you wanted to become a chef?
Chef Tristan: [Laughs] Nako! Kasi ever since, sa family namin lahat mahilig kumain, so pag mahilig kang kumain, may tendency na mahilig kang magluto. Natuto ako as an accident, eh!
How? No one influenced you?
Yeah. No one really influenced me. The real story is, Mass Comm student ako. Communication Arts. Tapos, ayaw na sa akin ng school... [laughs] Ganda, 'di ba? [laughs] Ang hirap mag hanap ng school from first semester going to second sem, especially if your grades are not that high. Sinabi sa akin ng friend ko na may culinary school; actually, para lang malipatan. Then there. When I started, yun na. Nagustuhan ko na siya! Iyon na yun.
Kamusta yung experience mo being the student, then later on ikaw na yung teacher [Chef Tristan is an instructor at Center for Culinary Arts (CCA), where he graduated]? How was it like?
Alam mo yung hanggang ngayon ina-ano ko yung sarili ko sa mga estudyante ko? Yung sinasabi ko, "Dati rati ako yung nakaupo doon, ngayon ako na dito..." For me it's very rewarding. It's an achievement for me na ngayon may chance ako to share my experiences sa next generation.
When you were starting out, naaalala mo pa ba yung first dish you made that you were proud of?
Oo. Carbonara! [laughs] The typical pasta! [laughs] Siyempre nung mga bagets bagets ka, gusto mo mag pa-impress diba? O yan, pasta! [laughs] Ayon, carbonara.
Eh mga kitchen disasters, meron din?
Dami, ang dami! Siyempre from baking, nakakasunog... Even just sauteeing lang, ang daming cooking disasters dati. Pero yung iba--kunwari I added a wrong ingredient to a certain dish--ang outcome niya nagiging kakaiba. And yung final product niya minsan mas masarap pa. So I think it's a good disaster? Pero mga cooking disasters minsan meron pa din, minsan sa sobrang dami mong ginagawa nakakaligtaan mo eh, "Ay, may naka salang pala!" [laughs]
How about when thinking of new dishes? Saan ka kumukuha ng ideas?
Sa mga tao, yung alam kong magugustuhan nila. If I create a dish, it's not just for myself. Di lang kung ano ang magugustuhan ko, kasi hindi lang ako yung kumakain.
Kung hindi ka busy sa kusina, if di ka nagluluto, what other things keep you busy?
Sports! I love sports.
Basketball. Anything na extreme.
So kung 'di ka chef, you'd be...
An athlete. Yeah, I'd be an athlete.
Let's talk about food trends. What do you think will be hot this year?
I don't know if molecular will be 'in' na, pero parang wala pa din masyado ang nagpa-practice ng molecular gastronomy locally. I think people will still like things with unlimited rice pa din. Unlimited rice, kasi sa Filipino staple pa din ang rice. Siguro ngayon din, for me, nakikita ko yung mga food coming from different countries, mga franchise. Filipinos tend to explore now. Okay, Filipino food pa din, but now they want to try more.
But if it were your way, what would you like to see more in the food scene?
Filipino. Filipino talaga. Nailalabas naman natin outside of the Philippines, pero wala pang definite na push of the Filipino cuisine na tinatawag. Like okay, for you, what's adobo?
Siyempre iba yung adobo ko...
Iba-iba, diba? Iba din yung adobo ko. Sana mas ma-embrace yung Filipino cuisine more. Medyo kulang pa... That's the goal.
Any thoughts about or tips for people who plan to open a culinary school?
For those who are planning to open a culinary school... Sa sobrang dami na ng school, dapat alam na nila kung sino exactly ang klase ng estudyante na bebentahan nila. Ngayon kasi nagiging super trend na, diba? Actually for me, it saddens me to think that nagiging 'glamor' nalang siya. Parang, wala, okay, graduate ka ng culinary.
For those wanting to open their own restaurant, any advice you want to give to them?
Kailangan alam niyo na ang ins and outs. Kailangan meron ka na din ng experience sa restaurant business. Kasi once na mag open ka ng walang kaalam-alam, may tendency na malugi. And of course, alam mo dapat ang produkto mo.
What's a quick but delicious meal that you can make under 30 minutes?
Anything that's stir-fried or grilled, as in a complete meal kaya yan in 30 minutes and mabubusog ka.
Your outfit in the kitchen, if you had it your way?
Shirt, shorts, anything comfy.
Earliest food memories?
Batang-bata pa, siguro all of my mom's cooking. Baker siya, my mom bakes a lot. Sa family nila lahat sila nagluluto... Basta dati I looked like a ball, lumaki ako sa kusina. Ang hobby ko dati maglaro sa kusina.
Favorite ingredients to use when cooking?
Fruits. Mahilig ako maglagay ng fruits sa pagkain para may balance.
Your favorite cuisine when you're eating, and when you're cooking?
Filipino. Both Filipino.
Any food you can't give up eating?
Nako! Anything Filipino. Basta anything to do with Pinoy food. Di ko alam, maski na busog na ako, pag nakita ko, kumakain pa din ako. [laughs]
Eh yung food na di mo kakainin?
Exotic... Well I've tried, but di ko yun hahanap-hanapin! [laughs] Hindi.
If there's a restaurant serving a dish named after you, what will it be like?
Anything Filipino... Main course, and it would be meat. Beef, or pork. Or ribs! Mga big man size. [laughs]
And if you can cook dinner for anyone you want, who will you feed?
Honestly? NBA players! [laughs] Siyempre nandun sila LeBron! I'm a big fan kasi. Any athlete, any international athlete. I'll feed them steaks and Filipino food. And also mga diplomats and presidents ng mga ibang bansa, I'd want to cook dinner for them.
If you can pick your final meal, what will be your last supper spread?
Nako, lahat na ng bawal! Lahat ng ma-cholesterol, lahat ng pwede kong ikamatay. Ay nako, kakainin ko na yan lahat, last meal ko na eh! [laughs]
Epicurious by The Cravings Group is a new concept in lifestyle gourmet that features a deli, food emporium, café, and culinary studio. Chef Tristan Encarnacion is part of its Chefs Circle, and will create a signature gourmet product line of exclusive artisan food items. Visit Epicurious at the East Wing, Lower Ground Level of Shangri-La Plaza Mall. Call (02) 570-7741, 506-6474, or 0917-5907420, and visit www.epicuriousmanila.com for more information.