Among all my favorite proteins, it's chicken and bacon that often play tug of war with my heart. However, the poultry becomes top pick whenever served by way of my favorite chicken part (wings, always wings). Also, if it's marinated well, meat still juicy with every bite. Last December, my first visit to Sarsa Kitchen + Bar revealed to my palate succulent, tender, and lipsmackingly sour pieces of wings. It's like I'm in Bacolod again, I thought to myself, as I used my hands to finish off the pieces of chicken inasal. They were so addicting especially when doused with sinamak (spiced coconut vinegar) that's been mixed with calamansi and a little soy sauce. I knew that I'd be back at Sarsa repeatedly–hungry, greedy–for their chicken inasal.
I sing high praises of my glorious chicken meal to the restaurant's chef and owner, Joseph Patrick Anglo–JP or 'Jayps' to many–when we met recently for an interview, and we laugh. "Can you say that in ClickTheCity?", the chef asks. Well, I believe if you've eaten something really good, you must compliment whoever created it! And of course, share about it. So here's the mention, Chef Jayps.
Chef JP Anglo is a familiar face to many with his stint at the local edition of MasterChef, lending his expertise and palate to the television show as a judge.
The Ilonggo at the helm of Sarsa Kitchen + Bar shares his food journey, favorite eats, and more in this interview.
Question: At what age did you know you wanted to become a chef?
Chef JP: Mga 7 siguro. Mahilig lang talaga ako magluto. I started with frying eggs. We lived in the States before, walang katulong, and my mom wouldn't be home until around 5pm. So I would prepare myself merienda after school. I started with fried eggs, heating up vienna sausages, wala pang microwave at that time. Then naging garlic rice, then naging fried rice…
So no one influenced you, it's more of you playing around in the kitchen?
Well, my mom… She's not a good cook–at all. So there, a frustration as well. [laughs]
How about growing up?
My aunt. My aunt is a good cook. But influenced me, wala. None at all. Because no one in my family is a 'foodie,' or really likes to cook.
You moved to Australia to study. How was the experience like?
It was really for school, and to work. It was very good. Taught me to be on my own, taught me to be independent, taught me to be tough. That is also the reason why I went there, because I wanted to literally get my ass kicked. Because here, we're nicer here. Because cheffing is hard–it's hard labor, you're on your feet 10 to 12 hours. It's stressful. You can only experience that fully in a first world setting.
How different is the culture there, in the kitchen? How is the atmosphere like?
There kasi they pay you by the hour, so they need to maximize your skills and time. So if you're slow, they'll shout. At first they'll tell you off, then eventually they shout at you at times. It's very different. And with the culture, of course here we're mabait kasi and we're forgiving.
Back when you were still studying, any dish you remember that you cooked and thought was a masterpiece?
Everything was a disaster. Say that. [laughs] Everything! That's where you learn. When you're a young cook–well, for me, I'm talking about myself–when you're young, you want to do everything. You get a very confusing dish. You want to do everything and you want to experiment, and then you put it all in one plate… Which is not right. Pero that's the process you go through as young cooks.
And now, you have your restaurant here in Manila (Sarsa), and also in your province (Bacolod). How do you manage your time?
Hiring the right people, having a good team.
Can you tell us more about the concept of Sarsa Kitchen + Bar?
Here we have sort of the 'best of the best' in Ilonggo cuisine. The batchoy, the pancit molo, the inasal. And our playful side is the Crispy Isol, having it with ketchup and pinakurat. The tofu, we grill them and it's inasal; the playfulness is also like putting them in skewers instead of frying them.
Why do you think Pinoys love sarsa, what makes us fond of sauces?
I guess it's because of what you see on the table, the accompaniments. You have your soy sauce, vinegar, achuete, calamansi… We do love vinegar, we like soy sauce. So I guess it's that, those are the base sauces. And in every household merong ganyan, or in every dining table merong ganyan. So sabi namin dito, let's put more. But still having those base sauces.
And all these sauces in Sarsa are made here?
What do you think is the secret to good inasal? Because I've tried your chicken inasal, and talagang it's the best for me here in Manila.
Wow. Can you say that in ClickTheCity? [laughs]
Yeah! It's really good and it's very tender, and it made me remember my inasal experience last time I traveled to Bacolod.
Well, the secret is… the vinegar used. That's the secret. Yeah. We tried making inasal in Australia; you can't get coconut vinegar there eh, so you make do. The trick is really the vinegar.
Okay, got it. So, last year we saw many food trends in Manila. What do you think will be a trend this year, and what food do you think Pinoys should embrace?
Ramen is a trend, tonkatsu is a trend… What should they embrace? I think Pinoys should embrace Sarsa! [laughs] Well, we should be true to ourselves, and embrace our own. Me, for being Filipino and Ilonggo, I am embracing the food that I grew up with.
Another thing we saw last year: so many restaurants, both local and international brands, opening in the country. How does one keep competitive in the restaurant scene?
Just put your head down, and your chin up. And focus. And if you're a chef, cook. Don't just be outside and talking to everyone, you know? Do your job. And then I guess, it will just translate in your work.
Any tips for those interested to pursue culinary studies or to open their own restaurant?
Don't waste your parents' money. Do it seriously, take it seriously, so that you won't waste your parents' money.
If you had to prepare a quick dish in about 30 minutes, what would you cook?
Spam! Ah… 30 minutes pala noh? Hmm… A nice fish soup, with a good broth. Yeah.
How about in the kitchen, how would you dress up if you had it your way?
Well, it's my way. A t-shirt, a side towel, and kitchen shoes. Because you're a cook, and you should just be in your chef gear in the kitchen and not be parading it around the mall.
Can you share the earliest food memory you have? Maybe of eating something really good…
Yang chow fried rice at the mall in New Jersey circa 1980s. [laughs] Ayan! For me it was a treat, because they used Jasmine rice. The grain mismo was so aromatic, and I can still remember how it tastes like. That's why I have a Chinese restaruant, a 10 year old Chinese restaurant back in Bacolod.
Speaking of Bacolod. If you have only one day to tour someone around your hometown to eat the best local food, what will the itinerary look like?
Inasal, batchoy, lechon. And kilawin.
Do you have a favorite ingredient to use when cooking?
Favorite cuisine to eat and to cook–is it the same?
What can you never give up eating?
What will you never eat.
Balut. I don't like balut.
If there is a restaurant that will name a dish after you, what will it be like?
Here, or abroad?
Any. Either way. What would "The JP" be?
No really, we do make the best garlic rice here.
If you can host a dinner for anyone you want, who would you choose?
Hmmm… Who do I wanna feed? Okay, I want to feed David Chang of Momofuku, Anthony Bourdain… Do I wanna feed Jamie Oliver? Maybe not… [laughs] So it's Anthony Bourdain and David Chang.
What cuisine will you serve them?
If you can pick your last meal on earth, what will it be?
Still lechon. From Cebu.
Sarsa Kitchen + Bar is located at the ground floor of Forum South Global, 7th Ave corner 25th Street, Fort Bonifacio, Taguig. Reservation is recommended, call (0927)706-0773 to make a booking. Like Sarsa on Facebook for updates (https://www.facebook.com/sarsakitchen); follow Sarsa (@sarsakitchen) and Chef JP Anglo (@chefjayps) on Instagram.