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Chef Tony Boy Escalante’s Antonio’s is one of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants

Antonio’s in Tagaytay is the first Philippine restaurant to be part of the prestigious Asia’s 50 Best Restaurant Awards, debuting this year at No. 48.

In line with their mission ‘to promote and celebrate brilliant restaurants and great chefs,’ Asia’s 50 Best is also about ‘collaboration, provocation and inspiration.’

SINGAPORE — This year’s Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants was especially memorable for the Philippines. On the third year of the Asian leg of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants, we finally made it to the list — with the entrance of Antonio’s in Tagaytay at the No. 48 spot!

“Being considered one of the top restaurants in Asia has been an eye-opening experience, both challenging and an inspiration,” reflects chef-patron Tony Boy Escalante. “Coming home, I realized how much still needs to be done but I am very motivated to do my very best to be better at my craft. I hope that my inclusion in the list will be inspiring to others and work harder.”

We Filipinos have always championed and rallied behind chef Tony Boy’s modern European cuisine set in his colonial-style mansion and farm since it first opened in 2002, but now — it has put us on the map. “I want to go to the Philippines to try it,” declared Gaggan Anand after the awards ceremony at Capella in Sentosa.

Gaggan only happens to be No. 1 in Asia, a leap from last year’s No. 3. His eponymous restaurant in Bangkok serves progressive Indian cuisine, a style he learned at El Bulli and one he’s carried with pride ever since Ferran Adrià told him to apply them to the food of his birthplace in Kolkata, India.

This he juxtaposes with keeping alive his Indian roots and inspiration from handmade street food by not serving utensils in the first eight courses. “We want guests to use their fingers so they can have a direct interaction with food — feeling the texture while eating and keeping the tradition alive.”

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I celebrated my birthday here last year and can proudly say that his rise to the top spot is very much deserved.

I was thrilled to see some of my Singapore favorites climb up the list, like Andre Chiang’s Restaurant Andre (now at No. 5 from last year’s No. 6; also voted best restaurant in Singapore) and Julien Royer’s Jaan (now at No. 11 from No. 17; coincidentally, sous chef Kirk Westaway was also awarded S. Pellegrino Young Chef 2015 for Southeast Asia and will represent the region in a grand final at Expo Milano); and the new entry of Dave Pynt’s Burnt Ends right at No. 30! Although I think that Richard Ekkebus’ Amber in Hong Kong deserves to be higher than its current No. 6.

Leaving your ego at the door

The day before, I was blown away by Eleven Madison Park — not (yet, unfortunately) by their food but by their philosophy and core — shared by chef Daniel Humm and co-owner Will Guidara at the Asia’s 50 Best Summit entitled “The New Modern: 2015 and Beyond.

A summary of some of their points: “Hospitality is about being reactive and doing your best to figure out what your guests want, and accommodating them in a way for them to feel seen or heard… We research our guests as much as we can before they come in because in the absence of information, we cannot provide personalized service… We look at the experience not about us but about the guest’s experience… There is a growing pride today about not caring about what the guest wants, it’s about what the chef wants; we are not about that at all.” 

Their humility, perseverance and guest-centeredness (rather than chef-centeredness) are inspiring and possibly the reason why they are one of the most successful restaurants in the world today (No. 4 in the world) — something a lot of others can learn from. “You need to leave your ego at the door,” ends Guidara. Pretty sound advice for this industry — or any other, for that matter.

Ambassadors of Peru

I was also very fortunate to have had the chance to experience the Asia’s 50 Best maestro dinner at Daniel Chavez’s Ola Cocina del Mar, prepared by the famous Tiger’s Milk Gang from Peru themselves! The Peruvian Quartet, composed of Virgilio Martinez of Central (currently the No. 1 chef of Latin America), Rafael Piqueras of Marasi, Mitsuharu Tsumura of Maido, and led by the Gastón Acurio of Astrid y Gaston, travels the world promoting Peruvian cuisine.

I sat by the bar, Pisco sour in hand, feeling so lucky to experience a kitchen-to-table interaction with the chefs, who each prepared a course from their restaurant (a personal favorite is Piqueras’ red quinoa salad with artichoke ice cream) with Acurio personally serving me his own “Cebiche of Love” made from scallops, sea urchin, red gamba, coral crab and Rocoto leche de tigre.

The most impressive thing about Tiger’s Milk Gang or Leche de Tigre is that they travel the world promoting Peruvian cuisine.

“We have a huge biodiversity — a heritage of hundreds of recipes that call for a multicultural society,” shares Acurio. “We don’t compete; we share — we are part of something bigger than our own dreams. We are representing a community and are the voice of the farmers working high up in the Andes dealing with a lot of environmental problems.

We are presenting food because we deeply believe we can do a lot of food for our communities. We are here not because we are selling our restaurants but because we are representing something bigger than us.”

Back in Manila later on, our very own Margarita Forés shared with me that Acurio was her idol. “I want to meet him,” she gushed. “Did you know that in Peru they want him to run for president? He really changed their tourism.”

Likewise, Hong Kong-based Filipina editor Kissa Castañeda Mc-Dermott has only praises for them: “I admire Peru’s Leche de Tigre gang. They changed a whole nation by cooking, sharing and empowering others. This makes me feel optimistic about the future of Filipino cuisine and our place in the global food scene. We just have to believe and go for it!”

This is certainly in line with Asia’s 50 Best’s core mission of “promoting and celebrating brilliant restaurants and great chefs.”

“We are about bringing people together — not just about top restaurants,” said William Drew, group editor of Asia’s 50 Best. “We are also about collaboration, provocation and inspiration.”

Mission accomplished, I say. Till next year, when hopefully, we will have more restaurants from the Philippines up there as well!

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Asia’s 50 Best is sponsored by S. Pellegrino and Acqua Panna and run by William Reed Business Media, in partnership with the Singapore Tourism Board. For the full list of the winners, visit www.theworlds50best.com/asia/en/asias-50-best-restaurants.html.

For more information on Singapore, visit www.yoursingapore.com.

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You can reach me at inbetweendeadlines@gmail.com, on my blog www.cheryltiu.com, on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cheryltiu or on Instagram at www.instagram.com/chertiu.Photos by CHERYL TIU

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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