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Entertainment

Where to go for comfort food

RAZZLE-DAZA - Pat-P Daza - The Philippine Star
Where to go for comfort food
Mon and Chin Bagis of Pio’s Kitchen, one of Quezon City’s ‘open secrets.

A private dining restaurant called Pio’s Kitchen located along Scout Reyes is one of Quezon City’s open secrets. I discovered Pio’s Kitchen seven years ago when a dear friend celebrated her birthday there. Not only was the place warm and inviting, but I was also pleasantly surprised at how delicious the food was.

During that dinner, I met owners Mon and Chin Bagis, and found out that they met while they were flight attendants in Philippine Airlines (PAL). The handsome couple has since retired from PAL to grow their family and run their business.

I recently caught up with Chin to tell me about the story behind Pio’s Kitchen and how business is these days.

Chin says that her love affair with food began when she was a kid, and that her most vivid childhood memories always include food. While growing up in a huge Kapampangan household with 12 siblings, Chin was often in the kitchen helping her mom and lola. She loved reading cookbooks, watching cooking shows and dreaming of food and plating them. And so, her mom entrusted to her the responsibility of creating menus for their parties at home, making the market and grocery list, and even cooking meals when she was only 13 years old!

It was therefore no surprise when Chin took Hotel and Restaurant Management in St. Paul College, Quezon City. After graduating, she took further studies in Culinary and Pastry Arts in the Institute of Culinary Arts and Hotel Management. She then began working for PAL but still found time to take cooking classes in Spain, Vietnam and Thailand so she could further develop her skills. After her stint in PAL, during a year-long hiatus, she took a leap of faith and decided to go into catering and cook what she enjoyed making most, paella. Her version of the Spanish rice dish sold well enough so much so that what began as a one-woman show eventually grew into a team operation.

Pio’s Kitchen started in 2012 when the mid-century ancestral home of Chin’s grandparents was offered to her. Back then, the house had been vacant for quite some time and was in need of a renovation. Chin’s love for food continued to grow but the thought of opening a restaurant daunted her and she found the idea too ambitious. And so, her team started catering for small groups, with family and friends as their first customers. Their clientele grew slowly but surely, and before they knew it, they were getting enough bookings to keep the business going. To this day, the concept has not changed: It’s still a very private enterprise with no marketing team behind it, one that’s reliant on word-of-mouth and social media.

Beautiful table setting at Pio’s Kitchen for a luncheon with special girl friends.

Though I have been to Pio’s Kitchen numerous times, I can honestly say that the quality of Chin’s food is always excellent. Her menu is all about comfort, with food that tastes “like a big hug on a rainy day,” as Chin aptly puts it. Her culinary offerings are a mix of heirloom recipes inherited from her lola and mom, which consist of Spanish, Filipino and Mediterranean salads and appetizers. My favorite is the paella bagnet cooked in pork broth and saffron topped with homemade crispy bagnet and juicy shrimps, served with an eggplant chimichurri on the side. The surf-and-turf paella is also a taste of heaven.

She loves cooking stews and roasts, dishes that take time to prepare. Her meats, seafoods and vegetables are delivered daily and cooked the same day to ensure freshness and quality. To her, there is something deeply rewarding about preparing these types of dishes. For her, cooking is an act of love.

The pandemic, though, didn’t spare Pio’s Kitchen. Though Chin had to close the place, to stay afloat, they offered party trays to help the business survive. But since COVID-19 is still around, she sets limits to the number of guests they allow to ensure social distancing. To her, what’s challenging is having to turn down huge parties even though it doesn’t make good business sense to do so. But she’s hopeful that things will continue to get better so they can open their home to more diners and allow them to taste her love-infused culinary concoctions.

For inquiries and reservations: Pio’s Kitchen, 96 Sct. Reyes Street corner Sct. Fuentebella St., Quezon City. (02)7509-4529.

The restaurant’s signature Garlic Butter Crab.

KITCHEN

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