Jose Paolo S. dela Cruz (The Philippine Star) - August 29, 2015 - 10:00am

MANILA, Philippines - When celebrity chef Sandy Daza faces the camera for his cooking shows on TV, which he began taping in the early ‘90s, he holds on to his wooden spoon. It was his security blanket back then; and the embodiment of his passions today.

Now, the term “Wooden Spoon” would probably inspire food lovers to head to Katipunan, Pasig or Rockwell, so that they may satisfy their cravings for familiar Filipino dishes at reasonable prices.

“In the end, Filipinos will go back to Filipino food. If you’re going to serve fusion Filipino, I don’t think it will click. If you serve expensive Filipino food no one’s gonna buy it. They’ll say, ‘Kaya ko rin iluto ‘yan,’” says Sandy, talking to this writer a few hours before Wooden Spoon opened its doors at the Power Plant Mall that day.

Sandy exudes a laid-back charm. He elucidates with expertise without baiting you with jargon, he minces his words without fraying his passions. And it is apparent when he talks about Wooden Spoon — a passion project he opened in 2012. More than being a successful restaurant though, the Wooden Spoon is the embodiment of his successful homecoming, a redemption he has prayed for.

The world has become Sandy’s home. Yet in the end, he finds himself in the Philippines.

In his twenties, he called France home when he worked as a cashier, waiter, then eventually a chef in his mother’s, the late Nora Daza, Filipino restaurant in Paris. “As a waiter, you wait for the cooks to finish cooking the food before serving it. One day, our cook just left. I realized that by watching him, I’ve learned to cook, in a way,” he shares.

The first dish he tried cooking for the restaurant was the crab pancit. When customers didn’t notice the difference, Sandy gained the confidence to cook for a living. On his own, he enrolled at the Ecole Le Cordon Bleu, ready to pursue the path of the toque-d. Indeed, what started out as his parents’ maneuver to prevent their 20-year-old son from living the life of a radical, leftist frat boy at the University of the Philippines, altered the course of Sandy’s life.

A few decades forward, after Sandy has produced and hosted one of the longest-running food TV shows in the Philippines, he called it quits and headed to icy Canada. “It was adventure that brought me there. I was already doing very well in Manila but after visiting Canada with my family for vacations, I thought, why not give it a shot?”

Unfortunately, adventure turned awry. “Canada was a very humbling experience. My idea was to put up a show, get known, then put up a restaurant. I was able to do that but my restaurant folded,“ he sighs.

This brought him home in 2010. “I brought my family back, and my kids thought ‘Hey! It isn’t too bad here’.”

Sandy didn’t hit the ground running upon returning in 2010. Instead, the adventurous chef took time to find his bearings and rediscover the Filipino palate. Together with his business partner Ding Halili, he opened the doors of Wooden Spoon in 2012, its first branch located in Katipunan, Quezon City.

From then on, the dream continued to flourish. Three years into it, and the numbers keep growing.

With the full house he enjoys in all three branches, Sandy seems to have succeeded in his venture. “When I approach a table of six, each person on that table would more or less name a different favorite,” shares Sandy. Among the Wooden Spoon’s most popular dishes are the Bicol express, dinuguan na bagnet, lechon kawali with KBL (kamatis, bagoong and lasona or spring onions), crab pancit and century egg salad, beef kare-kare and Sandy’s beef curry.

“My dream is to have a menu, that when you close your eyes and point at any dish randomly, you will like what you’ve chosen. I think that is what Wooden Spoon has become,” he says.

Unlike his two other branches though, the one in Rockwell is gifted with a different setting altogether.

“This is a place where people go to shop, watch a movie…not just eat,” he says. At the same time, he loves the challenge of being in a crowd of restaurants, which inspires many chefs and restaurateurs to innovate and make their own kitchen stand out.

Photography by RITA MARIE • Creative direction and overall styling by Luis Espiritu Jr. • Grooming by BABA PARMA • Hairstyling by RONNIE TUMAMAK


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