Looking out for each 'under', Rhea and JayJay SyCip at their The Fatted Calf restaurant.
‘Dairy tales’ can come true...
WRY BREAD - Philip Cu Unjieng (The Philippine Star) - November 24, 2019 - 12:00am

The story behind The Fatted Calf Farmhouse Kitchen in Tagaytay, a passion project of chefs (and married couple) Rhea and JayJay SyCip, is one of making a relationship work despite challenging odds and trials of fortitude. And above all, it’s belief in each “udder,” and trusting in the future, and the viability of your “dairy tale.”

The Fatted Calf opened its doors end-July of this year, and so far, it’s been “Open for Business” during Saturdays and Sundays — given the realities of its location, and the Tagaytay market. The work circumstances of the couple are a factor unto themselves — Rhea works at the Holiday Inn Makati during the week, while JayJay consults on culinary matters for a host of clients in Manila. But The Fatted Calf is their little Tagaytay “bovine” dream come true, and they reside behind the restaurant.

Yes, you read it right, they reside in a bungalow situated within the expansive The Fatted Calf grounds they’re renting. And while JayJay’s consulting means he takes meetings in Manila, but can do most of the paperwork in Tagaytay; Rhea commutes to Makati every weekday — JayJay drops her off at the Tagaytay bus station early in the morning, and picks her up at night. I’m gnashing my teeth and staving off impatience when I’m stuck in Metro Manila traffic for over 40 minutes, so I hate to even imagine what Rhea’s weekday commute consists of.

I met the couple when they were both working with the Discovery Group; Rhea at Discovery Primea, while JayJay was the executive chef at Verbena, Discovery Country Suites, Tagaytay. And it was during this phase of their work life that the dream of a farmhouse kitchen in Tagaytay took shape. Fast forward through the years of looking for the right location, and being patient about the sourcing of ingredients and developing the menu, and this passion project is finally a reality.

I would be remiss if I didn’t devote a couple of paragraphs to the food of The Fatted Calf. There’s been a proliferation of dining choices in Tagaytay, but outside of the hotels (which can get costly), the high-level dining experience that the restaurant offers is available only at a handful of eateries. JayJay takes pride in how a lot of the ingredients are sourced in close proximity to the restaurant, achieving the sustainable approach. If the vegetables aren’t organically grown, it’s grown as nature intended — from local farmers and microentrepreneurs. One of their specialties is the roast leg of beef, a menu choice that can easily feed four to five, and still leave something to take back to Manila.

My favorite was the pan-fried barramundi (apahap). On the menu it says served with patani beans, but as they weren’t in season, JayJay substituted them with edamame, and with the crispy skin, chorizo, corn purée and calamansi vinaigrette, this was heaven-sent. The wonderful terrines come in three variants — ham, tinapa and sisig. And don’t miss out on Rhea’s prize-winning Hummingbird cake. Think of a carrot cake but with divine banana bread and bits of pineapple in every mouthful. I don’t see many dessert places offering this, so this one alone justifies the drive to The Fatted Calf.

The restaurant is located at 23 Vito Belarmino Road, Bucal, Silang, Cavite. It’s the same road where you find Anya Resort, but further down Belarmino Road. It’s best to call first (0917-7892352) and reserve as the layout of the tables seats 30 customers. I joked with Rhea and JayJay that even if only on the strength of the fates having pity on Rhea and her daily commute, the gods should look kindly on The Fatted Calf, and drive customers to seek them out.

But fortunately for foodies, there’s really more at stake, and on offer at the restaurant. It’s excellent comfort food driven up a couple of notches; and there’s fertile imagination at work from both Rhea and JayJay, giving the familiarity of the dishes something a little extra and unexpected. The couple’s “dairy tale” really deserves to prosper, and I know it’s a challenge to sustain an independent restaurant in this day and age but I’m crossing my fingers (and eyes), that this one works, as it’s now going to be one of my favorite stopovers when I’m in the area.

 

FATTED CALF FARMHOUSE KITCHEN
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