Food and Leisure

'Elevated' Filipino food shines in new Kuya J, Chef Gino Gonzalez collaboration

Deni Rose M. Afinidad-Bernardo - Philstar.com
'Elevated' Filipino food shines in new Kuya J, Chef Gino Gonzalez collaboration
Filipina beauties (from left): Actresses Max Collins, Sunshine Cruz and Elisse Joson at Kuya J's recent new 'Bida' creations by Chef Gino Gonzalez launch in Makati City.
Philstar.com/Deni Rose M. Afinidad-Bernardo

MANILA, Philippines — From “J,” Filipino restaurant chain Kuya J has now turned to a new kuya “G” in the guise of Chef Eugenio “Gino” Gonzalez, Jr.

With the help of new “kuya Gs,” father-and-son celebrity chefs Gene and Gino Gonzalez, Kuya J recently unveiled its revamped menu described by Group Chief Operating Officer (COO) Roy Quejada as “elevated” Filipino fare.

“Kuya Jeff, Kuya Jason, Kuya Jan-jan. It’s really Kuya Juan and Kuya J is about all of us, everything Filipino,” Quejada explained what the “J” in their branding stands for — and not “Jericho” or after its celebrity endorser, Jericho Rosales.

“Elevated Filipino food experience is about being relevant. So let’s try to be relevant, not expensive. Let’s try to have at least an indention in the minds of everyone in the world, and that’s what we’re trying to achieve with the help of Chef Gino, Chef Gene, and the rest of the Kuya J family, we’d like to elevate the Filipino dining experience and make it accessible to all.”

Actors Carla Abellana and JC de Vera at the new menu launch
Philstar.com/Deni Rose M. Afinidad-Bernardo

According to him, the collaboration comes in the heels of Filipinos getting their first Olympic gold medal, when weightlifting record holder Hidilyn Diaz won it at the 2020 Summer Olympics. Also during the pandemic, Filipino food such as Pancit and Lumpia topped global charts.

“Tonight, we try to elevate Filipino dishes and that’s a true testament to all of us Filipinos who have gone through a pandemic. Why? Filipinos have become good and renowned not only because we exceled in sports. Even food in the global stage!”

Related: Pinoy Lumpiang Shanghai beats Karaage, Banh Mi at world best street food list

Arguably the restaurant chain’s first chef collaborator, Chef Gino, is happy to have been given freedom to express his creativity in the new menu aptly coined “Bida.”

“They approached me, my team, and then maganda ‘yung ideas nila eh. Maganda na after the pandemic, they want to uplift Kuya J’s brand, so they’re renovating the branches. Parang we shared the same ideas. Nabigyan ako ng freehand. Maganda ‘yung symbiosis (between our teams),” Gonzalez told Philstar.com in an exclusive interview.

“Maganda kasi hindi ako nilimit sa ideas. Basta Filipino, pwede. Kapag tinignan mo ‘yung dishes, kakaiba. Pero kapag tinikman mo, alam mong Pinoy food eh.”

Celebrity chefs and father-and-son Gene (left) and Gino Gonzalez at the new menu launch.
Philstar.com/Deni Rose M. Afinidad-Bernardo

From over 20 dishes created for the “Bida” menu, the first drop launched nine creations — from appetizers to main course and desserts because the restaurant chain wants a “good balance” of everything, said the chef. 

For the new appetizers, there is Pataron — pata and Chicharon in one sinfully delicious bite — featuring crunchy pieces of the restaurant’s signature Crispy Pata served with a Chili Tuba Dip that has a level of tanginess designed to complement the crispy pork dish. 

The Patis Chicken Skin is another perfect way to start any meal. The marinated chicken skin is fried until delightfully crunchy and served with a fish sauce-infused dip to complement its deep-fried goodness.

For the mains, there is the aromatic Pinandan na Manok — chunks of boneless chicken marinated in his proprietary concoction then wrapped in pandan leaves to impart the freshness of the leaves before being fried until golden, juicy, and fragrant. Its pandan leaf wrapping might be Thai-like, but the sauces are very Filipino, Chef Gino assured.

The Spicy Hipon sa Aligue is an indulgent seafood affair with pieces of shrimp swimming in Aligue sauce with a hint of spiciness before being topped with crispy garlic, fried shallots, and spring onions. 

Meanwhile, Tamarind Squid is Chef Gino’s way of combining the timeless mix of sweet and sour flavors with just a little bit of heat. 

Lastly, if you love Kuya J’s Sinigang na Tadyang ng Baka, you’ll love Chef Gino’s Crispy Tadyang ng Baka served with house-made sweet potato chips. Like in Pataron and Patis Chicken Skin, Crispy Tadyang ng Baka owes its crispiness from slow-cooking: steamed, air-dried, then deep-fried. Beef ribs were cooked until juicy before being deep-fried until delightfully crunchy, making it the ideal partner for warm steamed rice. 

Finally, for dessert, there is Banana Turon con Leche, which takes Turon on a whole new level, filling it not just with bananas, but with creamy Leche Flan as well. The crisp Turon sits next to a scoop of coconut milk shaved ice, drizzled with peanut butter cream and served with Muscovado syrup on the side. 

Also good for sharing is Coco Ginumis, a light and refreshing treat made with coconut milk shaved ice topped with Gulaman (jellies), Muscovado syrup and crispy pinipig. 

Lastly, Chef Gino also made Lecheroon, every dessert lover’s dream realized in a layer of house-made macaroons nestled on a bed of house-made vanilla sauce then topped with a generous layer of calamansi-infused flan.

“Lahat ng dishes na ‘yan are new and exclusive to Kuya J’,” Chef Gino asserted.

Apart from Chef Gino’s exclusive creations, the dining joint also revamped their iconic Crispy Pata by making it it juicer and crispier, served with house-made Atsara and soy sauce-based with tuba, sugar, and local chili on the side.

Desserts (top, from left): Coco Ginumis, Banana Turon con Leche and Lecheroon. Main course (bottom, from left): Rice topped with Pataron, with Pinandan na Manok on the side; Patis Chicken Skin; Tamarind Squid.
Philstar.com/Deni Rose M. Afinidad-Bernardo

According to Quejada, their restaurant chain is very satisfied with Gonzalez’s concoctions. 

“We are glad to have found the perfect partner in Chef Gino who understood and executed our vision exceptionally well,” he stated.

“We want to help change people’s minds. We want to offer elevated Filipino food, a better dining experience, without sacrificing people’s budgets. With this collaboration, we hope more people will realize that you don’t have to spend a lot to enjoy great food at a chef-driven concept like this.”

The toughest challenge he had when creating the dishes, said Chef Gino, was making them doable and consistent in quality among the chain’s 79 branches nationwide, which he accomplished by having the dishes plated family-style.

With the good feedback, the Culinary Arts Director and head of the Research & Development Department at the Center for Asian Culinary Studies believes that his partnership with the restaurant label will continue after the two to three drops of new dishes in their collaboration, which continues to 2023.

“Talagang Filipino cuisine is the best cuisine,” he said of his best learning from the tie-up experience.

“Now that we’re all slowly crawling out of the pandemic, talagang well, support local, talagang pagkaing Filipino!”

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