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To love the kitchen
Amare’s Edmark and Nica Bustos.

To love the kitchen

NEW BEGINNINGS - Büm D. Tenorio Jr. (The Philippine Star) - April 30, 2021 - 12:00am

Love, in all forms, is an ingredient for success. Love for life. Love for self. Love for one’s beloved.

Edmark Bustos failed many times before he hit the success button. But always, always present to give him a push was his then-girlfriend Nica, now his wife. He persevered because he wanted to be with her for the rest of his life, for them to be together in Baguio City, his place of residence. All he wanted then was to have a steady income of P20,000 and to pursue his passion for cooking — and get settled with Nica.

Nica, through all Edmark’s dreams and struggles, was there. She was the lighthouse in his journey to shore. There was no ocean to wide or too deep for a man who wanted to prove to the love of his life that he could swim as long as he saw the light.

Wood-fired brick-oven Tomahawk steak.

So Edmark, a registered nurse both in the Philippines and the US, swam and sank. And swam again. Love kept him afloat. Until he and Nica put up Amare La Cucina, a pizzeria in Baguio known for its  mouthwatering wood-fired brick-oven pizza, in July 2013. The restaurant’s name means “to love the kitchen” because there was no other way Edmark wanted to live his life, except by being in the kitchen. In the same kitchen that he and Nica had dreamt of.

He tried his luck in the US four times. On all those occasions, Lady Luck was elusive. Even if he was a registered nurse in the US, he couldn’t find a job in 2013 because of a recession that lasted for a few years. He even considered venturing into a fixed marriage, with Nica even finding him “his partner.” But when it was required that he break up with Nica to fulfill the arranged marriage, Edmark, without hesitation, disagreed and bid adieu to his American dream.

He came home to the Philippines “a failure” but with “a spirit ready to fight.” Using P15,000 he had borrowed from his dad, he flew to Palawan to work as a cook and waiter in a friend’s restaurant. Almost two weeks into his new job, he contracted dengue. He went back to Manila and got well in Nica’s arms.

In the past, he had been a volunteer nurse in a hospital in Baguio and a real estate agent. He almost hit it big when he put up a burger joint in front of a school in Baguio City but he was asked to stop operations because while Edmark was making big money, the school canteen was making less.

Sometime in May 2013, Edmark started to get hooked on everything that Jamie Oliver did. Oliver is a famous British chef and restaurateur known for his “approachable cuisine.” He got hold of his book, Meals in Minutes, and every second of Edmark’s life during that time was devoted to following the English chef — on YouTube, in the news, everywhere.

“That was the time I started cooking pizza every day in Nica’s house in Antipolo because we love Italian food. But Nica told me that it was useless practicing it using a gas oven. She suggested that I talk to my family and convince them to make a wood-fired oven in Baguio City, in our old house in DPS Compound. With the brick oven, I practiced every day how to make pizza and by July, we opened Amare in the compound with a few tables, a dishwasher. Nica was the waitress and cashier (she used to work as a waitress in the past). I doubled as cook and waiter,” Edmark says.

Edmark proudly says that even if he did not enter a culinary school, he learned diligently from “YouTube University.” YouTube taught him many things — from the basics of making pizza to building his own brick oven.

Gorgonzola pizza

From the first day Amare started operating, the smell of success was apparent. The first day was a hit, with customers enjoying the margherita pizza. The succeeding days saw the compound in a frenzy with people lining up to be seated. Just when the couple thought they could finally taste success, their neighbors complained to the city local government about Amare — how it caused noise, traffic, among others.

Edmark, with a very small capital coupled with a loan from his parents, was left with no option but to look for a place in Albergo Building on Villamor Drive in Barangay Lualhati in the City of Pines. With a rental fee now added to his expenses, Edmark could only hope for the best. And the best of his culinary life would come as his customers followed Amare to its new location. They came in throngs — families, officemates, lovers, groups of friends. His pizzeria became so popular that soon, from a small space, Edmark and Nica were able to expand by renting also the bigger space next to the restaurant.

Now, Amare La Cucina has other branches in Kapitolyo, Pasig; San Juan, La Union; Paseo de Sta. Rosa in Sta. Rosa, Laguna; Torres Farmand Resort in Naic, Cavite; and Tagaytay Highlands.

The pizzeria’s six-cheese pizza is a bestseller because the thin-crust pizza is oozing with mozzarella, parmigiano reggiano, raclette, gorgonzola or blue cheese, cheddar and manchego.

There’s no hit-and-miss in its pasta offerings because everything in the menu is heaven-sent — appetizing, tasty, filling.

Amare does not scrimp on ingredients. Close your eyes and you will feel that you are in Naples or Tuscany because most of the ingredients, aside of course from the freshly-picked produce from the gardens of Baguio or Tagaytay, are authentically from Italy.

Amare’s Tomahawk steak is a big sumptuous feast on its own, grilled inside the woodfired brick oven. The meat lands on your mouth and you taste heaven with each bite.

“I learned everything the hard way. And I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Edmark says. His heart is also bursting with gratitude for his parents, Mar and Edna Bustos. His father left his job as a director of Texas Instruments and joined Edmark as his finance consultant. His mom came home from the US to be the manager in his Baguio branch.

He has taken many blows in the past and the pandemic is a test he knew how to deal with when it came to restaurant operations. He did not close a single day because he was one of the first to reinvent the wheel — by tapping on two-wheel delivery and creating a bakery so no staff would be jobless.

Amare is a tale of love. It’s also a taste of love. It’s a scrumptious story of hard work, determination and faith. Edmark Bustos would not have it any other way.

(For inquiries, call Amare La Cucina at 0917-6290854 or 0917-7022959.)

 

 

(E-mail me at bumbaki@yahoo.com. I’m also on Twitter @bum_tenorio and Instagram @bumtenorio. Have a blessed weekend.)

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