The chef
as storyteller

I turned to cooking out of a necessity to have a good, nourishing meal at home. But after a while, while discovering and learning more about ingredients, cooking processes, methods, flavors, and even new, modernist techniques, the cook in me had to step out of the comfort zone of the kitchen, and out of my own set of comfort food, so to speak, and see the bigger picture: that there’s more to food than what meets the eye, or say, what is on a plate, or the sensations of flavors and textures you experience in your palate.

That is when I saw the reality how the world is feeding itself, the politics and systems that run the world’s food production and how it is affecting or changing the way we eat and eventually, alter the future of food and our cuisine, in general. It is something I just could not escape from, or turn a blind eye to. Cooking, to me, in a sense, becomes a political act, like all art must be. It is more about embracing this sense of responsibility while creating in our kitchen what I call food experiences.

A lot of our food ingredients, heritage crops and native fruit trees—like the Catmon fruit, Cebu cinnamon, biasong, kalumpit, sapinit—are fast vanishing. Their existence is threatened by deforestation, or because they are hardly propagated as they have less or no commercial value at all. Even some of our indigenous crops like the tinigib, tinduganay, adlai, kabog, are rarely sold in the market because only a handful of our local farmers are growing them.

To me, as a cook, these are food and ingredients that not only represent our terroir, but also my identity as a cook, most importantly. With what everyone is cooking and eating now, and the overabundance of manufactured food and ingredients coming from all over, the whole mix is muddling, and a cook can easily get lost, losing his roots, in the process.

The vision became very clear to me, from the get-go: to create experiences out of the food I create using the ingredients I can identify myself with, these ingredients that give me a sense of home, a sense of rootedness.

I thought that was the story I must tell through the food we serve at Sialo.

Sialo is all about telling these stories; it is about re-starting these conversations: how to tell the world what precious heritage food we have, what they mean to us, as a people, what must we do to preserve them for generations to come.

In a manner of speaking, this is where we start when we talk about the future of Cebuano cuisine.