I have known Vic Barangan since the 90s, during my college days (I am not even going to try to hide my age). We had some common friends and would hang out. When we’d head home but not really want to, we’d stop by Shell Select, grab some snacks (and yes, booze), and continue our kwentuhan and tawanan seated on the sidewalk.
We recently reconnected and last week, the kwentuhan and tawanan resumed. But this time, we were with my brother Jai and in much more comfortable surroundings — the Eastwood Café+Bar at the Eastwood Richmonde Hotel where Vic is the executive chef. The ambiance is casual and welcoming, perhaps too welcoming that we ended up overstaying, our lunch lasted almost four hours!
We feasted on the Chef’s Specials for this quarter while reminiscing and catching up.
Dubbed “Mundial Cuisine”, the line-up consists of four choices for main course — all served with bread and spreads, salad, soup, and dessert. “This set of Chef’s Specials is mundial or global in terms of plating and presentation but flavor-wise, it’s local,” explained chef Vic.
The portions are huge, I think one set can fill up two stomachs. We didn’t know that until the dishes were in front of us.
My brother, Jai, went for the U.S. Short Ribs braised with Mt. Apo coffee (P995).
“That’s the champion!,” enthused chef Vic as the plate of ribs came out of the kitchen. The meat is served on a bed of ube nilupak (mashed), with pickled red cabbage on the side. This dish takes inspiration from our very own Crispy Tadyang except it is braised and lightly smoked. I couldn’t get enough of the nilupak (traditionally made with cassava).
My review: Nice!
My brother’s review: “The meat falls off the bone, but still has a bite that should satisfy any carnivore. The flavor of the beef is still the star of this dish despite being braised in coffee. Using ube instead of the usual potato or sweet potato brings a distinct change in texture and flavor that isn’t found in the common potato and meat combo.”
I clearly should not be the one doing restaurant features ‘no?
What had me raving (and craving as I write this!) was my order of Australian Lamb Shank adobar-style with garlic and Hollandaise (P985).
“Lamb is not very popular among Filipinos because of the gamey taste. To kill that, I braised, fried, and grilled the lamb, adobo-style. I guess you can say it’s something like our thrice-cooked adobo. It is served with adlai from Mindanao and poached egg because there are versions of adobo with egg. Others add potatoes and tomatoes to their adobo so you have potatoes and tomatoes there too,” chef Vic described. The meat was very flavorful and very tender, and would’ve been very good with a cup of white rice (and when I say something’s good with rice, it means I like it a lot and I am willing to get fat for it!)
The other entrée options are Parrotfish Fillet with tamarind, cilantro, jicama, Zambales mangoes (P895) and Abra Organic Chicken kiev-style with salted egg butter (P995) which uses Pamora Farm Free-Range Chicken.
We also got to try two items from their Drink-all-you-can + Chow-all-you-can menu (a steal at P750)
It’s only chef Vic’s 4th month in Eastwood Richmonde but he’s not entirely a newbie. He was the hotel’s banquet sous chef five years ago. He resigned to move to Davao because of family obligations. While there, he worked at Marco Polo and Waterfront Insular. He was also instrumental in putting together the LTB Chefs Association Philippines – Davao Chapter.
After Davao, he became corporate chef for Almont Resorts before returning to Eastwood Richmonde. But his passion really started as a Food Service student in O.B. Montessori. “I was not interested in becoming a chef, what I wanted was to be a bartender! At the time, I really liked going drinking. I pictured life being surrounded by chicks, on a cruise ship. I imagined myself as Tom Cruise in the movie “Cocktails”. That was my dream! Then a rich girl would fall in love with me, gift me with a yacht, and I’d be set for life!,” he disclosed, eliciting laughter.
But his teacher in O.B. Montessori pushed him to hone his culinary skills by frequently entering his name in competitions. “It was embarrassing because while I was an obedient student in class, I didn’t really do well,” he claimed. His teacher took notice of his exceptional ability in preparing sauces though. “My classmates would always mock me for following recipes down to the last gram. I did that because I wanted to see if the recipes were really good!”.
At some point, chef Vic was convinced to give up his bartender fantasies and seriously pursue being a chef. He eventually fell in love with the craft and saw his future in the kitchen. “I like the science behind cooking, the seemingly easy process which is actually long and tedious,” he claimed.
Somewhat like his career path, perhaps? After graduating in 1998, he worked at La Dolce Fontana Italian Restaurant then at Carpaccio and Zucchini’s. He moved to Blue Bacon and Green Eggs. Then to Lokal which I recall to be along Libis and I was able to visit a few times. Remembering how the restaurant was already pushing for Filipino cuisine then, I asked chef Vic if he has always been an advocate of Pinoy food. He credits the “UP and Ateneo boys” who owned Lokal for the nationalistic mindset.
After Lokal, chef Vic was employed at Seven Suites Hotel, then Rockwell Club and for some time was a teacher at his alma mater.
Then he dabbled in consultancy, whipping up private meals for VIPs and conceptualizing menus for various establishments including KTV bars. “I really want to try everything! The experience is priceless, even if it fails, I will still gain experience. I even put up my own panaderya!”
When the excitement of working independently waned, he signed up for a post at Lenox Hotel Dagupan then Greenland Leisure Suites in Cabanatuan. Afterwards, he moved to Holiday Inn Clark as executive sous chef and opened a pizza business in the area. He sold his shares when he decided to go back to Manila.
In between all that action, he took up short courses. Artisan bread baking in Sydney. Balinese cooking in Ubud. And advanced cake design in Hong Kong. “Yes, I studied cake design too! Because I didn’t know how to do it, so I wanted to learn. I wanted to know how every department in the kitchen works, I didn’t want to be limited to the hot kitchen,” he justified.
Whew. I got tired just typing Vic’s culinary journey! Haha!
To de-stress, this chef hits the gym or goes swimming and relaxes in the sauna. He consciously finds balance between work and his life outside work. “I make time for my wife, May and my daughter, Claire. I make sure to visit my parents and go to church. The equation has to be always complete.”
At home, it’s his wife who does the cooking. “I’m only in charge of preparing rice,” he said with much relief. He’s hoping to learn how to play the guitar soon. “My daughter is so fascinated by the guitarists in church. I’m worried she might look for a rock star. I should be the first rock star in her life,” he jests about his toddler.
But that new hobby may have to wait a bit. Aside from running the kitchens of Eastwood Richmonde Hotel, chef Vic is busy as a board member of the Hotel and Restaurant Chefs’ Association of the Philippines. He’s also gearing up for the upcoming National Food Showdown. Several members of his kitchen team are competing. “I show them how I do the dish and encourage them to ask questions and give suggestions. I tell them that I want it to be our recipe, I want it to be a collaboration so we all have ownership.” The vibe in their kitchen is relaxed. Music is allowed. “I don’t care how loud their speakers are as long as they do their jobs well.” Hmmm… as customers, we didn’t have any complaints at all.
You might want to hold your kwentuhan and tawanan sessions at Eastwood Café + Bar too!
The Mundial Cuisine Chef’s Specials will be available until November 30, 2018. For inquiries and reservations, visit Eastwood Richmonde Hotel at 17 Orchard Road, Eastwood City, Bagumbayan, Quezon City or call (632) 570-7777 / visit their Facebook page @EastwoodRichmondeHotel
To know what Chef Vic is cooking, follow him @vic_barangan on Instagram. If you want to meet him, order the Chef’s Specials. If he’s on duty, he’ll definitely step out of the kitchen to say hello. 😉