“Scientists labeled fat the enemy. Why they were wrong” read the Time magazine cover from June 2014. Below it, a roll of butter, curled into a nautilus, while written above in the same yolk hue, a proclamation: “Eat Butter.” A calculated, science-supported, and indirect fuck you to the organic trend in its infancy, it was a magazine cover nothing short of epic.
Now while a portion of Manila is still fully embracing the greenery—diet meals, vegetable juices, salad bars—there are still the exceptions that exist, the renegades of dining that are unfazed by the faction; those that will not only eat that butter but will cook with it, too. Among them, chef Kel Zaguirre, who first displayed his kitchen prowess through the Kapitolyo staple Locavore. The restaurant, which is somewhere between late night drinking joint and elevated sidewalk diner (read: carinderia), has managed to spin Filipino food into ways unexplored. Breaded baby oysters are used instead of pig’s mask bits for sisig, while sinigang’s emblematic broth is stripped off and replaced by a thick and piquant tamarind-tinged gravy.
But while Locavore piles on the bold flavors, it’s at his latest restaurant, Fat (G/F Forbestown Center, BGC, Taguig; 834-8600), where bold ingredients are whittled down to a clean and canny state. Its name may render thoughts of thick bites of oil slicked on the palate, but Zaguirre has managed to create a range of plates that, quite literally, aren’t hard to swallow. Here, fat is at the forefront of each dish, as opposed to it being just the extra appendage.
A category aptly named Fat Snacks on the menu has the Pork’s Ear En Croute that proves most triumphant. Slats of rye bread are smothered in dollops of goat cheese, then topped with a canvas of crunchy pig ears, and a few sprigs of micro-greens. With it, a dip trio of herb oil, saffron aioli, and a surprising mango mayonnaise that will trump the rest.
Fat’s entrées on the menu read like a simple story. So simple, in fact, that they come off sounding rather plain at first. Here is where Zaguirre’s training in French cooking shines through, in his ability to mask full-bodied flavors into deceptively hushed dishes. Each item comes off uncluttered, with smacks of heat, tartness, and tanginess, pulling off punches in a nice finish.
As an end to the already ostentatious meal, Zaguirre whips out the crazy in a chicken-and-waffles dessert, made in collaboration with Sebastian’s Ice Cream’s Ian Carandang. House-made stroopwafels nestle a glob of chicken fat ice cream, which tastes like a ginger and spice-infused Russian pryaniki cookie, with a much richer mouthfeel from the rendered fat.
Fat’s menu is a summation and full expression of Zaguirre’s preferred palate. And when you’ve come to terms with the fact that a bowl of greens and quinoa rice replacement might not cut it anymore, Fat’s rundown of meals may just be what your own taste buds prefer as well.
First published in Rogue’s 2015 Style Issue, now available on newsstands, bookstores, and digitally on Zinio.com/Rogue.