Inside the Personal Cooking Spaces of 7 Acclaimed Local Chefs

A portfolio of Manila’s most reputable culinary talents and the kitchens they call home.

by Devi de Veyra, Jam Pascual, and Margaux Salcedo, photo by Patrick Diokno

The world of fine dining, especially within the kitchen, is portrayed as cutthroat, hectic, and merciless––the chef expected to be just as tough––at least during business hours. Here, we take a look at how these local culinary flagbearers change it up in their personal kitchens and, in the process, discover what makes them tick when the heat is off.



The Market Dweller

Cyrille Soenen

Chef Cyrille Soenen is considered one of the best chefs in the world, holding the title of Maitre Cuisiniers de France (Master Chef of France), one of the highest honors a chef can get. Today he impresses gourmets at Resorts World’s fine dining outlet Impressions, where they bring in oysters from Brittany, Caviar Ossietra Malosol, and pigeon also flown in from France. While guests at the restaurant enjoy imported delicacies, guests at Soenen’s home enjoy whatever he finds at the market that morning. “At home I just cook what I want to cook, whatever I find in the market. I’m not looking for anything expensive or imported.” He prepares recipes he learned from his parents like traditional roasted chicken, or something as simple as omelet, but everything cooked in a typical French manner. “I like to cook without being pressured by time, with a glass of wine and everyone talking to me in the kitchen.” – Margaux Salcedo



The Young Bull

Gab Bustos

“I guess overall, the entire space is really a work in progress,” says Gab Bustos, the culinary brain behind The Girl + the Bull and 12/10, which he runs with his partner Thea de Rivera. Aside from having just moved into the new space three months prior and still finding a place for everything, Bustos has to contend with the restraints of living in a condominium. An induction cooker instead of open fire—and Bustos does a lot of grilling—makes experimentation difficult, but maybe that isn’t the point of this kitchen. “It’s great cooking here at home . . . because we’re just cooking for us.” he says. The main goal in this space, if anything, is to decompress. Pan the camera to a collection of bottles and a whole bunch of glassware. “I don’t know if you notice, but . . . ,” de Rivera starts. “We drink a lot,” Bustos finishes. – Jam Pascual



The Comfort Foodie

JP Anglo

Chef JP Anglo, or Chef Jayps, as he is more popularly called, keeps busy running the kitchens of several restaurants scattered all over the metro, such as the three branches of Sarsa Kitchen+Bar and Kafe Batwan in Rockwell, to name a few. He is one of the most recognizable chefs in the country; following his stint in the Master Chef series Hungry with Chef JP, a travel and food show that combines Anglo’s passion for cooking and surfing, recently debuted on CNN Philippines. At home, the bachelor hardly cooks. “My staple diet is chicken inasal from Sarsa,” he says, “and sometimes I prepare couscous using the rice cooker.” He did try to impress an ex-girlfriend with something fancier (steak) but it didn’t turn out quite right. “Cooking in the restaurant is easy, but cooking for someone you love is difficult,” he confessed. He counts the microwave as the single indispensable appliance in his personal kitchen and has mastered cooking the perfect scrambled eggs. “The secret is to keep moving it,” he proudly said. For days when he’s short of his favorite comfort food take-out from his own restaurants, there’s always canned love: “Puro SPAM ang laman ng cabinet ko.” – Devi de Veyra 


The Kitchen Warrior

Bruce Ricketts

Chef Bruce Ricketts’ father was a mixed martial arts pioneer who was contracted to teach the sport by the US government. “That’s why we moved to San Diego when I was 15,” Rickets explains, “that’s my family’s line of work.” While in San Diego, a young Ricketts worked odd jobs in the area’s restaurants. He caught a glimpse of–and was draw to–the exciting kitchen culture where he likened the crews to “dysfunctional families” that would argue and sometimes come to blows, but would eventually come together when push came to shove. He later returned to Manila and opened Sensei in BF Homes, followed by Mecha Uma at the Fort. These days, he can be found slaving in his highly-successful kitchens. “Until today, I still cook the same way–it has to be me behind the cutting board,” he confesses. In the apartment Ricketts now shares with longtime girlfriend Jae Pickrell, a magazine editor, his kitchen is simple and spartan. There is order in it, and a sense of settled domesticity despite the fact that the master of the house prefers to steer clear of the stove when he’s home. Perhaps he is reserving his energy for his growing patrons. “I want them to know that it’s far from me getting tired and turning around and retiring. It’s just starting.” – Devi de Veyra



The Conquistador

Chele Gonzalez

Chele Gonzalez is fierce in the kitchen. After all, he has a reputation to uphold. Gallery Vask was recently ranked No. 39 in the list of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants, the only Philippines-based restaurant to make it this year. He hit the ground running in Manila when he arrived almost a decade ago, impressing the snootiest gourmets with his prowess for molecular gastronomy as a disciple of no less than Chef Andoni Aduriz of Mugaritz and the genius Ferran Adria, among others​. But it wasn’t until his Kulinarya menu at Gallery Vask that not only Manileños but the world took notice. Once Gonzalez started exploring Philippine terrain, he was on a roll, discovering flavors from north to south that he shared on the Madrid Fusion stage earlier this year. At home, though, he likes to keep it simple. He likes to cook his mother’s signature dishes or recipes from the very first cookbook that he owned, 1080 Recetas de Simone Ortega, which he recommends for every aspiring chef. “I just need an oven—that’s the most important thing​,” he shares. “And a good chopping board. That’s it.” – Margaux Salcedo



The Family Man

J. Gamboa

Though he’s busy as top guy for the kitchens of his family’s restaurants Circulo, Azuthai, Milky Way Café and Tsukiji, Chef J. Gamboa also likes to cook at home and has been hosting the Gamboa’s Christmas dinners for the past eight years. The chef designed his private kitchen with help from architect Gary Coscuella. The space had to accommodate Gamboa’s required equipment and features, such as the industrial grade ref, an island stove, a dish-washing machine and a separate pantry. At the same time, Gamboa had to find the space for a sentimental piece: “My 1950s vintage Gibson stove from my best friend Quito Jose of Brother’s Burgers,” was his quick reply when asked about his favorite object. “Incidentally, this is the stove with which the first Brother’s Burger was made.” There is one last thing that’s on his wish list:  “A La Cornue Rotisserie to roast birds and meats, like what my pal Dan Kawpeng has in his beautiful home in Laguna. But I have no space for that. I’m quite happy dreaming about it.” – Devi de Veyra 



The Traditionalist

Sandy Daza

You might recognize Sandy Daza from his food and travel show Food Prints. Or from his restaurant Wooden Spoon at the Power Plant Mall in Rockwell. The earlier generation, though, might remember him from his cameos on his mom’s television show Let’s Cook with Nora or from his own show later on, Cooking with Sandy. At his restaurant, Daza has continued the tradition of presenting Filipino food to a global audience. “My philosophy in cooking is to offer familiar flavors but unusual dishes,” he shares. So at Wooden Spoon, he offers such items as stuffed pechay, crab pancit, and century egg salad. At home, he lives by tradition as well, maintaining both a regular and a dirty kitchen, typical of a Filipino family used to feeding bigger broods and preparing for fiestas. While his kitchen equipment are modern, his menu is classic: pork chop, kaldereta, and sinigang. “I can’t live without comfort food,” he confesses. And as for kitchen essentials? “I can’t live without my wooden spoon!” – Margaux Salcedo


This article was originally published in The Appetite Issue of Rogue, May 2016.