On the evening of December 10, Wilter Nerviol, a waiter at Korean barbecue restaurant Café Chosun on the corner of Pedro Gil and Adriatico in Malate, welcomed his latest round of customers—two caucasian men—with his usual jovial greeting.
He casually addressed them as “My friends!” and seated them in a corner booth far from the door. The two men mentioned that they would be expecting a third guest.
Shortly after the third guest’s arrival, Nerviol’s attention was called by a couple occupying a neighboring booth. They asked the waiter if the third guest was Anthony Bourdain, a name that didn’t seem to ring any bell to Nerviol. They stressed that Bourdain, a television personality and bestselling author, was someone “famous.”
The restaurant staff was quick to inform Café Chosun’s head chef Mark Kim, general manager Billy Choi, and legal and financial officer Arlene Villaflorez of the night’s special guest. Kim and Choi were not immediately aware of Bourdain’s status in the culinary world, but Villaflorez’s reaction was instantaneous: “Sikat yan!”
Café Chosun has had its fill of famous customers in the past. The management named John Lloyd Cruz, Pepe Smith, and the Mocha Girls. But there was something about this level of international celebrity that unhinged Nerviol.
Following this discovery, Nerviol proceeded to approach Bourdain’s table with more caution. He still referred to the group as “My friends!” but he was no longer as confident, as collected. Carefully, he served each ingredient individually on Bourdain’s table, rather than bring them all at once, as he usually did.
Eventually, the couple in the neighboring booth—photographer David Hanson Ong and his wife, Katharina Huang—approached the table as well, to ask Bourdain for a picture. The photograph of Bourdain with Ong and Huang would become the earliest confirmation of the CNN Parts Unknown host’s much-hyped return to the Philippines, a return that was promised in September of this year.
Rogue learned that in the five days since Bourdain’s appearance at Café Chosun, many fans have flocked to the restaurant, requesting the exact same menu. Bourdain and his companions ordered the Dungsim (rib-eye angus); a medium-rare rib finger called Galbisal (“Ayaw daw niyang lutong-luto,” stressed Nervier); and Hangjeongsal (pork jowls). As in many Korean barbecue restaurants, the food in Café Chosun is cooked on the table, but over a solid stone plate rather than a steel grill or portable stove.
After Ong and Huang’s photo, the waiters and chefs on duty that night gathered together for a quick, albeit blurry selfie with Bourdain.
Wilter Nerviol meanwhile was rewarded with Bourdain’s personal compliments: “Good service, good food!”
Café Chosun is located at 1555 Pedro Gil St. corner Adriatico St., Ermita, Manila. Call +63 2 256 3641.