When it comes to food, the Philippines has a lot to offer. From the juiciest and crispiest lechon that's a staple in most Filipino celebrations to the heavenly sweetness of the all-time favorite leche flan, many of our dishes never fail to tantalize and satisfy the tastebuds. This is why it’s high time our culinary offerings take center stage in Netflix’s latest romantic drama series, Replacing Chef Chico.
Starring Alessandra De Rossi, Piolo Pascual, and Sam Milby, Netflix’s first Filipino-produced original series revolves around a promising fine-dining restaurant that aspires to create dishes inspired by the unique life stories of its diners.
PhilSTAR L!fe had a chance to savor an early screening of its first two episodes and among the culinary dishes featured were the delectable stew kare-kare and the milk pudding tibok-tibok.
True to its promise, the show masterfully put a twist on these classic food items to make them more irresistible, while also incorporating the characters’ heartwarming stories for one emotional finish.
The dishes were all made possible thanks to Mae Montalban, a seasoned chef who has been working as a culinary instructor at the Magsaysay Center for Hospitality and Culinary Arts, Inc. (MIHCA) for five years.
With 29 years of experience working as a chef locally and abroad, Montalban proved that she not only knows her way around the kitchen but also how to get her creative juices flowing to make food visions a reality.
In an interview with L!fe, the food expert discussed her inspiration behind the dishes served at the show’s fictional restaurant, Hain.
“My inspiration was the story itself, when I first read the script I was hooked. The showcase of Filipino cuisine made me really excited! As a Filipina chef, this is my pride and I want to do my best and interpret the dishes excellently,” she said.
Showrunner Antoinette Jadaone conducted extensive research to curate the dishes that were going to be put into the final script, according to Montalban.
“My task was to interpret and recreate the dishes based on the visualization of the script. The initial dishes I developed were sisig lumpia, sinilabang kalabasa at talaba, kare-kare risotto, and tibok-tibok,” she said.
Montalban brought the dishes to life by conducting a series of taste tests to achieve the desired flavor.
“When I curate dishes, I often start with the name and from there, incorporate traditional ingredients utilizing modern techniques. Using my experience in recipe development, when clients have a base idea of their vision, I incorporate these first then inject techniques or ingredients that I deem fit for the dish,” she explained.
Sharing her knowledge
Each episode of Replacing Chef Chico revolved around a certain dish, each holding significance, and meaning. However, Montalban has a few personal favorites of her own.
“The tibok-tibok was delicious from recipe development to the final plate and since I love popcorn, I incorporated it into the plate, making it my favorite dish in the entire roster of dishes,” she shared.
“At first, I liked the idea of the sisig lumpia, it was plated with calamansi gastrique as the sauce. But throughout the shoot, it was shot almost every day, so medyo naumay ako,” she joked.
With the production putting food front and center, it’s only important that the cast also learn how to cook through a seven-day culinary workshop conducted by MIHCA.
The sessions were designed as a condensed module of their Professional Culinary Arts program, wherein they incorporated lessons on sanitation, knife skills, cooking methods, and plating of the initial dishes in the show.
“The culminating activity was to simulate an actual restaurant service and we invited guests like both Direk Antoinette and Direk Dan [Villegas] to eat. Then, they have to make a complaint about the food they got. So it was an immersion into the kitchen life and behind the restaurant scenario,” Montalban said.
“In this way, aside from teaching them the basics of cooking, we also believe that we can help the cast internalize their roles as chefs,” she added.
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Commenting on Montalban and MIHCA’s work, Villegas told L!fe, “They gave the best training outline for the actors, aside from giving a great package for the show.”
Replacing Chef Chico tells the story of how its titular character Chico (Milby) gets into an accident and is left in a coma. The fate of the restaurant now falls on the shoulders of his sous chef Ella (De Rossi), a development that isn’t immediately welcomed by the other cooks in the kitchen. Ella later receives help from a newly hired consultant Raymond (Pascual), who has more than just the restaurant on his mind.
Replacing Chef Chico premiered on Netflix on Nov. 24.