It’s a Wednesday, a few hours before opening, and there is movement all around Toyo Eatery. Tables are being set, meals are being prepared. It’s organized chaos — and it’s set to a soundtrack of Mozart.
“Naglalaro lang kami today,” says Chef Jordy Navarra. “I came in and they were playing classical music. I said, ‘What’s up with you guys?’”
For the past year, Navarra, also known for Black Sheep, has been serving up the local flavors we’ve all come to love, but not quite as we’ve known them. His cooking has been described as bold and innovative, and one bite into any dish at Toyo Eatery is proof positive.
The Edition recently sat down for an interview with Chef Navarra, in which he talked about ingredients he thinks are under-appreciated, the recipes he’s working on, and the role food has played in his life.
Leading the kitchen day-to-day at a restaurant, do you prefer sticking to a routine or mixing it up?
With what we do, there’s a creative side where you try to create dishes, where you try to learn ingredients, find out ways to cook. And then there’s this production side. Kasi with food, it’s not like you do it once, tapos you’re done na. It’s something you have to do constantly and consistently. So there’s this side where you have to be set with the routine. The production side, I guess, [comes with] feeding people everyday. So I guess there’s a balance to it, which is nice.
How does food keep you on your toes?
There’s so much to learn about it. Even if we spend a lot of our time thinking about it, eating, the further you get into it, the more you realize that there’s a lot more to learn.
What’s an ingredient that you think is underrated?
Different kinds [of rice]. Different ways to cook it, different ways to use. From eating steamed rice to making it into flour, or making it into something else, like vinegar. I think there’s a lot to it. We have a lot in filipino food in general that aren’t well understood even by us who use it a lot, like patis and suka.
For example, you can buy coconut vinegar from three different people and it’ll be very different. I like that a lot because there are some that are sweet, and there are some that are sour, so I like the range.
Have you been working on or experimenting with new dishes or food-related projects?
One long-term project we have is making condiments. Toyo, bagoong, patis, mga ganoon. And that takes a lot of time. so that’s the one thing that we’re always trying to do. We actually make some now, and then we run out a lot.
What roles has food played in your life?
Before it was a job, it was a fun, festive thing. For us, it was about eating out, family gatherings. Then, transitioning from being something super fun, there was a time where it was something that frustrated me, because I wanted to understand it more. Now, I look at it as a skill, and it’s a craft. So it’s played a big part. Sa family ko rin, we still enjoy eating out. It’s really, really nice, because it connects us with other people in other fields, in other industries, so it’s been everything for us. – Fiel Estrella
Toyo Eatery is located in The Alley at Karrivin Plaza, 2316 Chino Roces Ave, Makati.
Photo by Patrick Diokno