Last week, the local culinary scene said goodbye to the well-loved degustation restaurant, The Goose Station by Chef Rob and Sunshine Pengson. Its unique tasting menus and its interpretation of progressive Filipiniana cuisine have garnered various kinds of recognition: from being part of Asia’s best 500 restaurants, being honored by the prestigious Miele Guide as the Top Restaurant in Manila, being invited to do a pop up in Singapore, being featured in fine dining food lovers lists and on CNN. And Chef Rob adds, “finally landing an official presenter position in the first Madrid Fusion Manila 2015 for our Filipiniana concept of combining cuisine with culture and storytelling.”
But it’s definitely not goodbye to Chef Rob’s culinary journey — not by a long shot. He continues to grow The Global Culinary & Hospitality Academy, which now has four locations in Metro Manila and instructs over 500 students a year.
“Our school is run by a very good armada of chefs and non-chef team members who are really at the core of our successful 8-year run. Our students are also working as successful chefs all over the world and are in every major culinary hotspot in the country and the Asian region. To this day, the best feeling I have is when past students contact me and thank me for being a part in what changed their lives for the better.” In the pipeline are more innovation and growth exploration, as well as working with TESDA and NCCA to create jobs in the industry for more Filipinos.
For someone who did not really plan a career in food — he thought he would either be a businessman, artist, painter, architect, fireman, soldier or designer — Chef Rob eventually realized that cooking could be a way to make a proper living when he chanced upon a brochure of a culinary school in San Francisco. Of course, there were many stumbling blocks. “I took that chance, fell flat on my face many, many, many times when I started out but kept going! I’m happy I soldiered on.”
Cooking has been a passionate endeavor for Rob since he was a child, when his mother got him started in the kitchen at age 6. His childhood memories consist of “making chicken galantines, Canelones, baked potato skins with bacon, green onions and sour cream, Prawn Thermidor with garlic lemon butter, grilled beef tenderloin steak with Filipino style gravy (the best!), and a really simple but delicious parmesan-mayo-onion-white bread toast canapé, which may sound almost too simplistic but to this day I still find delicious!”
These days, Chef Rob is on a mission to be fully involved in his sons’ lives and make sure “they know in their hearts that I am the best dad in the world!” It’s a big reason why he and his wife, Sunshine, decided to close The Goose Station. The couple will be shifting their attention to Sunshine’s 13-year-old institutional catering business and expand its operations.
He reflects, “The Goose Station is more than a restaurant to us. It is a continually living being and is the primary medium wherein we surrender our creativity and cooking style with almost pure abandon.” And he leaves us with a cliffhanger: that in five to 10 years, we might be seeing its reincarnation in a country where it can earn a Michelin star, preferably in the Land of the Rising Sun.
Q&A with Chef Rob Pengson
What are the top three skills anyone should have in the kitchen?
1. Have a good palate by eating well and exploring new flavors and ideas both traditional and modern. You can’t cook good food if you have no idea what good food is. Eat fine food and eat street food and travel as much as your pocket can allow. If you can’t afford to travel, the internet and reading make it practically free to almost experience the best of what the world has to offer.
2. Season well. If you can’t season well, that’s just bad if you are a chef.
3. Be humble but confident, resilient but sensitive, honest but strong, and be an artist but knowledgeable in business as well. Values like these are what the best chefs are made of.
Where are your favorite places for food shopping?
I go to New Hatchin in Makati for Japanese ingredients. Shopping for staples for me has always been at Terry’s Selection and Santi’s Delicatessen for European items. Farmer’s Market and Dampa Macapagal are my go to wet markets for seafood. For vegetables, I am all over the place.
Is there a food item or dish that you tend to always order when eating out?
I’m vegan five days of the week now, so I go for a lot of vegetables, grains, cereals, nut milk and fruit.
When I do eat meat I make sure it’s worth it — it has to be either super amazing or super comfort. For example, if I’m going to eat sashimi it better be the best; if it’s beef, make sure it’s also the best.
But I do like my sinigang, daing na bangus, and my (and my eldest son’s) favorite, Spam!
What is your recommended menu for a romantic evening?
I recommend something light for a romantic evening. The worst thing you can do for a romantic meal is to be too full to do anything else afterward. ;p
What was the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting off? And what would you tell an aspiring chef-restaurateur?
“Do to others what you would have them do to you.” (Jesus Christ)
“What’s the point of life without big dreams?” (Dad)
“What’s the point of Big Dreams if you’re not realistic and don’t work to get positive results?” (Mom)
“You can defeat evil with kindness!” (Wife)
Get in touch with Rob Pengson via www.globalacademyph.com.