One of the newest and most in-demand restaurants in the city right now is Toyo Eatery, by Chef Jordy Navarra.
“It’s a Filipino Eatery,” he explains, “that takes the essence of Philippine flavors, traditions, and techniques and puts it in tune with quality products. We pay homage to the culture of Filipino eateries and serve food based on what’s available and in season. Toyo is our first born that is still learning how to walk one step at a time so we’re really just enjoying the process right now and not looking ahead or planning for what’s next too much.”
The family-run eatery (Chef Navarra runs it alongside his wife, and his team that helped him build it from scratch) is no ordinary Filipino restaurant. After all, Jordy Navarra’s culinary journey began when he discovered the world of haute cuisine which made him decide to become a chef.
“I always enjoyed eating out, but not until reading about ‘top level’ food did I discover that food could be creative and fun, not just tasty. Because of this, I decided to pursue my interest in cooking by enrolling in culinary school and learning the basics. After school, I wrote to different restaurants both local and abroad and got a response from only one — The Fat Duck in England. Their food philosophy and approach was what inspired me to pursue cooking, so I jumped at the chance to learn from them.”
Since his time at The Fat Duck, Chef Jordy worked at different restaurants in the area, trying to learn as much as he could and from as many chefs that would let him.
“It was definitely eye-opening working with amazing chefs and great teams but, I wanted to cook food that was closer to what I liked to eat — more in tune with the food I grew up eating. Fast forward to a trip I made to Hong Kong and a meal I had at Bo Innovation in Wanchai. At that time, they were using all these new techniques and contemporary interpretations of Chinese food and this is where I realized that I wanted to be working with ingredients I was familiar with (rice, soy sauce, garlic, etc). This is also when I discovered and learned a cuisine I was very much interested in eating — Chinese. Luckily, Alvin Leung, Bo Innovation’s talented chef, was there and he was willing to take me on.”
Love brought him back to Manila, where he got married. In Manila, he opened Black Sheep with some business partners, where he had a chance to run the kitchen.
He shares, “I’ll forever be grateful for that opportunity. When they decided they wanted to relaunch the bar, that was the time I decided to pursue my own restaurant which is now, Toyo Eatery.”
Q&A with Chef Jordy Navarra
What are the biggest misconceptions about Filipino food that you want to address?
I think sometimes people feel Filipino food should be standardized or the same for specific recipes and dishes; but I feel we should celebrate the diversity and its influences from region to region and island to island. There are so many traditions and techniques in the Philippines and I think we should celebrate each one of them.
What should every Filipino kitchen and pantry have?
I think all Filipino kitchens should have garlic, onions, soy sauce, patis, vinegar, and calamansi. Also charcoal.
Filipino food changes from region to region. Which regional cuisine or dish stands out for you?
I like all things from the grill and the cool part about Filipino food is that every region grills the best local and seasonal ingredients they have. This is a great way of discovering what each region’s specialty produce is.
A foreigner visits the Philippines for the first time. What three dishes do you serve him?
It’s difficult to just pick three things. Maybe three things every meal time? If I really had to pick only three things, I’d serve him or her kinilaw, pork BBQ with rice, and halo-halo.
Similarly, a balikbayan misses the taste of home. What would you prepare for him to make him feel comforted?
With balikbayans, I think it would be a stew like sinigang or nilaga with rice and patis. That’s what I missed the most when I was living abroad.
Adobo is always a point of local pride and of contention. So… what’s the best way to cook adobo?
I don’t think there’s a best way because everyone has their own preference for our well-loved Adobo. Personally, I like it when it’s dry and garlicky. 🙂
All photos by Daniel Soriano.