Thursday, July 26, 2018

A Cook's Tour With No Reservations To Parts Unknown: Chef Decker Gokioco's Chef's Table Tribute To Anthony Bourdain at U Hotels

Culinary icon. Rebel. Master storyteller. Modern day poet. Words you don't normally use to describe one of the most influential culinary icons in recent decades, but Anthony Bourdain wasn't your usual TV personality. Gone too soon, Anthony Bourdain's legacy lives on in countless lives within and beyond the culinary world inspired by his deep, insightful, and sometimes painfully honest narrative from his many travels around the world. In one special evening, he is remembered and honored at U Hotels...  


Chef Decker Gokioco, culinary consultant for U Hotels, recently hosted a Chef's Table tribute to Anthony Bourdain with a lavish feast of inspired dishes celebrating the life of probably this generation's most influential culinary and travel TV host. Casual yet intimate with free-flowing ice-cold bottles of beer, it was a fitting tribute to the man who opened the world with his stories, sharing the uniqueness of the locale yet realizing it's the simple joys that bind us together whether its the Cacio e Pepe in Rome or simply not dunking your nigiri in soy sauce in Tokyo. For Anthony Bourdain, food was always only a part of a much bigger picture... 


You can call me the bad boy chef all you want. I'm not going to freak out about it. I'm not that bad. I'm certainly not a boy, and it's been a while since I've been a chef.

From Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly and Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook, books that launched Anthony Bourdain to both fame and notoriety, Anthony Bourdain easily transitioned to TV with his acclaimed programs A Cook's Tour, The Layover, No Reservations and Parts Unknown. For nearly sixteen years, Anthony Bourdain rose from the clutter of the usual food and travel format with his own quirky yet witty, honest and sometimes snarky observations that often revealed the true character of the city or towns he visited.

It was like a breath of fresh air watching countless episodes that veered away from the common, often shallow and almost bubble gum like gloss of regular programming. How can one forget the episode featuring the DMZ in Korea with his production assistant Nari Kye, his adventures in Tashkent with his friend and drinking buddy Zamir Gotta, the intriguing island of Mr. Sang in Vietnam, a fresh perspective on Cleveland with comic book artist Harvey Pekar, the holiday special with Christopher Walken, or his return to Brasserie Les Halles in Mahattan, where he was once the Executive Chef with the kitchen now run by his Mexican protege Carlos? And that unforgettable episode in Rome shot entirely in black & white in homage to Fellini's La Dolce Vita? And that famous "best pig ever" episode on the Philippines which many say opened up Philippine cuisine to the world. Each episode not only featured the unique and diverse cuisine, but the colorful and complex tapestry of culture and social commentary on history, the economy, and immigration. For Chef Decker Gokioco, honoring Anthony Bourdain with a Chef's Table tribute is driven by Tony's philosophy on keeping everything real with local ingredients and drawing on personal experiences. From Diamond Hotel and The Cake Club to F1 Hotel Manila, Chef Decker Gockioco brings with him a wealth of culinary experiences for the Chef's Table tribute to Anthony Bourdain at U Hotels.    

Since I started my food blog, I've featured Chef Decker Gokioco in numerous posts. Currently a culinary consultant at U Hotels, it's great to see a good friend move up in the industry. Assisted by Chef Sabrina Tejumal (R),  Chef Decker Gokioco and Alex Yu (L) prepare a feast of inspired local flavors to honor Anthony Bourdain...

As guests arrived, the staff at U Hotels welcomed each one for the special Chef's Table at U Hotels (for more on U Hotels, see my previous posts, Be Inspired At U Hotels Makati, The First Art Hotel in Poblacion and Art And Comfort At U Hotels Makati, Poblacion's First Art Hotel on my other travel blog).

If I'm an advocate for anything, it's to move. As far as you can, as much as you can.


Many say travel is the best teacher, and Chef Decker Gokioco lays on the country's rich regional flavors with his duo of tasty starters, like the crisp, creamy and mildly nutty and spicy Laing sa Chicharon...


...followed by crunchy cones filled with fresh seafood and spices. Fresh, clean, and uncomplicated, Chef Decker Gokioco teases the palate with complex yet balanced flavors, elegantly plated and executed.

Meals make the society, hold the fabric together in lots of ways that were charming and interesting and intoxicating to me. The perfect meal, or the best meals, occur in a context that frequently has very little to do with the food itself. 

Chef Decker Gokioco then draws on fond childhood memories as he served his tasty Mussel Croquette (L) and Fernando's Charsiu Sando (R) based on his father's recipe for charsiu pork. It's these stories that add even more flavors to the tasty starters. Have another ice-cold beer and raise a toast to Tony.

Throughout the evening, the gathering of friends, both old and new, reminisced about Tony's many adventures. That's what's special about Tony, he just made you feel like you were there with him as he described each locale and each dish with his deep insights. Pork Ears Salad (R) with another cold beer? Yes, please.

You can learn a lot about someone when you share a meal together.


Dinner gets an elaborate spin with Chef Decker Gokioco's inventive style and creative take on eggs benedict with the Soft Shell Crab Benedict with Crabfat Hollandaise. Soft and buttery brioche topped with a perfectly poached egg and crisp soft-shell crab draped in a rich and creamy crabfat hollandaise sauce...just can't get better than that. The indulgent notes of crabfat and egg combine for a richness like no other. The play on textural contrast and layers of rich flavors makes this dish one of the favorites of the evening. 

Your body is not a temple, it's an amusement park. Enjoy the ride.


Recalling Anthony Bourdain's encounter with the local pork sisig in Pampanga, Chef Decker Gokioco reinvents the iconic dish pulling all the stops with absolutely no reservations...


The Bypass Sisig with crispy Chicharong Bulaklak and Chicken Skin combine for a tasty duo of textures and flavors, a fitting homage to the man and his love for pork. The richness of the pork, chicharon bulaklak and chicken skin is perfectly tempered by the spicy local chili and red onions. Served on a sizzling skillet with its rich notes at its flavorful peak, wash it all down with an ice-cold beer along with another toast to Tony.

To me, life without veal stock, pork fat, sausage, organ meat, demi-glace or even stinky cheese is a life not worth living. 


Enjoying food in all its forms and richness makes any journey even more memorable. Chef Decker Gokioco's savory Beef Short Ribs Kulma with Roasted Bone Marrow is just what Tony would've enjoyed with his beer. Roasted bone marrow just had to part of the menu, remember Tony's late night, or rather early morning dinner with other chefs after their shift in New York?


The fork-tender beef simmered for hours in rich sauce infused with an equally rich spice blend just melts in your mouth coating your palate with its beefy goodness. The roasted bone marrow with its butter-like texture completes the flavors. And no, don't hold back. Roasted bone marrow is like one of life's little carpe diem moments. And Tony's got your back. 

Food is everything we are. It's an extension of nationalist feeling, ethnic feeling, your personal history, your province, your region, your tribe, your grandma. It's inseparable from those from the get-go.


Nostalgic flavors are at the heart of Chef Decker's repertoire of sumptuous dishes at the Chef's Table tribute to Tony Bourdain, and Mommy's Pork Chop just brings a cool homestyle vibe to the evening's festivities. Based on a cherished family recipe, Chef Decker Gokioco fondly recalls growing up with this comforting dish along with brothers Carter and Alex Yu. Tender and juicy pork with a lightly crisp outer layer, Mommy's Pork Chop pairs well with another secret family recipe, Ahma's Chili Sauce. Extra rice? Absolutely.

Context and memory play powerful roles in all the truly great meals in one's life.


At the Carving Station, Chefs Decker Gokioco and Sabrina Tejumal presented their Miso Salmon with Golden Mushrooms served with Mango Chili and Nori Aioli fresh from the ovens. Topped with mushrooms, the tender salmon's delicate and buttery notes are kicked up by the creamy Nori Aioli and tart Mango Chili for an explosion of vibrant notes. From starters to mains, Chef Decker Gokioco weaves his own story presented in a lavish dinner.


But Chefs Decker Gokioco and Sabrina Tejumal had more surprises up their sleeves. The Chef's Table tribute to Anthony Bourdain was capped by a pair indulgent desserts, with the Sizzling Cheeserolls ala Mode laid on crisp banana chips...


...and the playfully inventive Chocnut Smores Lumpia for a perfect ending at U Hotels. The unique desserts bring old favorites in a refreshing combination, like cheeserolls with ube ice cream and banana chips and crisp spring rolls filled with marshmallows and sprinkled with Choc-Nut crumble for a sinful decadence triggering fond memories of countless childhood summers.

With more ice-cold beer on the way, the evening continued as Ivan Man Dy (L), Anthony Bourdain's guide on that memorable No Reservations Philippine episode and Chef Sharwin Tee (R) shared more stories on Anthony Bourdain for a personal glimpse at a complex character the world has grown to love. 

That evening, Patrick and Shria Florencio of Boracay's popular Nonie's joined the Chef's Table tribute to Anthony Bourdain, bringing with them some of their signature dishes. Known for their vegetarian dishes, Nonie's is one those must-try spots in Boracay. It's a welcome addition to the Chef's Table tribute to Anthony Bourdain... 


...with their popular Ceviche made with fresh seafood marinated in lime and topped with crisp red onions and sweet fruits...


...and their Sticky Ribs with their secret proprietary glaze topped with fresh herbs. Fans of Boracay's Nonie's will be glad to know that they will be in the metro for a series of pop-ups so stay tuned for updates. The Chef's Table by Chef Decker Gokioco will be a regular feature at U Hotels, and announcements and schedules will be made via U Hotels and Chef Decker's IG accounts at @uhotelsph/ and @decker.gokioco/. You can also visit the FB Pages of U Hotels and Chef Decker Gokioco at https://www.facebook.com/uhotelsmakati/ and https://www.facebook.com/decker.gokioco for more updates. Bookings and reservations can also be made through Chef Decker's mobile at +63 999-881-1900 and Chef Sab at +63 917-482-4401.


One more round of beer for the road, and my suite at U Hotels awaits. The very first art hotel in Poblacion, each room and each floor of U Hotels features original works from local artists for a unique experience consistent with the eclectic vibe of the Poblacion neighborhood. Following their "destination within a destination" concept, U Hotels is a smart option when looking for a place to stay in Makati.


Anyone who's a chef, who loves food, ultimately knows that all that matters is: Is it good? Does it give pleasure?

Early the next morning, more tasty treats await at U Hotels' Lobby Lounge for that perfect start. U Hotels offers a sumptuous breakfast buffet spread on weekends with comforting local breakfast staples to supplement their new Lunch Specials (for more on U Hotels' new Lunch Specials, see my post Meet Me For Lunch At U Hotels...). Exciting things are happening in vibrant Poblacion, and the Chef's Table by Chef Decker Gokioco at U Hotels is a welcome addition to the neighborhood's culinary scene. Anthony Bourdain may be gone, but he will continue to inspire chefs, writers, dreamers...and rebels. 

U Hotels Makati is located at 5091 P. Burgos Street corner San Mateo Street, Poblacion, Makati City or call (02) 820-1000, (02) 820-1001, (02) 828-1002 and (63) 933-816-3333 for more information and reservations. You can also send an email to hello@uhotels.ph. Check out their cool FB Page at https://www.facebook.com/uhotelsmakati/ for more updates.

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