Known in Manila as a ‘green’ chef, Sau del Rosario is one of Manila’s best-known, best-loved chefs. A native Kapampangan, Chef Sau is a passionate advocate for healthy, sustainable, organic ingredients and regional cuisine, so when I ask him to talk with me about the future of organic farming in the Philippines, he happily squeezes me into his whirlwind schedule.
A third generation chef, his interest in organic food began over 20 years ago, when he studied under Fulbright scholar, Gil Carandang, a pioneer in organic and macrobiotic farming in the Philippines and an advocate for using indigenous microorganisms as a tool for sustainable farming.
Chef Sau gained a degree in Hotel Management from UP Diliman University and went on, after a short stint in the States, to train under the guidance of Michelin Chef Christian Plumail of Restaurant L’Univers in the south of France. He then took a job at Le Divellec, an haute cuisine seafood restaurant in Paris before moving Shangai to open the stylish and popular restaurant Luna. This was followed by a role as Chef de Cuisine at Equinox in Singapore.
In 2005, Sau was tempted back to Manila to open M Cafe, Chelsea, and the Madison Grill. Then, in 2010 Chef Sau and his business partner Pacita (Chit) Juan opened Le Bistro Vert in Makati City, a restaurant espousing the benefits of organic food. They sourced many ingredients from local farmers and producers, with the underlying intention of educating their clients about sustainable, organic produce. Aware of the state of certification regulations, however, they were faced with the problem of ensuring the produce they bought was truly organic. The problem led Chit Juan to set up a small farm in Cavite in order to supply the restaurant with truly organic produce.
Chef Sau says that many farmers and consumers still fail to understand what ‘organic’ means. He calls it a ‘flexible terminology in the Philippines,’ but also believes it is simply a case of educating producers to ensure consumer protection from misrepresentation.
Chef Sau believes fervently that organic is not a trend, it is a choice, and the direction in which everyone is heading. Twenty years ago, it was almost impossible to source organic produce. Now, it is gradually becoming mainstream. In one interview he has been reported as saying ‘I grew up with a household that is always cooking healthy. People think organic food is only for rich people … but it’s for everybody.’ His inner city menus (his latest venture is Villa Café: Kapampangan cuisine with a twist in San Antonio, Makati City), his sideline as the signature chef with TourFlair, a food safari tour group that promotes regional Filipino cuisine, and his growing clout as a TV celebrity chef are all helping him to spread the word.
Chef Sau also wants to teach Filipinos about the health issues related to eating processed foods. Personal experience has taught him that eating properly can save lives. In a recent interview for the Manila Bulletin he stated: ‘people are becoming more aware about the food they eat. With a little more education, and dissemination of information, we will get there.’
* Excerpt from paper: “Regional food producers: the challenges of changing the shape of Filipino foodways, presented at the LCB Region Food Cultures and Networks Conference 2012.