It is easy to be intimidated by Demar Regresado, the tattooed chef with a low, steady voice and an inscrutable face of Mews restaurant in Salcedo Village, Makati City. Easier still with his reputation of having worked under Hell’s Kitchen celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay when he was just 16 years old. But when he starts talking about his life experiences that shaped the way he prepares food, humor comes to the surface, along with a dash of sentimentality and a whole lot of advocacy.
“I trained under Gordon Ramsay for four years at his restaurant in Chelsea, London. For four years, I peeled potatoes for him,” he said in all seriousness, before breaking into a grin, perhaps recalling the more than 1,400 days that he peeled the said root crop.
Asked if he did get bored with his first culinary job, Regresado, who was the first Filipino that Ramsay hired, said in jest: “But I also peeled aubergine, garlic, carrots, and onions.”
“If there is anything I learned under Chef Gordon Ramsay, it is that you should develop that singular devotion to your work. There is a correct way to peel a potato, otherwise it becomes too starchy. You should develop the discipline to do it correctly every day.”
Looking further back, death in the family has steered Regresado’s life. He left the Philippines as a young boy of eight years old when his mother died to start a new leaf with his father in the United Kingdom. And when his father died in 2014, the tragedy brought him back full circle to the Philippines.
“My father has always been proud of my accomplishments as a chef abroad. But he always urged me to go back to the Philippines and set up a restaurant here,” he said.
The world was Regresado’s oyster abroad: running the kitchen of a country club in Napa Valley for four years, serving as executive chef at the posh Millennium Mayfair Hotel in London for three and a half years, and working at Prince Harry’s private club from time to time. But the demise of his father signaled it was time to go home.
In 2015, he first set up DeMARS, a casual British diner in Antipolo City where he served European dishes. And in August last year, he opened Mews, which he hopes would clinch Manila’s first ever Michelin star.
The food served at Mews are intelligently thought of as they are beautifully plated. Healthy eating here does not mean eating bland food. There is salmon gravlax that is cured with beetroot, giving it a deeper shade of red; tuna Nicoise salad served with green beans, lettuce, and quail eggs with a classic French dressing; pork belly braised for 16 hours with taro croquette; chicken teriyaki with truffle oil with taro puree; chicken liver mousse pate with homemade crackers and grilled bread; chicken breast with potato mash, carrot and broccoli puree and thyme velouté; and the very British classic fish and chips with pea puree and tartare sauce.
The restaurant also takes pride in its lava grill, where one could order Porter House, T-bone, New York steak, fillet mignon, and the showstopper of a Tomahawk steak.
Wash these down with Mews’ signature malunggay iced tea, which is a mix of malunggay, okra, ginger, and turmeric minus any bitter flavor and sweetened with muscovado.
“I try my best to make my dishes healthy. Both my parents died from diabetic complications, so I know first-hand the importance of eating healthy, organic food,” said Regresado.
That one Michelin star may still take a while to secure, but dining at Mews—with its sleek décor, the well-curated artworks that adorn its walls, and the delicious Instagram-worthy food it serves—is an experience surely even Gordon Ramsay would be happy to enjoy.
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