Chele Gonzalez is no stranger to the Zee Lifestyle crowd.
Last year, the talented Spaniard was the guest chef at the Bohol Break, the kick-off festivities for this publication’s 20th year anniversary. While the highlight of that event was a fashion show featuring the latest collections of Jun Escario and Mia Arcenas, the food was equally memorable, with people singing praises about the Wagyu ribs and the scallops with black ink risotto.
When we heard that Chef Chele was working with Crimson Resort & Spa Mactan to offer a unique dining experience in Cebu, we couldn’t resist hopping on a plane for an exclusive preview. The patience in dealing with a three-hour delayed flight and Manila traffic paid off when we finally stepped into the cool industrial-chic interiors of VASK Tapas Room in BGC.
Decked in his chef whites, Chef Chele was all smiles and waved off our profuse apologies for our tardiness. “The Spanish eat late!” he exclaims, bidding us to settle in our seats. Assuming correctly that we were starving, Chef Chele wastes no time in serving us our individual plated amuse bouche alongside a glass of champagne. He gestures a preferred eating order—Crispy Oysters with Spicy Paprika Mayonnaise and Cilantro first, followed by the Jamon and Parmesan Mousse Pinxto, and ending with the Croqueta de Txipiron, a black ink squid Spanish croqueta. Those three small bites alone signaled that we were definitely in for an extraordinary dinner.
It’s hard to imagine anything topping those appetizers, but we were quickly proven wrong with the arrival of the Wagyu Carpaccio with Parmesan Ice Cream and Pine Nuts, which was deemed an instant favorite among the Cebu guests. The thin slices of Wagyu beautifully offset the burst of flavor from the ice cream and the texture of the nuts. Next came a series of other appetizers, each of them impressive enough to make everyone look forward to Chef Chele’s new dining concept in Cebu.
“It’s going to be part of Crimson’s new expansion,” shares Crimson Resort & Spa’s PR & Marcom Manager Mia Mae Sy over servings of Vieras Gratinadas and Pulpo a la Gallega, the latter of which being a grilled and smoked octopus with a potato emulsion and crispy paprika that everyone will say was their favorite dish at the end of the evening. For the past few years, the resort has been undergoing extensive renovations that sees the addition of a new swimming pool and a new Crimzone (the current kid activity center will be converted into a café). Chef Chele’s new restaurant, to be called Ñ, will replace Tempo.
With a culinary degree from Arxanda, Bilbao and an extensive career working in some of the world’s most respected restaurants, it’s easy to see how Chef Chele quickly propelled VASK Tapas Room into a cool 39th ranking among Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants of 2016. It takes serious skill to create authentic Spanish cuisine with a modern twist, and yet he does so quite impressively that Cebu should definitely be excited he’s choosing the Queen City as his next home.
Paired with a glass of chilled white wine, the ‘Lechon’ Tacos were served. Tender Carnitas were mixed with Mango Salsa Jalapeño Frijoles Mousse and Sour Cream, and while it was good as it is, we’re interested to see his take on it with Cebu lechon—a suggestion Chef Chele took with enthusiasm. The 62’C Organic Egg, Porcini Mash, Foie Gras, Truffle and Crispy Jamon Iberico was also a hit among the guests. Breaking the poached egg and having the yolk mixed with the red wine sauce is a unique sensory experience, with its interesting flavors and textures.
“You aren’t even at the main courses yet!” Chef Chele laughs amid our proclamations that we were getting full. This was met with almost-comical flabbergasted stares, prompting the man of the hour to reassure us that we only had a few more dishes to go, and most of them were for sharing. Red wine was poured to go with our Rabo al Vino Tinto, which was a slow-cooked oxtail with red wine and potatoes. We also had the Pescado con Refrito de Ajos, grilled catch-of-the-day with garlic, sherry vinegar and potato; and the Foie and Porcini Risotto. Despite our initial claims, we couldn’t help but go back for seconds anyway—the oxtail was amazingly tender, and the risotto heavenly.
Considering how much we’ve had to eat, it’s amazing that we could even still make room for dessert. As it is, we couldn’t resist a helping of Torrija, brioche dipped in milk with Anise ice cream. You’d think that at this point we’d be overwhelmed with all the flavors, but the delicate sweetness of that dessert was just what we needed to end the night.
The dining scene in Cebu has seen so much development in the recent years. Existing establishments have reinvented themselves, while new concepts have been introduced—all to adapt to a more sophisticated palate. Ñ is set to be a dazzling addition to the scene, and with everything we’ve tasted so far (all dishes mentioned above will be offered in Cebu), all we can say is it’s going to be a game changer.
Ñ will open at Crimson Resort & Spa Mactan later this year.