The whispers of Crimson Resort & Spa partnering with Chef Chele Gonzalez have been circulating the city since last year, when the resort invited select members of the media to dine at VASK in Manila. It was here that the culinary virtuoso had been winning over hearts and palates with modern interpretations of traditional Spanish cuisine.
Of course, this wasn’t the first time we’d sampled Chef Chele’s kitchen prowess. During Zee Lifestyle’s Bohol Break last year, host Be Grand Resort had flown him in to create a sampling menu that had our guests raving for weeks. The Pulpo a la Gallega, perfectly seasoned octopus on a bed of potatoes, was my personal favorite—the explosion of flavors that come with the seemingly simple dish is a testament to the chef’s talent.
Suffice to say, this particular restaurant was highly anticipated, and when the invitation to the launch finally arrived, people were willing to brave the Mactan’s rush hour topic for a seat at the table.
The name itself already suggests more than just a Spanish influence over the menu—Enye by Chele Gonzalez was named after the letter Ñ, the last letter from the Spanish alphabet that remains heavily used in the Philippines today. It signifies the close ties between the two cultures, further evidenced in how the plates coming from the kitchen present flavors that are somehow familiar and new at the same time.
Authenticity is definitely on the table—born in Santander, Spain, Chef Chele’s earliest cooking experiences were in his own family’s kitchen, where we imagine he’d learned traditional techniques that have been passed on throughout the generations. The pepper and onion vinaigrette-marinated seafood dish Salpicon de Marisco; the Rabo al Vinto Tito, a slow-cooked oxtail in red wine and potatoes; and of course, the paella—these are just some of the dishes that are grounded in classic Spanish culinary sensibilities.
It is in the modern interpretations, in my opinion, that Chef Chele’s mastery of the craft truly comes through. Of course, this doesn’t come as much of a surprise—his career includes time clocked in at Michelin-starred kitchens, the celebrated Arzak restaurant in San Sebastian (where he developed a keen appreciation and understanding for fine cuisine while developing new dishes in the Arzak Lab), and El Bulli, which had been the number one restaurant in the world at the time. The career had thankfully led to the Philippines, where Chef Chele worked in luxury hotels like Sofitel and Shangri-La, before he decided to open the various concepts of VASK.
The years of experience in some of the best restaurants in Europe (and probably the world, really) had given Chef Chele the confidence and skill set to introduce new subtleties and flavor profiles to already beloved dishes. Perhaps this is what makes dining at Enye feel like a culinary adventure—it’s a juxtaposition of tastes you expect and some that surprise your palate.
The curated menu of the restaurant’s opening bring together the best of both, properly introducing diners that are yet unfamiliar with Chef Chele’s style of cooking. Before dinner, a medley of appetizers and cocktails were passed around—the Mantegalo Seco, a Chardonnay-based drink with cachaca, lime, brown sugar and pineapple; and the Croqueta Jamon y Pollo, bechamel croquettes with ham and chicken, were instant stand-outs.
In true Spanish fashion, dinner was leisurely and stretched into the later hours of the night. The Carpaccio de Wagyu was served with parmesan ice cream and pine nuts for an interesting flavor, while the Lechon Cebu Tacos was a delicious homage to the province’s most famous dish. Of course, it’s not a tapas tasting without the Gambas al Ajillo, or a serving of paella, with Enye’s Arroz con Bogavante featuring stewed lobster tails for a truly rich flavor. The fourth course was something particularly interesting—the Solomillo a la Española is tenderloin with grilled Manchego cheese, rioja wine jus and mushroom mashed potatoes.
As amazing as the dishes were, it was the desserts that truly won me over. The dinner culminated with the Crema Catalana de Calabaza (Catalan pumpkin creme brulee), the Torrija (brioche dipped in milk with anise ice cream), and Texturas de Calamansi (calamansi cake, mousse, ice cream and biscuits)—all of which had us reaching for second servings, despite the fact that we were all relatively stuffed from the previous courses. If you only had the chance to sample a few dishes from Enye, I wholeheartedly suggest you get these three.
I’d arrived at Enye already a believer of Chef Chele’s culinary genius, and left it even more convinced. His understanding of traditional techniques is complemented by his boldness at turning these traditions on their head to create more modern plates, making him a chef to definitely watch. I’ll certainly be watching, and counting down the days I can make the trek across the channel to once again embark on the culinary adventure of Enye.