At the Chef’s Table – Jeremy Villanueva, Head Chef, Romulo Café London
Romulo Café London, on High Street Kensington W8, has had remarkable success since opening just over two years ago. It’s now considered the ‘go-to’ restaurant for fine Filipino cuisine in London. The recent appointment of Jeremy Villanueva as Head Chef has led to a new menu and even greater attention. Like owner Rowena Romulo, Jeremy is on a mission to make fine Filipino food as popular as other Asian cuisines.
Our Chef’s Table team thought we should get to know Jeremy a little better…
CT: Who influenced you in the past? Who influences you now?
JV: Two chefs stand out in my past. One is Richard Blades, who was Executive Chef at Simpsons-in-the-Strand when I joined as a commis straight out of catering college (Blackpool and the Fylde). He had a very well thought out style of management, and a logical approach to his staff. He was a good people manager, and chefs who are good with their people can get a lot out of them. Richard also used to be the Head Chef at the Atlantic Bar and Grill at the height of its fame.
The other is Michel Roux Jr, another great people manager. He had a healthy respect for the traditions and the legacy of his father and uncles. The Rouxs were always firm but they treated their people well. I trained with him at Le Gavroche before going to the Waldorf Club.
Today there is no particular person who influences me, but it’s more the innovations I see in Filipino food right now. Filipino food has evolved so now we look at the food beyond its utilitarian value – as a means of sustenance. Filipino food is as much food for the senses, not just the belly.
CT: What would be your last dish (to eat) ‘the death row question’.
JV: A version of Poulet de Bresse. It would be cooked free-range chicken done in the ‘inasal’ style of Bacolod, the capital of the province of Negros Occidental in the Philippines. It would be cooked over Bincho Tan, charcoal from Japan, with a side salad of Cos lettuce, radish and ramsons. I’d wash it down with a glass of fresh calamansi (Philippine lime) juice.
CT: If you were not a chef, what could you have become?
JV: To be honest, I would never have considered being anything else but a chef. I decided at 18, and that was it. I’m interested in electronics, but it’s not something I would see myself doing as a job. Once I started to cook, I never looked left or right. I always enjoyed being in the kitchen when I was young. For fun, my uncles used to make pizzas and several kinds of pasta. My family has always been into food.
CT: Which restaurant would you like to go to (eat at)? (that you have NOT had the opportunity to visit)
Chef Monica Galetti’s Mere in Charlotte Street. I would tell her, ‘Congratulations, well done.’ I worked with her in Le Gavroche.
CT: Which are the next ‘new’ ingredients’?
‘Ube’, which is purple yam, and ‘Langka’, or jackfruit. I don’t know of anyone else who uses ube as much as Filipinos do, apart from people in Fiji or Guam. The Filipino community in Hawaii love ube cheesecake. But generally, the purple colour seems to be catching! Langka is the new pork for vegans, meaty and flavourful and very versatile. It can be eaten green or ripe. It can be sweet or savoury. That leaves a lot of scope for chefs. I actually saw fresh langka being sold in Peckham.
CT: What is the one piece of equipment you could not do without?
JV: Our Rational oven.
CT: What is your favourite dish in which you use produce from your most local supplier?
JV: The supplier is obviously not based in London where we are, but my favourite dish is Dingley Dell Pork Adobo. The produce is highly sustainable, and we source it from the only RSPCA accredited suppliers of pork. They create a really good grade of pork, the best quality. Today it’s not so much about the seasoning that creates flavour, although it does, so much depends on the quality of the meat, the primary product.
CT: If you could invite any chef, past or present, to cook alongside you for one night who would that be and why?
JV: Fernand Point. He was the chef patron of La Pyramidein Vienne, France. His book, ‘Ma Gastronomie’ is one of the first books I read by a known chef. I was fascinated by what he said. One of his signature dishes was a chicken with crayfish. He was of the old school. He still influences the mentality of many kitchens. Many of his quotes endure and continue to guide chefs today, such as ‘Success is the sum of a lot of small things done correctly’ and ‘I’m not hard to please; I’m content with the very best’. Chef Fernand is someone I can imagine cooking with, in the evening, champagne in hand, listening to his musings.
My Favourite Tables– Two restaurants I have visited and why?
Le Gavroche. It’s the traditional service as much as the cuisine. It’s a complete experience. Their service is intuitive. They take care not to make you feel uncomfortable.
Website – http://www.le-gavroche.co.uk/
Twitter – @legavroche_
Social Eating House. I like the Blind Pig bar. It’s innovative and exciting. I went to catering school with Chef Paul Hood. If I am not mistaken, I think that out of the 30 of us who went to catering school together, we are the only ones still cooking.
Website – http://www.socialeatinghouse.com/
Twitter – @Socialeathouse
CT: Finally Is there a message you would like to convey about Filipino food and Romulo Cafe?
JV: People should come in and see that ours is not the same as Vietnamese food or Thai. Filipino food tends to get lumped with other Southeast Asian foods. But ours is different. Even the influences we get from other culinary traditions we have made our own. So our Pollo Relleno is not a lesser version of what they have in Spain. It stands by itself, as do our Callos or Paella. Our Pancit Guisado is not Chow Mein. It is a Filipino dish, and not an interpretation of something else. It has its own terroir.
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