Woman chef on top
For a country that has had two female presidents, I was surprised to learn our kitchens have not been as egalitarian. While there are several restaurants that have female chefs at their helm, such as Chef Jessie’s or Mamou, apparently no female has held the prestigious position of executive chef at an international hotel chain in the Philippines.
Raffles and Fairmont Makati was very proud to debut last week chef Anne-Cecile Degenne, the new executive chef who will be overseeing all F&B concerns for both hotels. Finally, a woman!
And what a lady. She evokes an aura of warmth and confidence. I’m sure she had a lot of fans when she was on television a few years ago in Top Chef France (Season 5), where she placed 6th.
But captivating as her personality might be, you will not miss the excellent execution in the food she serves. At a recent Chef’s Table hosted by David Batchelor and Monique Toda, managing director and communications director of Raffles and Fairmont respectively, we were blown away.
It was a return to proper fine dining food. Some of today’s “best restaurants” embellish their dishes with elaborate stories or dramatic explanations. Not chef Anne-Cecile.
She wowed us first with a lobster salad that was no ordinary salad. There was no mound of greens; instead, there were three thoughtful slices of lobster. For a contrast of sweetness and acidity, she decorated the plate with pellets of Philippine mangoes, which she proclaims are the best in Asia. Cherry tomatoes also joined the party. And to come full circle, she lined it with a sauce of Thai curry.
Chef Anne-Cecile used to join Jean-Gorges Vongerichten on his visits to Asia. “He is really the one who gave me the (appreciation for) Asian taste,” she shared. “Following him as he discovered Asia, it made me want to jump into Asia.”
Her Asian journey started in the Philippines. She was the chef who reopened Spiral, then she moved to Singapore’s Sofitel So and in Vietnam’s M Gallery Hotel des Arts Saigon. In all her pit stops, she has received rave reviews.
But her roots are French. She hails from Bordeaux, clearly established by her starter of foie gras. “This is something from my childhood,” she reminisced. “My mom used to cook (foie gras with) raspberry, rhubarb and buckwheat.”
Then came the mains of sea bream and steak. The Emperor fish (sea bream) was perfectly cooked then made moist with clam juice and given umami with truffles—simple but excellent. Three food “influencers” declared, “I taste coconut!” The lone dissenter was Sandy Daza who said there was none. He was right: the sweetness was from the clam broth, not coconut, proving the chef’s prowess with stock and sauces.
To bring out the best in the Australian wagyu that was the piece de resistance, she cooked it in its own fat, accented it with bone marrow pellets and, as palate cleanser, added watercress.
I’m quite excited for what chef Anne-Cecile can do for Spectrum, the all-day buffet restaurant of Raffles and Fairmont Makati. Her first stint at Sofitel gives her the edge of knowing how much we Filipinos love a good buffet.
At our lunch, she shared Spectrum would soon have an Indian, Chinese and roasting stations. “There will be more interaction,” she stressed.
As for Mireio, the signature restaurant of Raffles, she will simply continue to focus on taste. “We will continue to serve home-style cooking but served more elegantly,” she said.
If it’s anything like what was served at the Chef’s Table, then there is much to look forward to.
It’s simply wonderful to finally have a female chef at the top. Food does taste better when cooked by someone who inspires, wouldn’t you agree?
Raffles and Fairmont Makati. For reservations and inquiries, call +63 2 795 1840 or mobile +63 926 755 4569.
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