José Luis ‘Chele’ González, chef-owner of Gallery by Chele in Manila, shares how R&D underpins everything he does at his restaurant.

Born in Torrelavega, Spain, chef José Luis ‘Chele’ González spent years honing his skills at top restaurants such as El Bulli, Arzak, Mugaritz and El Cellar de Can Roca. In search for new inspiration, he left for the Philippines in 2011, eventually starting Gallery Vask with business partner Carlo Calma in 2013. The restaurant gained recognition for its modern cuisine featuring local ingredients and was last ranked number 35 on the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants List in 2017. After a revamp, it came back re-energised as Gallery by Chele last year. Together with Carlos Villaflor, executive sous chef and co-owner, chef Chele continues to push the envelope in his cuisine.

Chefs José Luis ‘Chele’ González and Carlos Villaflor - Chef José Luis ‘Chele’ González of Gallery by Chele

Chefs José Luis ‘Chele’ González and Carlos Villaflor

What stages do you go through in innovating your cuisine?
We’ve been feeling like scientist lately in our R&D kitchen, Stvdio Lab. We’re really diving into the fermentation processes to help grow our knowledge and understanding of other cooking techniques. Our cuisine is deeply connected to the history, anthropology, and science behind all of the food, which is why we begin by exploring the flavour profile of each dish first. We work on combining both Western and Filipino flavours in a way that has never been done before.

Travelling and taking some time out of the kitchen also help spark inspiration and curiosity. When we visit the farms in the surroundings that the produce was grown in, we become influenced to bring new elements into a dish. After all of this, we test the product. This process can take a few days, weeks or even months. We’ll revisit the dish after we put it to ‘sleep’ making sure that all aspects of the dish cohesively work as well and taste as good as when we first started the process.

Doing a ‘Chef’s Table at Gallery by Chele’ twice a month where we serve up intimate R&D dinners at Stvdio Lab, has also helped us stay motivated to develop more playful and experimental dishes. Getting our customers feedback on the spot has been the most exciting part of it all.

Ube tacos - Chef José Luis ‘Chele’ González of Gallery by Chele

Ube tacos

What’s the most unusual ingredient you’ve worked with and managed to give a new spin to recently?
Currently our biggest and most important project is looking for wild and seasonal ingredients from the Philippines in order to document and develop a calendar for it. We believe in knowing the origin and seasonality of the ingredients well in order to add depth to the common ingredients like the banana heart. For example, we cook the banana heart in a brine that is steam controlled and then sealed in a cooking vacuum bag in creating a beautiful dish we like to call, Bana-lu, which features lobster, eggplant and okra.

What’s the most interesting indigenous cooking method you’ve discovered in your research thus far?
I have discovered many indigenous cooking methods that has made us grow in our own style of cooking. For example, to cut and dry root crops and also apply this method with ube or purple yam to make stocks; cooking in bamboo; or one of our new favourites, cooking with banana leaf directly onto the charcoal.

Tomato mochi Chef José Luis ‘Chele’ González of Gallery by Chele

Tomato mochi

Seeing that we’re seeing a lot more chefs who do not want their cuisine defined by a particular region—is borderless cuisine the new normal?
I believe we have two trends that are happening right now, one being globalisation of cuisines and regions. Meaning, due to the access of technology, there are faster ways to get produce all over the world. However, the second trend is that chefs now want to feel more connected to the territory that they are in. We want to learn about what is readily available in the region during the various seasons. For me, this is the direction I feel most connected to; I love learning and gaining more knowledge about where and how the cuisines are made locally.

How much attention do you pay to making your restaurant an environmentally sustainable restaurant?
This is actually our advocacy—we would love to be fully sustainable restaurant but due to realization of city living we’re not yet 100 per cent there. We are continuously looking for solutions and are making steps towards this, such as our urban garden that is housed on our patio and the development of our own compost.

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This article was first published in Wine & Dine May/June 2019: Game-Changing Innovations.

Catch chef Gonzalez at Basque Kitchen by Aitor’s Eight-Hands Weekend on 21-22 June 2019. He will be joining chef Aitor Jeronimo Orive, chef Josean Alija of Nerua Guggenheim Bilbao, Spain, and chef Julien Royer of Odette in putting up an eight-course collaborative dinner on 22 June (from $388). For reservations or enquiries, call 6224 2232 or email info@basquekitchenbyaitor.com.

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