Chef Sau del Rosario: “Food is a Language that Connects People”

Kapampangan chef Sau del Rosario: Food is a vital part of culture, tradition, and community-building

Introduction Patrick Kasingsing and Gabrielle de la Cruz
Interview Gabrielle de la Cruz
Images Sau del Rosario

 
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The year that was

Merriam-Webster’s “gaslighting,” Messi’s ‘crowning’ at the FIFA World Cup, the rise (and imminent fall?) of Musk-era Twitter, the monumental departures of Queen E and Pélé, and the continuing turbulence in Ukraine and Iran… 2022 sure was a memorable ride, for better or worse. 

On local shores, 2022 hosted a significant election, one whose outcome is still the subject of myriad Facebook groups, heated debates, and countless memes. It also broke records for dollar-to-peso exchange rates and the price of the humble onion, and paved the way for the return of concerts, exhibits, and other public gatherings (along with the pre-pandemic traffic situation, unfortunately). 

It is in the spirit of tenacious optimism that we at Kanto look back at 2022, parsing through the past year’s opportunities and challenges to find lessons and insights that can help arm us for the year ahead. 

YES 2023

Welcome to Kanto’s first Year End Special or YES 2023—a collection of conversations with creative professionals who help us unpack a year’s worth of lessons and insights, along with their forecasts and wishlists for the year ahead.

A conversation with Kapampangan chef, Sau del Rosario

For our last YES 2023 interview, we had a virtual chat with chef Sau del Rosario, who let us in on his observations in the food development industry in 2022 and his plans for 2023. Sau del Rosario is a Kapampangan chef who trained at the Culinary Institute of America. He also traveled to France, Singapore, Thailand, and Shanghai to develop his culinary skills before returning to the Philippines. Two of his most prominent restaurants, 25 Seeds and Cafe Fleur, are located in his hometown, Angeles City, Pampanga.

Kapampangan chef Sau del Rosario

Happy New Year, Chef Sau! How was your 2022? 

Hello Gabbie. My 2022 was productive. My hands were full as I opened two restaurants in the past year, which was exciting. As a chef, my restaurants are my babies. Having them includes a lot of caring and nurturing, and even challenges as well.

Both restaurants performed well, but we had to adjust during the third and fourth quarters of 2022 as more people started to come in. 

You got busier during the last months of 2022. Would you say the same for the food industry? How would you describe it in the past year? 

The food industry started to slowly gain traction in the first quarter of 2022 and basically took off in the second quarter. This was the time when new restaurants started popping out, leading the third quarter to be the peak of the food industry’s development in 2022. 

While this situation was promising, it was also quite challenging simply because as more and more options were available, the friendly competition in the food industry got a little tighter and chefs and food business owners were pushed to establish their identities. I would say that the holidays also paved the way for better revenue, but we’ll have to see how businesses can sustain themselves moving forward. 

25 seeds, Sau del Rosario
25 Seeds, Angeles City, Pampanga. This restaurant by Sau del Rosario is inspired by a farm-to-table concept.

Among all the restaurants that came out in 2022, were there any ones that stood out for you? 

I would say that most of the new restaurants are interesting. I particularly find the developments in Poblacion, Makati, very exciting. That place has been a haven for bars, restaurants, and food stalls for so long, so seeing it live up to its potential is great. 

I especially like how the new ventures in Poblacion are being put up by younger people as well. This may be due to the degustation food trend in 2022, but it says a lot about the progress of the industry. 

Matisse and Dr.Wine, which are both located in Bonifacio Global City, are also worth mentioning. I find that they are promising businesses. 

You mentioned that degustation was a food trend in 2022. What other trends did you observe? Are there food trends that you particularly liked? 

Concepts were everywhere in 2022. This may be because people were incubated for two years, leading them to think about opening up food businesses. I like how there were a variety of ideas about what type of restaurant people would want to put up, what each of the spaces would look like, and how owners will run their businesses. 

One good thing that happened in 2022 is that it provided opportunities for restaurant owners to start small. Home cooks are evolving and they are very lucrative. There are business owners now who started by baking cookies in their homes or delivering juice bottles during the pandemic. I like trends like these because these are trends with personalities. 

Of course, the downside is that we never really know what is going to happen in the near future. But it’s nice to see that we are taking risks. The good thing is that the uncertainties and anticipation can still make us want to look forward to the future of the food industry. 

Let’s discuss what you mentioned about the pandemic affecting the food industry. What were some of the changes that you noticed pre and post-COVID? 

The pandemic was a pivotal aspect. It really affected the food and hospitality industry. As mentioned, we had to step up and create products that can be delivered to homes such as pack lunches, pastries, and more. There was also a huge emergence of vegetarian and vegan options. Some dishes and meals even found their way into the spotlight such as sushi bake. But now, some of these are gone. 

I guess this is also due to the reality that businesses require a lot of resources. Sometimes it’s only those who have more investments and money for capital who can make it. A lot of people also resort to home-based businesses because they prove to be more sustainable. 

Honestly, I found that food players in 2022 are still the same players we’ve had over the last few years. Hopefully, we will be able to find more people who can help the food industry grow. 

You were among the food players that really stepped up in 2022, opening Cafe Fleur and Sawsaw in Makati. What was the experience like? What did you learn from this experience? 

During the pandemic, Cafe Fleur had to close down in Pampanga as fewer people came in. I then realized that there is a big market in the metro, so I decided to open the second branch of Cafe Fleur in Makati. 

Sawsaw, on the other hand, is all about fusion. It shows us that we can elevate Filipino food without sacrificing the comfort that it brings. I believe that Filipino restaurants continue to thrive because many people continue to patronize them. I am happy about this as Filipino cuisine is an important aspect of Philippine history and culture. 

The truth is that it takes guts. My driving principle is “No guts, no glory.” I just knew I had to do something. I found that if I was crazy enough and brave enough to put up two new restaurants in a year, I needed to make it work. 

We are also opening three restaurants in 2023. One will be located at Sindalan, San Fernando, Pampanga. Two will be located in Metro Manila, one in Greenhills and one in Molito, Alabang. We are introducing new concepts and doing things we’ve never done before. We are even thinking of putting up a restaurant in California. I remain very optimistic. I believe that you always have to connect with everything and everyone in order for you to grow. 

The pandemic exposed how much experience and resources people have. My age is proof that I have enough experience in the food industry, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t step up. Having a name doesn’t mean you no longer try hard. Growth happens when you reinvent yourself, have the power to know the market, listen to the needs of the people, and basically analyze everything. 

You will not hit the jackpot right away. You have to be determined and you have to believe in your project. Food is where my heart is and that’s how I get through my endeavors. 

Sawsaw, Sau del Rosario
Private dining area at Sawsaw, Poblacion, Makati

What a busy 2022 you’ve had! Did you get to take breaks? 

Breaks? I don’t think they existed. I do want to change that this year. Health is a priority for me and my mental health needs to recharge. I honestly miss being alone. I want to get back to traveling and find more inspiration. 

I think getting into a lot of things can also lead you to become toxic. It’s important to watch out for yourself. 

Glad to hear about your personal hopes for 2023. What about hopes for the work front? What are your dreams for the F&B industry?

I want the food industry to thrive. There are so many challenges now, especially in terms of cost. Food production is short, importation is expensive, and even basic items such as onions are costly nowadays. 

But I am hopeful. Food is food. It is a staple. It’s impossible for the food industry to disappear. The challenge for food business owners now is to make sure that the meals and products that they introduce will prove to be worth people’s money. 

From your perspective, what must be done in the F&B industry for it to continue to thrive? 

This is a heavy question to answer, but I will say that we need to help each other. Government intervention is vital, as it can provide opportunities for farmers and other people in the food production sector. There’s too much politics nowadays and that in itself affects the food industry, even tourism, hospitality, and the way we live. 

I belong to a group chat where there are about 400 chefs. We use that to talk about suppliers, conventions, how we can help people in need, how can bring products to provinces, and more. Back then, we kept certain things to ourselves and there was less unity. We stick together now. That’s just the way it is. You will not survive as a lone player. We need to set aside our differences and voice our concerns to corresponding agencies.

Sawsaw, Sau del Rosario
Sawsaw, Poblacion, Makati

Thanks for your time, Sau, but before we let you off, a bonus question: what’s the most recent meal that impressed you? 

I think it’s impossible for me to mention a specific dish, so I will just share something with you. The most important meal I have is not a fancy dish in any of my restaurants, it is the meal that people at home will cook for me once I get home. A simple bulalo dish will make my day. 

Even when I’m at work, I look forward to eating our staff meal. It’s rewarding to see when people prepare something for you. At the end of the day, food is a language and it’s all about connecting people. I believe that many people in my industry will agree with me on this. We live for the comfort that it brings. •

Gabrielle de la Cruz started writing about architecture and design in 2019. She previously wrote for BluPrint magazine and was trained under the leadership of then editor-in-chief Judith Torres and previous creative director Patrick Kasingsing. Read more of her work here and follow her on Instagram @gabbie.delacruz.

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