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WHEN the Michelin Guide was first published in the early 1900s, it was to provide a guide for motorists to find out where they could get a (very good) bite to eat. Now, they’re used to rate the world’s top restaurants with a system of stars. A restaurant in Cebu, set up by a chef with a Michelin-starred restaurant, is a worthy stop in the Queen City of the South.
Located at the Cebu Business Park (one of the city’s posher districts), the Pig & Palm was founded by Jason Atherton. Mr. Atherton’s Pollen Street Social in London was awarded one Michelin Star in 2011 (and has managed to hold on to it in 2022). He has also co-hosted the TV show My Kitchen Rules in the UK.
“His wife is Cebuana. He wanted to open up in her hometown,” explained Jamie Doe, the Pig & Palm’s Head Chef, about how the English chef opened a restaurant on the other side of the world. The name is an ode to Cebu’s fondness for pig (“The pig in Cebu is very big, you know?,” he said), but also English pub-naming conventions. “The pig and the palm trees is the Cebuano part,” said Mr. Doe.
BusinessWorld met Mr. Doe, and dined at the Pig & Palm, during an interisland familiarization tour through Boracay, Cebu, and Coron, organized by Philippine Airlines (PAL) and the Tourism Promotions Board (TPB).
We were taken to an imposing all-wood function room that was innocuous enough in the daytime, but could have the air of being quite an imposing presence in the evening. It looks to be a setting for important meetings: either commercial or romantic in nature. Mr. Doe waves off the adjectives “imposing” and “intimidating”: “That’s the last thing I want!” Rather, these are the scenes in the restaurant he would remember: “We can have family dinners. We’ve had date nights. We’ve had people proposing here, which is amazing,” he said. “We have a bit of everything.”
The tour group — this reporter along with other guests from the media (and the celebrity father of one from the party), as well as officers from PAL and TPB — started with giant seaweed crackers with wasabi and calamansi mayo (P200), and the restaurant’s signature brioche, with onion jam and chicken and thyme butter (P295). The crackers were appetizing enough. Still sleepy from a car ride across the hot city, the brioche opened my eyes. It was buttery, perfectly soft; and tasted like what an average brioche would like to taste like. Coupled with the onion jam and the chicken-flavored butter, it was an exercise for the senses.
While another table praised the KFC (Korean Fried Chicken) with kimchi ketchup (P580), we reserved this praise for the Poached Red Grouper (in Filipino, lapu-lapu, sharing a name with the city’s first hero) with a Gruyere crust, sitting on a bed of parsley adlai and topped with balsamic caviar (P970). It was light but filling, perfect for the heat of summer; while the parsley livened up perfectly textured adlai grains, displaying the integrity of the ingredient.
Perhaps the city’s proximity to the sea has hand in the grouper’s excellence. Mr. Doe said, “We try to use as many local suppliers as possible,” he said. “I’m very passionate about trying to find small, local suppliers.”
“I’m not mainstream. I’m trying to find the little people that I can help — and they can help me. We can work closely and build a relationship,” he said.
Despite sharing a parent with a Michelin-star restaurant, Mr. Doe reminds us that there is no Michelin Guide for the Philippines. “We’re not trying to claim we’re a Michelin-star restaurant. We’re just doing great food that’s accessible to anyone.”
Asked whether they’d be opening a branch in the capital, he said, “It’s something we have talked about before, but it wouldn’t be Pig & Palm. Every one of Jason’s restaurants is unique.”
The restaurant has been standing for six years, and Mr. Doe has been working there for three. Two of those years have been spent holding the line during the pandemic, as well as holding up the restaurant during Typhoon Odette, which went through five provinces in the Visayas, including Cebu, last December.
“We’ve had hard times, but I’ve got a great team here,” he said.
He talked about reopening, but having to contend with curfews and liquor bans early in the pandemic. “It was really against us,” he said. Still, he said, “We kept all of our team.”
On Odette, he pointed out the restaurant’s roof: “We’ve literally just managed to fix it now.” The typhoon caused structural damage around the city, as well as power and water outages. “We really were lucky that we have a generator here. We had full power and electricity. But for many of my staff — me included — we didn’t have power, we didn’t have water [at home].”
With some optimism, he talked about the reduction of restrictions to enter Cebu after the pandemic. “With the borders reopening, we started seeing a lot of new faces coming. Tourists are coming back. It’s really nice.
“Especially after the pandemic… they’re starting to explore different local places.”
The Pig & Palm is located at the MSY Tower, Pescadores Rd., Cebu Business Park, Cebu City. For more information, visit the Instagram page @thepigandpalm. — Joseph L. Garcia