Words by Denise J. Mallabo | Photos by Shaira Luna
When I arrived at the Frasier place in Makati, I had a sudden flashback upon seeing Le Bistro Vert: the place almost overflowing, people: bottle of beer in one hand and a cancer stick in the other, accompanied by muffled yet still loud music coming from the band playing inside. The spot where that bar used to be now accommodates a charming and very inviting restaurant.
Le Bistro Vert, which means The Green Bistro, caters to the more “health conscious,” and most of the ingredients found in their dishes come from local farmers and producers, and from small organic farms. The restaurant is owned by a number of food lovers and one of the most popular local chefs, Chef Sau del Rosario.
We asked singer/songwriter Armi Millare from the band Up Dharma Down (UDD) to join us for lunch. Armi has one of the most commanding singing voices in today’s local music scene. When asked about her band’s success she simply said that she’s happy they are able to share UDD’s unique sound without having to compromise each other’s individuality and passion. “It feels great to know that there are other people who can relate to an experience that brought me so much pain; to cause me to write something; for me to be confident enough to sing about it and for them to be patient enough to listen. That to me is the more important face of success,” says Armi. Her love for music is so massive that she wishes she had started playing it at an early age. “I spent too much time playing doctor when I could’ve spent it playing the piano,” declares Armi.
Read on as we get to know her—and Le Bistro Vert—during our lunch date.
What’s the first song that you ever liked to the point that you wished you wrote it? I don’t remember the first one, but right now it would have to be “Happiness” by The Blue Nile. The lines that go, “I can do wrong, but I will do right” just tears me up inside because the origin of this song is something I am not, and something I may never learn. I can be pretty reckless sometimes.
When was it that you actually told yourself “Aahh, we’ve kinda made it”? Honestly I don’t see any difference from the way things were in the past. The band effortlessly keeps quite a low profile. “Making it” in this business, in my book, is more about getting people to accept our music for the way it is, and that some are more open-minded these days to listen to it, even if I think it’s not really that complicated. It’s just not what you hear on the radio everyday. How was your first gig out of the country? Can you tell us a little something about it? We went to Hong Kong for the first time in 2007. I was so nervous; it felt like we were starting all over again because we were in a country where people neither speak English or Filipino. It was fun, though. It made me feel like I really made the right decision giving music a chance. It was monumental because it told me how I would never have gotten the chance to travel and do something that is the core of my being. You lost a lot of weight, what is thy secret? I just went to the gym for four months, got on that bike everyday for twenty minutes. I ate the same things but I was more careful with the proportions, and I realized that it’s not about stuffing your face with your favorite food, but enjoying every little detail by having a few bites. I’ve stopped going to the gym, but I swim from time to time to maintain it, and these days, I mix it up with running. Your style also changed, how come? I’ve always been such a tomboy growing up. My friends are mostly boys, and I grew up with two brothers so you’d never catch me in a dress unless I really had to be in one. I also thought I had to be “the girl” in the group so I acted it. Then I realized that I didn’t have to cater to the typical look that girls go for since I’m a little offbeat anyway; some are too feminine for my own taste. So I stuck to the whole androgynous look. I cut my hair really short so I take very little time grooming myself because I move slowly naturally. Now there’s a significant change in how long I take preparing for a show. What do you think would be a terrible misconception about you? That I’m high maintenance, outgoing, and like to go out. Sure I go out, but half the time I go on my own or go with just one companion. I cannot handle a big group. I’m more of an intimate conversationalist, and I limit company to three people if it’s a group. My job takes me to go to bars and noisy places so I don’t look for that when I’m out. I like quiet evenings and traveling alone if I can manage to not get lost! What do you think about Le Bistro Vert’s atmosphere? Interiors? I love it. I’d love to make it the prototype for the loft I want someday. It’s very relaxed, and good for any kind of date be it with friends, family, or loved ones. It’s lively enough; there’s lots of sun. I’d have breakfast here every now and then if I could. Would you have imagined it to look like this after how it looked like when it was still a bar? Not at all. It’s totally changed. The fact that I went there in the daytime is a big factor, too.
For appetizers, you ate the Thai Style Dory Fish Cakes and Lemongrass Turmeric Chicken Satay. How were they?
Good! I especially loved the fish cakes. Mmm. Mmm. Mmm. Mmm.
How was the Tawilis, Salted Egg and Sweet Sour Mango salad?
Good, too! The combination of the salted egg and the tawilis and light dressing seemed perfect. How did you like your Spiced Pumpkin soup?
I give it five stars. It’s a must try. Never forget to order it!
You also had a taste of the Tuyo Penne Quesong Puti, how did it fare?
Good. I wanted more quesong puti though.
For the main course, you tasted two of their best dishes: the Beef Mignon “Bifstek Style” and Palawan Cashew & Herb Crusted Sole Fillet, how were they?
They were both good, but if I were to choose between the two, I’d pick the Beef Mignon.
For dessert, you ate the Calamansi iLime Pie, which I heard Chef Sau prepared himself, was it as yummy as it looks?
The Calamansi iLime Pie was great. If I had less self-control, I’d finish it in less than a minute. Talk about not stuffing my face with food. What is your favorite among all that was served? The fish cakes and the pumpkin soup: I love them, as well as the lychee with tofu shake. Who would be the perfect person to bring here? My mom and dad. They love places like these. We were all vegetarian for thirteen years before I became the prodigal foodie, but after this experience I’m thinking of going vegan again.
They say never trust a skinny chef, but how about a sexy one? We luckily caught up with the very busy Chef Sau del Rosario, and listened as he spoke about Le Bistro Vert, his ideal comfort food, and the perils of being popular.
How does is feel like to be one of the most sought after chefs in the Philippines?
I always get that question nowadays. There’s always a price to fame like one time I was checking in at the airport, and when I was going to have my bags checked, the inspector said “Diba ikaw si Chef Sau? Okay nayan!” That’s actually the good thing about it. Some would just stalk me in Facebook, kaya ang daming nakikipag chat, ang daming nagpapa-friends. The worst disadvantage lang would be that they look at you from head to toe, watch what you wear, know where you go, how much alcohol you take, and all of a sudden being a public figure you now have an image to protect since you already have product sponsors and endorsements. Luckily, I don’t see myself as a celebrty so I don’t have that complex. I live the same way as before all of these things started.
You mean when you were part of that ice cream commercial?
Yeah, but I really think that my popularity came from being a good chef because I’ve been in the business for a while and the in thing now is magluto—all of a sudden, everyone wants to cook now, and kami ngayon yung mga muhkang mga seniors (chuckles). I don’t want to be called senior citizens, the veterans na lang. Ha-ha!
How did you start cooking? Did you really wanted to be a chef since you were young?
I started very young since my father’s a chef, and I came from Pampanga, a region where everybody cooks. I got exposed at a very young age and then, I took HRA in UP, then I did my training in France for five years. I also worked in hotels and restaurants in Singapore, Shanghai, Bangkok, etc. I really love to cook, hindi ko nga alam anong gagawin ko kung hindi nga ako naging kusinero. I’d probably end up as a prostitute. Ha-ha! I’ll just lie-down. I don’t have any talent other than cooking.
Can you remember the first dish that ever cooked? How was it?
It was rellenong bangus, which is actually very difficult to prepare. I was five.
What’s your comfort food?
I’m not a gourmet guy, really. My ideal comfort food would be Pinoy food. I like bulalo, I like adobo, I like menudo. I’m very mababaw. I don’t like going to gourmet restaurants anymore since that’s already what I do. I can’t even eat salmon and sea bass anymore.
How is Le Bistro Vert different from other restaurants?
It’s very unique since we introduce sustainable food. My partners Chit, Jenny, Lot, and Rena go around the Philippines, and then they look for fresh ingredients and bring it to Manila. I try to experiment and when it tastes okay, then it comes out in the menu. If a costumer likes our food and asks about the ingredients, we are more than willing to give the name of our supplier so that we can also help these small organic farmers. We really support these communities. We would like to encourage them to grow more because if there is a good enough demand for these products, the prices would go down eventually. You know, it’s just plain economics. Almost all our ingredients here are organic, even our pork is organic; they’re fed with Arugula. Our chickens are free range, it’s a little bit tough, but the taste is better. Since we have an advocacy to promote, we try to break that misconception of organic being really expensive that’s why we try to bring down the price of our food.
What’s your specialty here?
Iba-iba, usually people order fish or salad.
Le Bistro Vert
Streetside, Fraser Place, Ground Floor Fraser Tower, Valero Street, Salcedo Village, Makati City.
They are open from Monday to Friday, 7 a.m.–10 p.m., and Saturdays from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.
For reservations and inquiries call 403.1841 (telefax).
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