I’m a chef and restaurateur based in Metro Manila, where I have been running Sarsá Kitchen + Bar since 2014. I serve traditional dishes from Negros Island – the Philippine region where I was born and raised – and give them a contemporary twist. Sarsá currently has six outlets and I spend most of my days hopping from one branch to another aboard my trusty and efficient Vespa – it’s honestly the fastest way to get around Metro Manila’s traffic gridlock.
In my hometown of Bacolod City, I still co-own Mai Pao Tea House and Mushu, my first two restaurant ventures. When I get to escape the demands of the business, I like to rides the waves in different surfing spots in the Philippines – this was actually the inspiration behind Hungry with Chef JP, a weekly food and travel documentary that I host on CNN Philippines.
I grew up in Bacolod City, in a compound that was built by my grandfather, an immigrant from China, and I would always sit beside him at the dinner table. I guess that’s how I first fell in love with good food.
We like grand gestures, so we make sure to take our guests to the best places so that they have the best time.
I don’t get to visit home often, but when I do I like going to my favorite eating spots – it’s a small area and I can easily dine at three establishments in 30 minutes. Being here reminds me of how far I’ve come in my career. When I was still running Mai Pao and Mushu, I always dreamed of playing with the big boys in Manila. My sister, business partner and best critic, Tracie, gave me the best advice: if you don’t serve Filipino food, you will never be recognized. So I started serving some Negrense food at Mushu and, as they say, the rest was history.
I remember to this day the very first people who believed in me, like Neal Oshima, a respected photographer, who showed up one day and told me, “Hey man, you have good food here. You should open a restaurant in Manila.”
Claude Tayag, a restaurateur and food columnist, was in Bacolod City while touring the country for his guidebook, Linamnam: Eating One’s Way Around the Philippines, when he ordered Mushu’s pansit molo, a pork dumpling soup originating from Iloilo province’s Molo district. He looked for me in the kitchen and told me, “This is the best molo I’ve ever had – and I just came from Iloilo.” I immediately called Tracie to tell her about getting his stamp of approval.
Life here is still charmingly slow-paced – so you’ll definitely have time to relax and take it all in.
There’s so much to love about Bacolod City. The drive from the airport is scenic – views of sugarcane plantations lining either side of the road slowly give way to the sight of Mount Mandalagan, and as you enter the commercial center of Silay City, majestic century-old heritage houses remind you of the province’s rich and storied past.
Bacolod City may be developing fast, but don’t let the new malls and commercial buildings fool you. Life here is still charmingly slow-paced – so you’ll definitely have time to relax and take it all in.
Whenever I’m hosting friends visiting from abroad, Bacolod is always on the itinerary for a food trip. The capital of Negros Occidental, Bacolod’s nickname is the City of Smiles because we’re a very friendly bunch. Filipinos are generally known for being hospitable but here we’re just a little more so. We like grand gestures, so we make sure to take our guests to the best places so that they have the best time.
The best breakfast in Bacolod City is at a local’s home – but the next best spot is German Locsin Unson Heritage House. Built in 1938 by Unson and his wife, Fe dela Rama Ledesma, it’s just a 10-minute drive from the airport and was just recently turned into a four-room bed and breakfast by their daughters. I order the Chorizo ni Lola breakfast set – which comes with fried garlic rice and native brewed coffee, tea or calamansi juice – and the Tsokolate Platter comprised of hot Spanish chocolate sprinkled with pinipig, ibus (sticky rice cooked in coconut milk), puto (steamed rice cakes) from Manapla and fresh fruits. Zamora St, Silay City; +63 34 432-2943
Silay City, once affectionately called the Paris of Negros for the opulent lifestyle of its sugar barons, has a fair number of heritage houses that are still in good condition. While some have been turned into museums, most of them are still lived in or used as a place of business – such as the Soledad Lacson Ancestral House on Rizal Street which is occupied by Emma Lacson Delicacies. It’s a business that’s been around since the 1920s and remains popular among Bacolod’s old families who can’t get enough of its lumpia ubod – a fresh spring roll served on a homemade crepe made with egg whites and filled with the pith of a young coconut trunk. 120 Rizal St, Silay City