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It takes two to tango in Samira

IN THE hands of Josh Boutwood (the man behind Helm, The Test Kitchen, Savage, and Ember) and Chele Gonzalez (his Gallery by Chele is a consistent placer in Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list), a Wednesday dinner turned out to be a night to remember.

The collaboration between the two chefs at Anya Resort Tagaytay’s restaurant, Samira by Chele Gonzalez, is part of its Culinary Collections series. On Jan. 24, Mr. Gonzalez hinted at more collaborations with Cavite neighbor Rhea Rizzo (heading Mrs. Saldo’s), and Metronome’s Miko Calo.

THE DINNERThe meal started off with Mr. Boutwood’s Mango, Tuna, Ginger — a thin carabao mango tart filled with fermented soybean emulsion, smoked tuna, and pickled ginger. This had a strangely earthy flavor coupled with the strong fish, with a great burst of freshness. The meal continued with Samira’s Foie Gras on a Pineapple Waffle (luxurious and somewhat comfortable), and then their combined, one-night-only Standish Oysters with Caviar and Kombu (the oysters were very sweet, followed by the acidic zing of the yuzu gel).

Everyone’s favorite that evening was Ember’s Adlai, Mushroom, and Comte cheese risotto: earthy, creamy, and enchanting. This was paired with a fizzy Alvarinho, which cut through the creaminess and brightened up the grain. Everybody at the table looked back on this pairing with fondness, and it was rated the best pairing of that evening.

Not to be outdone, Mr. Gonzalez released his signature octopus, charred and grilled and served on paprika parmentier: perfect as usual. With a Tasmanian Trout Tartare, both dishes were a praise to the oceans. Mr. Boutwood also had his own seafood dish — a refreshing Seabass with Burnt Cauliflower Puree, paired with a roe sauce and dill oil.

Both chefs rolled up their sleeves for the main course, an Iberico Pork Chuleta, with parsnips and wild mustard. Most of the guests were silent at the first bite, which was perfectly tender and very expressive of Iberico pork’s unique flavor.

While we liked Mr. Gonzalez’ Cheese Ice Cream and Grilled Strawberries, it was Ember’s signature dessert, Chocolate, Chocolate, Chocolate (dark chocolate cremeux and white chocolate espuma with caramelized white chocolate poured over it all) was that evening’s sinning winner.

MUTUAL ADMIRATIONWhile Mr. Gonzalez is known for his frequent collaborations (we attended at least two of his collaborative dinners last year), Mr. Boutwood doesn’t make much noise about his (though he did count six of them last year).

“I am a believer in collaborations. I think collaborations are a wonderful opportunity for two chefs that have different mentalities when it comes to cooking,” he said. “Ultimately, the goal is something delicious. The exchange of cultures when it comes to cuisines is more important.”

He added, “I’m very selective as well with who I do my collaborations with, obviously. There has to be a connection. It’s like getting paired with a dancer. You want to have that level of connection to the chef.”

And what a partner he has with Mr. Gonzalez, about whom he said: “He’s very determined. He’s focused when it comes to cooking. It’s extraordinary.

“I don’t want him to hear my compliments, right?” he said jokingly. “But he has this ability to understand an ingredient very well. He has a deep understanding of his cuisine and culture.”

For his part, Mr. Gonzalez told us about his partner’s strengths. “He’s very easy to deal with. He is calm; he is focused. An open mind.”

Mr. Gonzalez had his own thoughts about collaborations: more than gimmicks, they’re a way for chefs to learn more about the craft, through each other.

“Even when you have a lot of experience and your level of cooking is very high, you still need to keep updating yourself. How do you do that? How can you keep learning? You need to still be out there and keep knowing and learning more. Eating in good restaurants gives you the palate and the understanding of how chefs cook at a high level — but also collaborations. Collaborating is a way to see how people cook, understand food, do techniques. It’s a very motivating way to learn.”

PLANS FOR 2024Both chefs were reticent about their plans this year (though they said they had lots).

Mr. Boutwood said, “We will — I hope we will — open one more restaurant within the year.” Mr. Gonzalez said, “You will know. I have a lot of things going on.”

Santi Elizalde, the president and CEO AHG Hotels and Resorts — which manages Anya, Niyama, Club Punta Fuego, Ylang-Ylang Spa, and Amara Residences, among others —  was a bit chattier about his plans, significant since Anya celebrates its 7th anniversary in 2024. He said they are targeting locations in Palawan, Mindanao, and maybe even the Mountain Province, in about three to five years.

“What we want to do is continue to develop the brand, strengthening the brand, and then obviously trying to [go] forward by putting up more properties; more resorts,” he told BusinessWorld. — Joseph L. Garcia

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