The first time Manila-based chef Jordy Navarra visited India was in 2019 to present a tasting menu, which included tadgola (ice apple), kokum-glazed jackfruit, and burong upajo (preserved Filipino mangoes), in collaboration with Mumbai’s Masque. Three years later, he’s back in Mumbai for yet another collaboration with the restaurant this weekend. This time it will be a duet act by Chefs Navarra and Varun Totlani, head chef at Masque.
“Chef Totlani and I met in March this year and started talking about collaborating again and this time we wanted to highlight the commonalities between Filipino and Indian cultures,” Navarra tells Lounge. In March, both Masque and Manila’s Toyo Eatery, founded by Navarra and his wife in 2016, were featured in the prestigious list Asia’s Best 50 restaurants. It was at the awards event in Singapore that the two chefs reconnected.
This time, both chefs are working to present dishes that blend Indian and Filipino cuisines in a familiar yet unique way. Talking about Filipino food, Navarro says regional recipes and ingredients immensely influence his cooking. It was his desire to focus on Filipino food that birthed Toyo Eatery. At Toyo, he has aimed to seamlessly bring traditional food to a modern palette.
“I love the simple food that’s made with wood-fire, grills, and open fire and also, pickles, condiments which you can use with the produce we get in the city to come up with our cooking style at Toyo,” Navarro says. This year, Toyo Eatery was awarded the prestigious Flor de Caña Sustainable Restaurant Award for its commitment to the environment shown through efforts to minimise its carbon footprint and focus on sourcing the ingredients locally.
“One of the ways to practice sustainability in food, which we practice at Toyo, is to support local farmers and make sure we buy produce directly from them, through local markets. I would also advise people to reuse ingredients and come up with different ways to do so instead of sending them to landfills,” Navarro says.
While sustainability is one of his inspirations for his menu, the other is rural and regional cuisines of the Philippines as well as Filipino culture ranging from vegetable folk songs to war heroes, to street-side cooks and even heritage salt makers. This focus on regional food, redressing loved flavours with new techniques, is a shared interest among the Navarra and Totlani. Both work on learning from the familiar to create new recipes and make their dishes ingredient-focused.
In fact, one of the first conversations the two had as they reunited this week was about the similarities between Indian and Filipino food. “We use a lot of garlic and vinegar as well as fermented pastes and pickles. In fact, there are many similarities between Indian and Filipino cuisines. For instance, we have the mango pickle but without the spices, as we don’t use that many spices. I am curious to play with the spices this time as they can add an extra layer to the food,” Navarro says.
Navarro has come to India geared with some local bases and ingredients. “He has bought ferments, pastes, and different pickles and now we get to experiment and see how to use them in the dishes we make,” Totlani says. Some ingredients from Navarro’s box are burong pajo (fermented small mangoes), pickled aruy-uy chillies, salted egg, and fermented shrimp paste. For the two-day event, the chefs are “trying to find a menu to which we both relate but it is new and interesting,” says Jordy. Through food, they are hoping to present a way of rediscovering and understanding their cultures.
“While the event focuses on bringing the two cultures closer, we also want to ensure that people who might not know about the other cuisine would be able to enjoy it. We want both local and international people to connect to the food and also find it new and fun,” Totlani says.
One of the dishes on the menu for this weekend is siomai with fermented black rice and chilli garlic and jicama (Mexican turnip) momo which is a shout-out to the influences of Chinese cultures that have become an integral part of the cuisines of both countries. Navarra grew up eating siomai as a popular snack as a child, making his version using radish skin. For this dish, the chefs will use a jicama wrapper stuffed with fermented black rice and finished with chilli-garlic oil. This will be served with the Indian version, with a jicama-skin momo filled with prawns and Kashmiri chilli oil.
Another dish on the menu is kinilaw, a Filipino preparation and dish of raw seafood, much like ceviche. Here, the chefs will use aged Filipino mackerel brought to Bombay by Navarra, cured in coconut vinegar with pickled ginger and lime zest. The nata de coco (a fermented coconut jelly) adds sweetness and tang; for vegetarians, the fish is swapped with tadgola, cured kinilaw-style.
The collaboration dinner at Masque will be on 9 -10 June. For bookings, contact +91 98190 69222 or email@example.com.