Portraits of a Chef: Jordy Navarra
Toyo Eatery has made a name for itself for its elevated takes on Filipino classics, although Jordy himself might fight you on the word “elevated.” Nevertheless, this classy restaurant’s interpretation of Filipino dishes has won the Miele One To Watch Award for Asia 2018.
Jordy Navarra finds it more enjoyable to eat in other restaurants. “It feels… narcissistic,” he says about eating his own food. He cringes when he describes how critical he can be: “Even when it’s simple, actually even more so when it’s simple. Simple things like rice can’t hide behind layers of complexity.”
“Ano ba ang Filipino condiment? What do we contribute to the culinary world? There are lots that are similar with other cultures. But banana ketchup is something very Pinoy. For others, it’s weird. For us, it’s normal.”
But for Jordy, the act of making food is not an exclusively objective, critical experience—it’s simultaneously an emotional one. As the creator of Toyo Eatery, Jordy has practically melded heart and mind with the concept of Toyo—rarely referring to himself as a single unit, preferring pronouns like “we”—and the idea of homey flavors that everyone can enjoy. “Cooks like to cook for other people,” he says. His home kitchen—in little things like equipment and ingredients—has migrated into Toyo’s kitchen, where he can enjoy the company of other cooks. They don’t mind fucking up once or twice; rather, the fuck-up might just be a step in the right direction.
“Food is dynamic. It’s everyone’s. Chinese restaurants back in the day would put Spanish names on Chinese food. For [Filipinos], asado is char siu. In Argentina, you say asado and they’ll be like, ‘Why is it sweet? Why does it look like Chinese food?’ For Filipinos, you can’t tell us that it’s not supposed to be like that. If we were more mayabang [as a] gastronomic culture, we would give it a different name and people would say, ‘Oh that’s ganito from the Philippines.’ But we’re not like that.”
That’s the fun of it, he claims—that in the Philippines, international cuisines can live in the same menu. “At Toyo, we don’t think, ‘We’re gonna elevate Filipino cuisine!’ or ‘We’re gonna make it fancy!’ It was never [about] that. As Filipino chefs in the Philippines, how will we represent where we’re from, how we eat, what we do?”