Portraits of a Chef: Josh Boutwood
From Alchemy in Boracay to Test Kitchen, Savage, and now Helm—Josh Boutwood‘s restaurants begin with mindfully created concepts and end with incredible flavors. But he’s not finished.
Josh Boutwood eats for sustenance, not for pleasure. After a long hard day’s work in the kitchen, he’s more than happy to come home and open the fridge to leftover rice and yesterday’s chicken, which isn’t to say he isn’t thinking about the pleasures of food constantly—rather, he goes to sleep thinking about it. So often that his daughter has received a “Shit, get it out of the oven!” when she attempted to wake him up.
“Time is an ingredient because look what happens when time passes… it matures flavors, oftentimes it creates a better texture; if we were to take a tomato and not properly age it in the sense that we get the most out of the vegetable, we’d hardly be making a sauce.”
It also doesn’t leave him detached from the idea of food: “You have to name the child,” he tells us, after he pulls out a slimy layer from his ginormous mason jar of kombucha. The mother scoby inside had been sitting there for two years. A scoby is what they call the base mixture of yeast and bacteria that grows over time. Eventually, the mother births children, which can be put into another jar to make more kombucha. In time, the child becomes the mother. From outside the jar looking in, it looks like mucky line art. It’s almost magical in its rawness.
“It’s time,” Josh says. “Time is my favorite ingredient.” He pulls out what looks like a hundred teabags out of their box to start boiling the tea component in the kombucha. I ask if he always prefers teabags to tea leaves. No, he says. Time was low on stock that day; it was the week of Helm’s opening. But the chef’s trickiest ingredients—time, restrictions, rules—are also Josh’s best.
“Helm is my playground,” he says over three cups of Americanos (surely he still enjoys the pleasure and function of a good cup of coffee). The menu changes every four months, according to a theme, usually born from an idea or thought that he has during one of his many other projects. The current menu features local ingredients sourced from different regions of the Philippines. The kombucha—a vital part of his drink and food pairings—is just another rung on the jungle gym of Josh’s mind, and Helm just another step in the right direction. “I honestly don’t believe we should measure our success as an end goal, rather than as a journey. I don’t look back on milestones. I would rather look forward to challenges, and in saying that… my work will never be finished. There will always be something that needs to be done or has to get done. It will be a constant journey. We have to keep going and never find a finish line.”