Portraits of a Chef: Miko Aspiras & Kristine Lotilla
As they put the finishing décor on their chocolate, slim brushes in hand, Chefs Miko Aspiras and Kristine Lotilla are unmoving, apart from the precise brush strokes that they make and the scrutiny that sometimes washes over their facial expressions. It is just as they said—they are basically one mind (“We’ve been one brain for maybe four years,” she says), sometimes glancing over at one another’s work with a quick nod or a comment. The business of the rest of the kitchen, staff moving in and out, is lost on them.
“What we’re passionate about is culinary. Kami ni Miko, we’re really hands-on. From purchasing, makikita mo kami sa Divisoria. Even when we started, I was thinking of taking an MBA ’cause wala kaming alam ni Miko how to do business. But someone told me: you don’t need an MBA. You’re surrounded with businessmen.”
But once the chocolate treats are done, the collective scrutiny stops, and they are able to enjoy what they’ve created; almost little works of art on a plate. No one fusses over the plate harder than Chef Miko, both in admiration and criticism (“I’m self-aware to a fault,” he says as he takes his phone out to capture photos, but takes another few minutes to move pieces around. “But it also helps me [as a chef].”) The design for one of his plates features several tiny triangles in an intricate design, which he says came to him the other day.
They’re also able to enjoy the chocolates on their palette—both of them being avid dessert-lovers. “I think we have the best chocolate cake,” Miko declares. “I think we kind of introduced the next Polly’s [chocolate cake]. Do you know about Polly’s Chocolate Cake? When I was in high school, you would hear about it talaga—yung mga matatanda, tito, tita—oh, Polly’s is the best! But it’s basically cocoa powder and condensed milk.”
According to the duo, Filipinos are still used to a particular quality of chocolate that has made their jobs as pastry chefs a little trying. “I think [some people are] more open now to dark chocolate,” Kristine says. “Our 17-layer cake is dark chocolate talaga. This is the cake we’re most proud of. It’s very approachable. It’s something my parents would like. Even my nephews who are one-digit ages like it. For the longest time, we try to test the market to see how far they would take our creativity but we knew, at the end of the day, the market would still go to relatability. And this was the product that we knew could relate to the market but still have the quality we wanted.”
The job of a pastry chef is no easy task—it’s quality and finesse, a kind of precision that Miko and Kristine couldn’t release even as business partners. Now having opened nine restaurant concepts since they first started out, they say that they’ve developed a kind of business sense that works for them. “Kristine would always say na with the 9 restaurant concepts that we opened, nine times na kami nag-MBA. From scratch talaga lahat, so you have to make it work.”