HE worked for Noma, a two Michelin Star restaurant in Copenhagen, Denmark, run by celebrated chef Rene Redzepi (who made foraging a global culinary trend) and was chosen as the World’s Best Restaurant by the annual S. Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurant Awards from 2010 to 2012 and again in 2014. He was part of the Noma team that made the restaurant No. 1 for the very first time in 2010.
From there, he moved to Manhattan, New York, to work for celebrity chef Thomas Keller’s new American and French restaurant Per Se, which was the recipient of New York Times’ Best Restaurant in New York City award.
Then, in 2012, he became head chef of Yours Truly, a casual dining restaurant in Toronto, Canada, that earned rave reviews and made him a celebrity chef in his own right. He also got to work at Viajante in London, the United Kingdom; and Rockpool in Sydney, Australia, before moving on to Singapore to work as head chef for Burnt Ends, a modern Australian barbecue place which served, in his own words, “simple, straight-forward food all cooked over wood fire in a 4-ton deal cavity oven with custom-made grills that allow us to adjust the heights of the grills depending on what we’re cooking.”
Now, he is in Manila for a limited engagement at Chef Jessie Rockwell Club until July 10, 2015. His name is Chef Jeff Claudio, and he’s proudly Filipino. He was born and raised in Canada, and he happens to be the cousin of celebrity chef Jessie Sincioco, who provided him with the initial kitchen training that he needed to become the highly creative and talented chef that he is today.
What’s even more amazing is that, 12 years ago, he did not even know what direction he wanted to take in life. Fresh out of high school in Vancouver, Canada, Jeff excelled in playing golf and was offered a golf scholarship. But his parents, Fidel Claudio and Epifania Cruz, made a sound suggestion which he heeded—why not go to Manila and work in his cousin Chef Jessie’s restaurant? Chef Jessie happened to be vacationing in Canada at that time, and she cooked for her relatives on her last night in Canada. So, one day, he called his cousin, got on a plane to Manila, and trained at Chef Jessie’s former restaurant, Le Souffle, for eight months. Afterwards, he went back home to Canada and started cooking. He joined culinary competitions and won a lot of them. Then he started working for the world-renowned restaurants and, the rest, as they say, is history.
Now a promising chef of the world, Chef Jeff is now in Manila to share his expertise and serve his kind of food to Chef Jessie Rockwell Club patrons for a limited period. He serves as the restaurant’s guest chef until July 10, 2015, so anyone who wants to have a taste of Noma and Per Se has until Friday to make reservations and dine at Chef Jessie Rockwell Club.
Chef Jeff’s cuisine is simple and fuss-free. He even has his cousin remove the tablecloths from the tables and replace it with brown paper; and his plates, which are for sharing, look appetizingly good but are not overly fussed over.
For starters, he offers Potato Rolls with Virgin Butter (Php150). These are soft rolls served with seasoned butter on a brown paper lined plate.
Appetizers come in the form of Clams Calamansi Kosho (Php350), which are really fresh clams on half shells flavored with yuzukosho, a type of Japanese seasoning made with chili peppers, yuzu peel and salt that have been allowed to ferment. The seasoning does not overpower the fresh clams; it simply enhances the natural flavors of the clams.
Two other appetizers are Snapper & Squid “Leche Tigre” (Php500) and Pork Croquette and Gribiche (Php450). The Snapper & Squid “Leche Tigre” looks daunting at first, as it is served with a mound of crispy vermicelli topped with micro greens. A closer look reveals a milky sauce, and hidden inside are snapper and squid ceviche strips garnished with finely onion slices. You need to mix up everything and enjoy the “leche tigre” (which translates to “milk of the tiger” but is actually a Peruvian technique of marinating ceviche in milk). As for the Pork Croquette and Gribiche, it is sisig made into a terrine and cut up before being breaded and fried to a golden crisp, served with a dip of mayonnaise-style cold egg sauce called gribiche. It’s a perfect combination.
A fourth appetizer on Chef Jeff’s menu is Crab Toast, Urchin and Lardo (Php750).
A must-try among the salads for the limited engagement is the Endive & Banana Heart Salad with Pomelo & Walnut (Php450). It has leaves of endives with thin strips of banana heart, pomelo pulp and roughly chopped walnuts. What’s unique about it is the dressing of brown butter cooked with orange juice and sherry vinegar that tastes like burnt caramel or toffee that is not too sweet. The salad is finished with finely grated cheese.
Other salad choices are Warm “Queso Puti” Tomato and Migas (Php400), Beef Tartare, Corn and Shiso (Php500), and Lettuce and Herbs with Palm Sugar Vinaigrette (Php200).
Two of the best main courses on Chef Jeff Claudio’s menu are Grilled Sugpo with Mentaiko Butter and Chives and Cape Grim Beef with Carrot Polenta and Brown Butter. The prawns used by Chef Jeff for his Grilled Sugpo with Mentaiko Butter and Chives are huge, and you could taste the freshness that gives the dish a natural sweetness. It goes very well with the mentaiko butter (*mentaiko refers to the roe of Pollock and cod, which is a common ingredient used in Japanese cooking), sprinkled with chopped chives. As for the striploin steak, Chef Jeff uses Cape Grim Beef, which is exceptional quality Australian beef grown in a natural, pristine environment, cooked a bit rare, served with licorice tamarind carrot puree, lined with thinly sliced carrot rounds, and topped with a salad of watercress and pakô (fiddlehead fern).
Chef Jeff’s Native Pig, Papaya and Tamarind is also worth a try.
For dessert, the young Filipino-Canadian chef has this really good Almond Pudding with Rice Syrup and Coconut Ice (Php300). It’s a plate full of taho-looking almond pudding with sliced almonds and chunks of crushed ice. It may look ordinary but it tastes really heavenly, as you can really taste the almond in the pudding, and the softness of the pudding contrasting with the crunch and texture of the sliced almond nuts and the melting coldness of the ice.
There are two other desserts on the menu—Tres Leches (Php350) and Reduced Milk, Banana, Peanut and Polvoron (Php300).
So, for a taste of Noma in Denmark and Per Se in New York, with a bit of Singapore’s Burnt Ends, Canada’s Yours Truly, London’s Viajante and Australia’s Rockpool, head for Chef Jessie Rockwell Club.
(Chef Jessie Rockwell Club is located at 23 Amorsolo Drive, Rockwell Center, Makati City; with telephone numbers 890-6543 and 890-7630.)