Chef Sau del Rosario has traveled all over the world, working in prestigious hotels and restaurants before finally coming back to the Philippines in 2007. His travels have served as inspiration for the beautiful dishes at Café Fleur, one of his restaurants in Angeles City, Pampanga.
We caught up with the Kapampangan chef who talked about his life back in Paris, his love for rescuing animals, and his one-time stint as a tuk tuk driver in Cambodia.
How did you end up opening restaurants in Angeles?
It was all accidental. I was invited to a party here in Angeles. I grew up here, of course, but my family migrated to the US after Mt. Pinatubo erupted. Then I saw the house where Café Fleur is now, which was my aunt’s house, and it was dilapidated. The current owners of the house didn’t know what to do with it so I presented myself and told them maybe I could do something with it.
What good memories do you have of Angeles?
I grew up going to the market with my mom at 5 o’clock in the morning just to get the freshest ingredients. My mom did not believe in refrigerators and microwave. Kailangan every day you go to the palengke. When I came back, I would get on my bicycle and go to the palengke. For me, the market is like a museum. Everything is a work of art.
What’s it like coming back to your hometown after a long time?
The best thing about Café Fleur is I never expected that there will be some sort of reconnection with everyone. I would see old playmates and neighbors here. It brings me down memory lane. I’ve come full circle and I feel good about that.
You stayed in Paris for quite a while. What was life like when you were there?
When I was in Paris, my life was [like Linguini] in the movie “Ratatouille”. I wanted to be friends with the French chefs but they weren’t that approachable. Every day, before our service starts, we will all eat together. One chef will cook for everyone. One time, I volunteered to cook Filipino food for them – adobo, paksiw, pinakbet. And I think I got their curiosity. I found out that food was a good way to communicate with them. After 2 years, 2 chefs came with me to Boracay, one got married to a Filipina and until now we’re good friends! I think culture is best served on a platter.
Where have you traveled to recently?
I was in Cambodia recently. I went to Angkor Wat and dared myself to eat spiders. I had a bit of scorpion, too. It was awful but I had to do it because it’s a good story to tell. I tried surfing for the first time in San Juan, La Union. I was able to stand up 3 times out of 12.
Do you like planning out your day when you travel?
I don’t do my research. I want spontaneity and adventure.
What’s one spontaneous thing you did during one of your trips?
When I was in Cambodia, I was thinking of what I would do for the day and I saw that the hotel I was staying at had a lot of tuk tuks. I asked the manager if I could rent one for the day and do hotel service for tourists. When the tourists saw me, they said “You’re not from here” but I said, “It doesn’t matter.” We got lost but it was exciting. It’s nice to be in a place where nobody knows you.
What do you do when you have free time?
I do feeding programs, I rescue animals. I have 6 cats at home and 2 dogs here in Angeles. One time, I asked my team to cook tinola with native chicken. Then I found out they brought in 2 live chickens and I felt bad about it. I told them we’ll cook the chickens the next day and when they all left, I set the chickens free. The following morning, I pretended like nothing happened.
I like Bangkok. I’m not into big cities. I like remote. I like Kathmandu. If I had the chance to go to Laos, I would go.
What’s left on your bucketlist?
I want to go to Zamboanga, Aparri, Siargao to surf.
Where are you headed next?
I’ll be in Denmark in May, Phnom Penh in June for a food festival, then Melbourne. It’s endless. It’s work but you find time to have some fun.
Shot on location at Cafe Fleur. This story appeared in Going Places’ March 2017 issue.