Chele Gonzales is probably one of the Philippines’ most high-profile chefs, who has made an impact on fine dining and culinary circles in Manila. He garnered international fame from his then-restaurant, ‘Vask’, which was ranked amongst the best in all of Asia, having landed Best in Philippines and 35th in Asia in 2017 by The Wolds 50 Best.
2018 marks a new beginning for Chele, with the closing of Vask and rebranding his operations to introduce Gallery By Chele.
According to Chele, Gallery is the next evolution of Vask and this time around, he has officially partnered with Chef Carlo Villaflor—who has worked under him for years—to take the next step on their culinary journey.
The duo brings the same skills and experience that made Vask the best in the Philippines and applies those tried and true methods to Gallery By Chele. With Chele’s global perspective and Carlos’ knowledge of local flavors and ingredients, they have crafted a menu for Gallery that is a step away from the high-end atmosphere of Vask for a more laid-back and casual dining experience.
After finishing culinary school in Spain, Chele continued to hone his craft under the tutelage of some of the world’s most renowned chefs and has worked alongside them in some of the world’s best restaurants such as elBulli and El Celler de Can Roca.
His time in Spain, having learned from culinary masters is what prepared him for his later journey into South East Asia. And indeed, Chele brings with him that knowledge and experience only a handful of chefs in the world can claim.
Chele himself plays down his extraordinary culinary journey. And despite his superb credentials, he still has this air of curiosity about food and ingredients, and that curiosity translates into his cooking.
Chele first came to the Philippines 7 years ago and immediately fell in love with the culinary heritage of the islands.
He first found work at a couple of 5-star hotels before he was given the opportunity to run his own restaurant which would become the renowned Vask.
Vask was his shot to put to use all the knowledge and experience he garnered over the years. All his hard work and dedication finally paid off when Vask won Best Restaurant in the Philippines.
For Chele, food and love are the same; and his passion for the culinary arts is evident in his cooking and the lengths he will go just to perfect a dish.
Ingredients are important to Chele; and if you spend any amount of time with him, you’ll quickly understand why. Like any Chef worth their salt, Chele understands the vital connection between the kitchen and the produce they use.
One of his personal goals is to bring Filipino produce into the mainstream. Ingredients are sourced locally (as much as possible) and Chele has already formed working relationships with local farmers and producers to ensure quality and freshness while helping to boost their livelihood.
This has led him to some of the most far-flung and hard-to-reach locations in the Philippines. Acquiring the best produce is of little concern even if it means taking a 16-hour road trip into the bundoks.
Bundok means ’very far’ or ’mountains’ in Tagalog; and was adopted as an American expression ’boondocks’, which also means ’very far’ or ’hard to reach’.
Chele continues the culinary traditions he learned in Spain, and like Vask, the food at Gallery By Chele reflects just that.
Presentation is as important as flavor, and the techniques to making edible works of art is a process that takes years to master.
Each dish is meticulously plated and immediately invokes the senses.
Chele typically combines Spanish and Filipino ingredients and presents them in ways that are meant to excite and surprise you.
Famed mixologist Kalel Demetrio has crafted signature drinks and cocktails specifically for Gallery By Chele.
Guests can pair their cocktails with bar snacks, which were designed to complement each other or be enjoyed a la carte.
From the kitchen to the dining room, Chele tries to source everything locally.
The dining area is furnished with pieces by the legendary Filipino designer Kenneth Cobonpue, whose works fill some of the world’s most prestigious venues.
Wood and stone accents make the dining area feel warm and cozy.
With Earth being the inspiration for the interior.
The open layout has a relaxed vibe to it and guests are encouraged to hang out and enjoy themselves.
7 years in the Philipines has shaped Chele’s ideas on food, and his creativity and curiosity will indeed have a similar impact on Filipino cuisine for the foreseeable future.
With Filipino food gaining popularity worldwide and being recognized by some of the world’s top chefs as a distinct and vibrant cuisine that is the “next big thing”. Chefs Chele and Carlo find themselves in a unique position as they continue to pioneer and move the Filipino culinary scene in new and exciting directions.
Gallery By Chele will be every bit as innovative as Vask was and promises to cater to everyone.
Live an Awesome Life,
SEAN NOLAN Our Awesome Planet
Disclosure: I wrote this article with my biases, opinions, and insights.
P.S. Gallery By Chele opens its doors on May 22, 2018.