By Angelo G. Garcia
Cooking food is probably one of man’s greatest discoveries. It’s one of the many advantages given by fire. It is through the simple technique of roasting meat over open flame that man discovered food can be enhanced, in a delicious way. It is also said that true human evolution started when man started cooking food.
Chef Josh Boutwood had an idea of a restaurant that only uses a firewood-powered grill—old style or even primitive cooking. While this technique is still used today, many contemporary kitchens, especially at restaurants, use the convenience of gas and electric stoves, grills, and ovens.
The idea is not just about the cooking technique but also the unique flavor grilling can bring to a dish.
“I would say, without exaggeration, 30 percent of the flavor or the final flavor of the dish itself comes solely from the smoke of the oak. We anticipated that when we wrote the recipes,” chef Josh says.
This idea eventually became Savage, a restaurant where the entire menu is cooked using a customized grill that solely uses firewood. Located at The Plaza of Arya Residences in Bonifacio Global City, Chef Josh takes this new venture as a challenge, something he has never done before. He has years of experience working in professional kitchens, like in the very modern cooking space of The Test Kitchen.
“I occasionally do Sunday barbecue at my house, which I love, and that is so different from cooking at a restaurant. Because on a Sunday you just put your meat on there, you sit down, you have a day, relax. Restaurant people are waiting on their food so you cannot just sit back and wait. We have to get it out fast,” explains Chef Josh, who also works as the corporate chef of Bistro Group, the company that also owns and operates Savage.
For him, there is something exciting and primal about cooking with just wood and charcoal. The restaurant imports oak wood from Ukraine in the kitchen’s customized grill.
“It’s different but every day or every night we are cooking. It still excites me that I’m cooking over wooden charcoal. It feels very primal. It has such a connection to our human selves,” he says.
He also describes working in front of the grill as a combination of agony and fun at the same time. It gets hot in front of the grill and chefs get the full brunt of the heat.
“I think I have to be mad and addictive to be there all the time but it’s really nice,” he admits.
The restaurant’s entire menu is cooked and prepared on the grill with the exception of the bread, which is cooked in the gas-powered oven. The food likewise doesn’t follow a certain cuisine, described simply as “pre-industrial cuisine.”
“There are a lot of Asian elements and there are a lot of Western elements,” he says. “Western is of course my backbone cuisine but we don’t want to be confined with a certain cultural view on food. We feel like we should be open to accept multiple different cultures when it comes to cuisine and incorporate this on our menu. We define ourselves as purely pre-industrial cuisine—our method of cooking. We can play around with whatever flavor we may feel fit to do and it still fits in that pre-industrial cooking,” the Fil-Brit chef says.
Must-tries on the menu include the crispy pork rinds served with curry ketchup; deviled eggs with smoked oil and ash; charred romaine lettuce with anchovy and garlic dressing; and the fresh carabao cheese with chive oil and confit heirloom tomatoes.
For the mains, the flank steak with onion ash and pickled ramp is a perfect grilled steak, which is best eaten with Savage’s signature fried rice or roasted potatoes with cheese.
One of the showstoppers, however, is the grilled tuna jaw with miso mayonnaise. The tender tuna jaw is served with a generous topping of crunchy toasted bread crumbs and garnished with pretty pink cadena de amor blooms. Anyone’s inner savage would come out when eating this dish because there’s no glamorous way of picking meat from a bone.
For dessert, the meringue strawberries and cream is the perfect not-so-sweet finish while the kladdkaka, a traditional Swedish chocolate cake, can satisfy one’s chocolate fix.
Chef Josh also plans to use local wood in the future. He is looking at santol and coffee wood.
“We are looking at using some local varieties of wood. We wanted to start off with local varieties but the supply was not consistent enough for us. We are still looking at trying to incorporate santol wood, which I’ve heard is very good but I haven’t tested it yet because it’s quite hard to find. Also, coffee wood, that’s another thing that we’re looking at incorporating,” he says.
This article was first published in Manila Bulletin Lifestyle.