Francis Tugnao is Executive Chef at Alive! Restaurant
Francis Tugnao is Executive Chef at Alive! Restaurant and the new PESCE at eco-luxury holistic medical wellness resort The Farm at San Benito in The Philippines. Alive! Restaurant was one of Asia’s first and best restaurants offering vegan cuisine, while PESCE is pescetarian.
We speak to Chef Francis about vegan and “blue-zone” cooking, and the importance of having a purpose.
Chef Francis, can you please highlight two or three restaurants you have worked in that have made the most impact on you.
Three stand out for me:
Raffles Hotel Singapore with Chef Joel Robuchon – Working with him during his promotional tour at the hotel had the biggest impact on me because it was such an honour to work with the best chef in the world. I learned so many cooking techniques and the simplicity of creating dishes using the natural flavours of the ingredients.
Michael Angelo Restaurant Singapore with Chef Michael Angelo – I’ll never forget working at this Mediterranean restaurant because it challenged me out of my comfort zone. Chef Michael gave me the freedom to create my own dishes, rather than just following other chefs’ recipes. I remember I was not allowed to serve dishes presented in the same way at any time. By practising this, it helped sharpen my knowledge on the art of cooking and food presentation.
Roux Blonde Catering Australia with Chef Darren – This establishment made me realise that there should be life after work. With Chef Darren I learned molecular cooking and deconstructive techniques, and many other modern cooking styles. Chef Darren work so hard that I thrived on his passion to learn new things. We started working before sunrise and went home at midnight. We made a kitchen on remote open land following Australian government HACCP restrictions (food safety from biological, chemical, and physical hazards) and fed 6,000 people. Life should have meaning and be fun but, most importantly, it should have a purpose. My purpose is not only to feed people and make them healthy but to nourish their body with nutrients and repair their cells through proper diet.
Many people think that vegan cuisine isn’t that exciting, but you prove them wrong at Alive! Restaurant – what does vegan cuisine mean to you?
Vegan cuisine to me is guilt-free, healthy food. While working in different kitchens around the world, I saw a lot of recipe recipes using butter, animal fats, chemicals and other unhealthy ingredients that everyone eats. The recipes we use here at Alive! are so healthy. For example, our mayonnaise is made of coconut meat and cashew nuts instead of oil and eggs.
We are not only a plant-based restaurant but we also promote living food: dehydrating, sprouting, fermenting and fresh organic harvest. Compared to normal kitchens that serve meat, we are more focused on raw food – our kitchen has 70 percent raw and 30 percent cooked foods. When I learned about vegan food and saw the healthy recipes that can be created, I saw the wonders it can do to our bodies.
How do you make sure your dishes are healthy for your guests?
Here at The Farm at San Benito we have a team of medical doctors to guide me on my menu. They usually discuss with me which vegetables are needed by the client. We have two nutritionists on hand to advise me on my menu.
I also come from a farming background and we are constantly planting organic fruits and vegetables. We hired an agriculturist to help us on our farm here.
Your new restaurant, PESCE, includes fish – why did you decide to include fish on this menu?
We consider fish to be an alternate source of protein, an alternative to the beans, nuts and legumes that we serve at Alive!. We designed the menu for people who come to The Farm who are not necessarily on a detox and are mostly just here to relax and have a peaceful time away from their busy schedules. It is also for guests who are staying for longer periods of time, giving them have an alternate source of protein so they won’t get tired of eating the same dishes.
PESCE comes from the word pescatarian. The concept of the restaurant is to serve organic vegetarian dishes that are influenced by Alive! but also include wild, fresh fish caught from the sea and are GMO free. The concept is adapted from the longevity of life of the blue zone of the planet, where people tend to live for more than 100 years, such as in Greece, Italy and Japan. The dishes at PESCE are influenced by the food in these countries, their fish and vegetables.
How much of your ingredients are grown on-property?
About 70 percent is grown on the property and I have eight organic farms and farmers that surround the farm to support me in my ingredients.
Where do you source the other ingredients? Do you ever struggle to find ingredients in The Philippines?
I designed my menu based on the local produce of the farmers. That is why my ingredients are available 360 days a year. It’s cheaper, always fresh and a more sustainable way of sourcing food. We have our loyal organic and vegan suppliers for dry goods that have been with us since the beginning.
You offer complimentary vegan cooking classes for guests, which is great – why do you offer these?
We want to share to our recipes with all our guests so they can stay healthy after they leave The Farm. Everyone has the option to ask for the recipes of their favourite dishes from their stay, and we can print them out for them. We also have a cookbook to share our recipes. We would like our clients to sustain their diets even though they far away from The Farm and back to their busy schedules.
Thank you, Chef Francis, for your time and all the best from us here at Cook Concern.
Supporting his mission to help keep people healthy through mindful dining, Chef Francis shares his recipe for vegan young coconut noodles with green curry sauce.
Alive! Restaurant is a multi-award-winning vegan restaurant, one of Asia’s first and finest restaurants of its kind, at The Farm at San Benito in The Philippines. PESCE is the holistic health resort’s new pescatarian restaurant, offering fish and seafood dishes along with plant-based and whole grain options. Both restaurants serve delicious, innovative dishes using organic fresh ingredients predominantly grown on-property that are high in fibre, essential nutrients, antioxidants, probiotics and key enzymes the body needs.
Are you an ambitious cook with a desire for a fulfilling career? Are you interested in working with The Farm at San Benito? Check out our hotel at www.thefarmatsanbenito.com and get in touch.