Rabbi Tayag – Head Chef at Matagi, Emerald Palace Kempinski Dubai
Rabbi Tayag was born and raised in the Philippines. He finds it very sad how the Filipino cuisine has changed and made it his mission to bring the good, old traditional Filipino cuisine back on the tables. His culinary journey took him to Qatar and to Dubai, where Rabbi Tayag now works as Head Chef at Matagi at the Emerald Palace Kempinski Dubai.
Read on to learn how Chef Rabbi learned and now masters different cuisines.
Rabbi Tayag – Chef’s Portrait
After various stages in your career as a chef, you now work as Head Chef at Matagi at the Emerald Palace Kempinski Dubai. How did your career begin? Why did you decide to become a chef?
There are two things that I really enjoy doing in my life: playing basketball with my team and watching my mother cook our daily meals. I really enjoy watching my mother cook and smell the aromas of what she cooks for us.
I was a playful guy who did not do much work, but since my mother passed away, I miss all those little things she’s done for us siblings. A motherless family is very difficult and we had to help each other.
So I decided to help with chores, get things done, visit the local market to get the things we need. And in the end I had to cook, in the beginning I really hate it, but the scents brought back good memories of my deceased mom. I dropped college basketball, was looking for a job and ended up as a cooking helper in a sushi bar in the Philippines. From then on I slowly fell in love with the idea of being a cook. I started to love the things that only happen in the kitchen, the jokes, the pressure, the long working hours.
In the Philippines, where you grew up, you visited the Clark International College of Science and Technology. From a culinary point of view – what did you learn the most during this time?
In the few years of working as sushi helper I managed to get in the back of sushi counter side by side with my mentor making rolls and nigiris. I would say that I have proved worthy to work alongside him.
It was not really a place to learn cooking, I have to say. But that’s how I got my documents for future purposes. For me, cooking is about doing the same thing over and over again and again, and then master it even if you are blind folded.
You started your career at the InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) in the Philippines. How would you best describe traditional Filipino cuisine?
When I join IHG, I had not cooked any traditional food. But traditional cuisine is everywhere, street food is everywhere and in every house there is a mom or dad preparing a special dish that they are really proud of. A dish they would even force you to eat as soon as you visit their home. I grew up in Pampanga, the culinary capital of the Philippines.
And what about modern Filipino cuisine?
It’s sad to see how the Filipino cuisine is slowly coming to an end. When I was young, everybody cooked in their house 3 times a day with local ingredients and staple foods. They were cheap but tasty dishes. In history, our country was under Spain for over 300 years and was then occupied by Americans, Japanese and then Americans again. This history changes the Filipino cuisine from Spanish influences to Japanese and finally American. This is why all the fast-food chains come from and the cooking in each house disappears slowly. But I would say that there are many young chefs now bringing the Filipino cuisine back to life, and I have to say that this is also one of my missions as a Filipino Chef.
You moved to Qatar in 2010 where you worked as Chef de Partie for Gordon Ramsay (MAZE). How was this experience? What did you learn from this time?
This kitchen is really though. It started at 8 o’clock a.m. and ended at 2 o’clock a.m. and started again at 8 o’clock a.m. Imagine the pressure we were all in. But I told myself that I absolutely had to stick to growing up as a chef. It was the hardest time of my career and it was the most memorable one I have to say. It was good! It was good!
Your cooking career went well in Dubai as you for Six Sense, Qbara, Four Season and JW Marriott. What is the key to becoming successful as a chef in Dubai?
It’s about consistency. But that does not just apply to Dubai, I think. As my then Chef said: “Why is fast food so successful? – That’s because they are consistent in what they do.”
I’ve worked a lot for different kitchens here in Dubai because I always knew when some Chefs needed cooks, and they contacted me and offered me to work for them. I’ve always heard the same reason why they want to work with me: my passion, my commitment to work in the kitchen to deliver world-class food and my attention to detail.
“You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill – that’s the secret of success.” It’s a quote from Jiro Ono, and your motto. What does it specifically mean for your daily work as a chef?
It’s pretty straight forward. Why was Michael Jordan successful? Or Kobe Bryant? I watch their videos and when all their teammates are already finishing their training, they stayed 4 to 6 hours longer doing their routine. On the next day of training, they are already there for two hours working out before all the other teammates arrive and start their training.
If you watch the video of Jiro Ono at the age of 60+, he’ll still go to the fish market at 3am just to see what’s on the market for that day. “Dedicate your life in order to master skills.” That’s the only way.
You master different cuisine. How would you describe your culinary style today?
I would say, I would like to say that it is modern in terms of plating and taste. I use different ingredients from around the world and use old cooking techniques such as pickling, smoking, grilling..
Good products, good execution, good dish. As simple as that.
What is your culinary setup as Head Chef at Matagi, Emerald Palace Kempinski Dubai?
This is a really great team! We are from different parts of Asia. Korean, Japan, Philippines, Indonesia, Indian, Nepal.
The restaurant is an Asian steakhouse. So we focus on meat, but we make all the famous Asian dishes with a modern twist. When I start to plan the menu, I ask my cooks to prepare a meal they have always eaten at home. And then I create a version that we can use as a dish at Matagi.
As Dubai became a culinary hot spot; the competition is high; how can you distinguish your work/ your culinary offer from others? Since Dubai has become a culinary hotspot, the competition is high. How can you differentiate your work, your culinary offer from others?
Yes, that’s true. I think it’s the variety of ingredients and ideas that my team brings. It’s not just my idea of cooking, but we all as a team put everything we can on the table and we argue about it until we get a better result.
Traditional Beef Rendang Cook from my Chef de Partie was amazing and we try high quality Wagyu beef tenderloin with the gravy that she cooks, it was fantastic. I think that’s the thing we can offer: traditional flavors with high quality produce.
What are some of the lesser-known spices and vegetables you use in cooking?
Calamansi, Mallungay, Mikan, Persimmon – these are some of the products I’ve never used in the kitchen before, but with which I work today. We develop dishes with these products and I think they work really well.
Can you share some of your latest creations with us?
I created “Kinilaw”, this dish was famous back then when every house has a different recipe. I did it with calamsi juice and cut the acid using coconut milk. And I think this dish is just incredible. The dish is similar to Ceviche. As I said, we all had this food at home, but it is slowly dying and I want to put it back where it should be.
Since many cooks are interested in working in Dubai, would you have a tip on how best to start a cooking career in Dubai?
I’m not good at giving advice. But as a young chef, I think it is very important to work with good chefs, to learn as much as possible and to find out how their brains work, pick up the good things, and flush out the not-so-good things.
open your own restaurant – would this be an option for you in the future?
Indeed! I would call it “Yolanda’s Table” or “1/9”. The first option is too obvious. The second option, nobody knows why I would like to call it that way. But I would like to reveal it when the restaurant is open.
Is there a place in the world where you would like to work as a chef someday?
Back home! Put back Philippine cuisine in the map using local produce!
Thank you so much, Chef Rabbi!
Chef Rabbi always keeps his goals in mind and gives everything every day to reach them.
What are your goals? Which challenges have you already mastered? Tell us with your own profile on Cook Concern!