To those who have been following the Manila food scene over the past few years, Bruce Ricketts, the chef behind the highly popular Japanese-influenced establishments Sensei Sushi, Mecha Uma, and Ooma, needs no further introduction. For many, Bruce has become a Japanese whisperer of sorts, adapting Japanese flavors, ingredients, and techniques, and transforming them into dishes that are purely his own.
Bruce’s newest foray into the more casual Mexican food arena with La Chinesca may come as a bit of a surprise, but those who know him well know that this is Bruce at his best. “This is what makes him happy,” says Jae Pickrell, his longtime partner. “Whereas with Japanese food he had to rope his way around and teach himself, this is what he grew up in and what he has known for a long time.”
Chef Bruce Ricketts in the kitchen
Having worked with many Mexican chefs in restaurant kitchens during his time in California, Bruce learned from a group of peers who were initially hesitant to share information about their Mexican culinary heritage.
It wouldn’t be outrageous to wonder why Bruce didn’t pursue a culinary path from the get-go in a cuisine that he was more familiar. “Mexican was always the backup plan, though,” he says. “Japanese was very popular here, so I went with that first. Now I know that learning about Japanese cuisine has helped me make better Mexican food. I’ve learned so much about respect for ingredients and balance that I bring the same ideas to everything I do.” Having said that, he shares, “Sometimes though, when one cooks so much Japanese style, you learn to hold back. With a taco, let’s say, and you put an extra scoop of guacamole there is nothing wrong with that. But it wouldn’t make much sense if you are making sushi and you add extra toro. You can add as much salsa as you want and it will still be good, make sense, and will make people happy—that’s why I enjoy it very much.”
Carne asada, lamb, and carnitas tacos at La Chinesca
One scoopful of his aguachile, enjoyed with crispy fried infladitas and finished with a dab of chipotle mayonnaise, and you will understand exactly what he means. A fresh seafood dish and cousin to ceviche and kinilaw, aguachile
“Mexican food is something that we can do here even without having to use the same ingredients. If we don’t have the exact limes or the tomatillo, we can still make a good salsa verde,” Bruce says. “We just have to be more truthful to the ingredients that we have and don’t get caught up in trying to claim authenticity, but actually realizing that ingredients are key, always.” Aguirre Avenue, BF Homes, Parañaque.