Combining French technique with flavors from life experiences, most notably with the tastes of Asia and Latin America, Aaron Isip is a true global chef—one that doesn’t rely only on his own heritage but uses it as a starting point in his culinary exploration. “I really don’t know what to call my style of cooking. I just like making food that I enjoy eating. Cooking to me means sharing—sharing my passion for food and produce, sharing a meal with family and friends, and sharing memories at a table. It is this conviviality that gives me the most inspiration when I cook.”
Over the past decade Aaron has worked alongside some of France’s most renowned chefs, including Eric Briffard, Antoine Westermann, Alain Senderens, and his mentor, William Ledeuil. Trained at Le Cordon Bleu, where he received a Diplome de Cuisine and Connaissance du Vin, 2005, he also has a Certificat de Perfectionnement en Cuisine from the same school. Most recently, he was chef de cuisine at the popular Dix-Huit in the 17th arrondissement and received many stellar reviews, including a nod from the popular Le Fooding and the Michelin Guide. Town&Country sat down with the talented young chef, who is ready to call the islands home once again.
For my pop-up restaurant with the Moment Group this month, I will be working with local ingredients, concentrating on seafood and seasonal fruit. The menu is a sneak peek into a concept I’m thinking about opening in the islands. I would like to feature the bounty of our seas by working with sustainably caught seafood. In this day and age, I think it’s very important for chefs to make a positive impact on the environment. When we cook our food it shouldn’t be about just feeding people, we must also be more responsible with our ingredients.
The 8-course dinner will include this ube curry, calamari a la plancha, potato croutouns, chicharon, and butterfly pea flowers dish.
Kuhol in basil gata, crispy shallots, salicornia
My first notable culinary experience was my first job at the two-Michelin starred restaurant, Apicius, in Paris. Being exposed to all the fresh produce and seeing the change of ingredients with the seasons: the wild ducks, pheasant, wild boar, and venison of the autumn game season, springtime asparagus, the sweetest summer tomatoes from the south of France, and the soft, candy-like sweetness of winter scallops ignited my passion to work with the freshest ingredients and make sure they would all shine in each dish.
William Ledeuil of Ze Kitchen Galerie is my greatest culinary influence. What I loved most about him is his open mind. He instilled the notion of creative exchange in me and extended the liberty to play and go wild. If he liked my creations they went on the menu. It was give-and-take with him. I learned his techniques, applied them, added my own twist. He, too, learned from my dishes. From him I learned that chefs need to constantly strive to discover and new ingredients, flavors, and dishes.
Flash-poached Diwal, bone marrow, green mango sauce vierge, herb snow
It was at Restaurant Dix-Huit, as the chef de cuisine, where I received the most recognition. After the restaurant received good reviews at Le Fooding, the articles kept coming. Le Figaro included Dix-Huit as one of the hottest tables for 2014, and by 2015, the restaurant was listed in the Michelin guide. Later that year, I received a call from the renowned Gault et Millau congratulating me for a unique style of cooking. They told us they would give the Dix-Huit two toques in the guide. They also selected me to be the recipient of their trophy, Chef Espoir 2015 for i?le de France—an award similar to the James Beard award for an up-and-coming chef. It was such a surreal experience being awarded alongside other great French chefs such as Pascal Barbot.
Top Chef France asked me to join the culinary competition but I turned them down. At the time, I wanted to concentrate on the restaurant. Soon after, the famous gastronomic TV show Tre?s, Tre?s Bon featured me as one of the chefs in Paris pioneering the use of citrus fruits, notably calamansi.
Wild sea bass aguachile in calamansi, spring vegetables, pickled radishes, wild arugula flowers
I love patis and calamansi and have always incorporated their use in my cuisine. My kitchen is never without them. I also love French butter, olive oil from Italy, Spain, or Greece, Thai basil, and sawtooth coriander from Vietnam. Since I got back, I have also discovered how to use duhat, kasoy fruit, macopa, and other tropical fruits. Himbabao is also another great vegetable discovery, but my greatest new find is our local stonefish. I tried it live in Dampa and it is more venomous than the famous fugu. I loved the texture and it reminded me of one my favorite fish to eat from France, lotte, or monkfish.
Calamansi cream, torched Italian meringue, kaffir lime zest, physalis
Aaron Isip’s pop-up dinner with the Moment Group is on December 7, 8, 9, 10, and 11, 7:30 p.m. P3,800++ for 8 courses. For reservations call 0917.519.7980.