Food is a universal language. Many Filipinos have grown up incorporating many of its foreign influences in its cuisine, which has made our food familiar to many tastes. Our chefs have taken their formal and informal training to heart, staying true to their roots despite the many things they have learned in their many years in the kitchen. Melchor Laurente, or Mel, is one of those chefs, and through the years of practicing his craft, he has created many of the Philippines’ most beloved dishes and made them familiar to every palate.
Mel was born in Leyte, and was raised by his mother alone after his father passed away. Their lives took them all over Leyte and Cebu, as well as Manila, where his mother found job opportunities. Because times were hard, he worked as a dishwasher as a young man, and developed an interest in cooking.
“In my free time while dishwashing, I helped prepare and cook simple dishes that the chefs taught me. From there, my cooking skills improved,” Mel shares. His first work experience abroad was in Saudi Arabia, in a seafood restaurant as a Japanese teppanyaki cook. After working many years there, he came home and got married and was blessed with two beautiful children: Mel, 21 years old and Cahmell Flor, 23 years old.
The call to be a chef continued, and he worked at the Majestic Chinese restaurant in Cebu City in 1996, and then he moved to Marriott Hotel in the same city in 1999. He studied culinary arts for a year at the Marriott Pavilion Hotel in St. Louis, Missouri, and he also went to Marriott Shanghai.
“I joined Castle Harbor Marriott Hotel/Tucker Point Club Bermuda as a Chef de Partie in 2004.” He then came to Vancouver, Canada in 2008 and became a Production Chef. “At that time, I also worked as a part-time culinary supervisor at Rogers Arena and as a senior cook at other restaurants until 2019, I got the opportunity to open my own restaurant in Surrey called Dad’s Bistro. Then, a better prospect came knocking and it was when we opened Grandt Kitchen.”
“All chefs dream of having their own restaurant. So, I also dream of having one especially that I have equipped myself with knowledge, skills, and experience in cooking different cuisines from my work experience in different countries with diverse cultures,” Mel shares. Having his own restaurant allowed him to continue his passion for cooking and he hopes to pass this down to future generations of Filipino chefs.
“I am happy and fulfilled when I create and cook dishes that are delicious and that other people appreciate and love,” he adds with a smile.
Mel thinks the mainstream culinary world is ready to accept Filipino dishes because of its distinct taste, creativity, and diversity.
“In our restaurant at Grandt, we always ask for feedback from Canadian customers from different cultures and we received positive feedback. Customers like our food and have recommended it to their friends and families. I think if we continue promoting and keep enhancing our dishes, we will go far like our Asian counterparts,” he says with great hope.
Mel says that being a part of Filipino events like the Filipino Restaurant Month plays a vital role in showcasing who we are as Filipinos by way of sharing our delicious food to others.
“Filipino food is like a taste of home, our family, our culture, and our tradition and it continues to evolve. I will continue to create dishes fusing it with my western cuisine knowledge without losing the Filipino authentic taste,” Mel says.
According to Mel, if he were to present someone the quintessential Filipino food, he would serve them the famous and authentic Cebu Lechon Belly, Chicken Inasal, Lapaz Batchoy and Kare-Kare.
“If they are eating in groups, I will introduce our famous boodle fight meal that will make you feel like you are in the Philippines – eating with your hands in a food laid in banana leaves,” he adds.
Mel says that despite what people say, Filipino food does have a distinct quality that is truly ours. “Adobo, sinigang na baboy, manok or fish are identified with us. Kare-kare, bagnet, laing, burong talangka, bulalo, tokwa’t baboy, pakbet, paksiw, ginataang langka, turon, halo-halo, halaya – all are identifiably unique to our Filipino culture.
With Mel as one of our ambassadors of food, who would dare question Filipino food authenticity?