From Spinning Records to Spinning Plates, Meet Chef Chele Gonzalez

Chef “Chele” Gonzalez heads-up Gallery, one of the best restaurants in Asia. Grounding the menu in Filipino heritage with an international spin, he takes an anthropological approach, inviting us to discover local culture and traditions using the finest ingredients. Born in Torrelavega in Northern Spain, Chef “Chele” Gonzalez was first a DJ before returning to his love of food via culinary school at Andra. Working at El Bulli, El Celler de Can Roca, and Mugaritz he honed his craft before opening the award-winning Gallery Vask in Manila and re-opening as Gallery by Chele in 2018.

Aspire Lifestyles: Who has influenced your cooking style or philosophy?

Chef Chele Gonzalez: My cooking style and philosophy is influenced by my origin, my childhood, and dishes that I was able to eat growing up, and my exposure to the Basque cuisine. These are what made me understand the whole Spanish cooking. I am from the north of Spain where we have amazing seafood and meats, I lived and grew up in front of the ocean where I use to go fishing when I was a kid, and because of this I have a huge respect for the ocean, and I feel deeply connected with seafoods and fish dishes.

My philosophy and who I am today is something that I have developed over the years. It was shaped by my personal values, and with the help of my mentor Nerua, and my experience in Mugaritz, including my travel around the Philippines, Asia and the world, I learned that cooking is so much more. That is why sustainability becomes part of what we do. And to be more technical about it, the way I cook draws essentialism and very minimalist. I like to play with few ingredients but use a lot of aromas and elements that is visual to create complexities and layers.

AL: What do you want the world to know about the cuisine of your country and the cuisine of your restaurant?

Chef CG: For me this is a journey, I am one of the people who represent Spanish cuisine in a modern way in Asia and in the Philippines, but of course in Gallery by Chele, we have been creating new styles of cooking using local ingredients inspired by traditions, inspired by our travels, our learnings, and with all of this, we are completely reshaping our understanding of cuisine and always learn in the process. A chef should always be curious, just like a kid who is always looking for something new, eyes are always open and alive, and passionate. This is what has been happening  to us over the years, we learn new ideas from traveling, meeting communities, fishermen, and farmers around the country, and bringing new knowledge back to the restaurant.

AL: What is your favorite dish from your childhood, and do you prefer your version or the version of the family member who originally made it?

Chef CG: Favorite dishes always come and go, as a chef, over my life I have had many favorites, some are connected to my mom and to my family, the others are attached to my time as a kid, some are connected when I started learning how to cook. Dishes are like perfumes that can connect you to your memories and revisit several feelings or emotions. Of course, I think, in innovation, you can surface those emotions from others if you are pouring your emotions into your creations, to do that you need to look inside to be able to create dishes that have soul and magical connection.

AL: What is the most important value you teach your kitchen team?

Chef CG: Maybe the question will be, what is it that they teach me? I think as a leader, we should learn from our mistakes. So, for me, something that motivates me to go to work every day is the opportunity to keep learning and growing together with my team. And being a good leader is an everyday learning, everyday struggle, everyday exercise.

AL: We have seen some chefs supporting food banks, feeding those in need and truly taking an incredibly challenging time and finding ways to adapt and give back. With this in mind, do you think the culinary industry will ever go back to the “way it was”?

Chef CG: It is always a part of our values in trying to help one another and cook with responsibility. Saying that, during the worst of the pandemic, we were doing solidarity and social cooking until it went to a point when we needed to focus on the revamp of the business, because if not there was a tendency that the restaurant may close. But even now, we try to help others because when you help others we also help ourselves. It’s a cycle.

In my opinion, the industry will change but this is really an opportunity to change for something better. Food is one of the most important aspects in human life but the excessive sourcing method is one of the most notable environmental problems because, to some extent, we are consuming more than we should be, and we are taking too much space over the land and the seas. For example, a lot of land in the world is becoming mono culture from forest or eco systems. I believe that the only way to have a better future is to really understand deeply that our actions are related and connected to our problems because we do not take responsibility for the environment. It is time to shift our mindsets and actions to be more responsible

AL: Being reopen, how do you feel the pandemic has changed the mindset of your diners? How are you and your team managing these changes?

Chef CG: One thing will never change, people are social by nature. We need to keep our relations, and stay connected with each other. We need to enjoy, have fun, and journey. Now, I think we have the opportunity to provide therapy to make guests forget about their problems and any negativity. Translate our service to be a journey until things get better, and make sure that in the safety of our restaurant they will have an amazing time, because more than food, we offer an experience.

AL: Knowing the vital role that local producers and farms/markets play in the success of a restaurant, was there anything that you did during the closures to support these purveyors? Many shifted models to create boxes of produce and sold them around their towns and communities. Has there been a change in how you obtain your ingredients upon reopening?

Chef CG: We are always trying to give value to local ingredients to create a demand for people to buy. During the early months of the quarantine we were working with various organizations and mobilizers. We were able to get food sponsors purchased from farmers and prepared them for front liners and poor communities. We have always maintained a relationship with local farmers, because this is part of our DNA.