MANILA -- Every six months, chef Waya Wijangco and her team at Gourmet Gypsy Art Cafe review the menu. Like any other restaurant, they try to add new items once in a while to offer something new to their loyal patrons.
But the team makes sure to include the customers in the process. They create an online poll on social media site Facebook to get customer feedback. Chef Wijangco calls it “Fight for Your Favorites” so she can hear from customers themselves what dishes need to stay or go.
“We still retain the favorites like the Salted Egg Pork Belly, Porchetta, Mechado, dishes that you really can't remove or else customers would complain. We have customers that dine here three times a week and order the same thing,” she explained.
Located along Don A. Roces Ave. in Quezon City, the restaurant also has to keep up with trends, adjusting the menu accordingly. For instance, when the ketogenic diet exploded, Wijangco had to remove sugar and refined starch in some of the dishes to make them keto-friendly.
More recently, she said that they are getting a lot of requests for vegetarian and vegan options. So Wijangco created plant-based dishes like the Vegan Samosas with Date-Tamarind Chutney.
But most of the time, the chef-owner adds new items based on her travel memories, whether be it about a spice-packed biryani dish in India or a comforting laksa soup in Melaka, Malaysia.
Gourmet Gypsy Art Cafe opened in 2014 and serves chef Wijangco's global cuisine. The restaurant offers a variety of dishes from different cuisines from all over the world. The chef created dishes inspired by memorable dishes abroad when she used to work for a multinational company.
She would spend weeks in one country and she was able to explore the food culture closely. If she's lucky, she even gets recipes from the locals.
One of her famous stories is when she repeatedly asked a cook in Melaka to teach her how to cook laksa. She persisted for so many weeks, going to the restaurant every day just to ask for lessons. After three weeks, the lady gave in and taught chef Wijangco the traditional Malaysian dish.
“The lady instructed me to come to the shop at two in the morning. I scraped the flesh of a fish using a spoon and had to slam fish ball dough onto the table 75 times,” she shared.
The lesson was worth it because now, laksa is one of her bestselling dishes at Gourmet Gypsy.
She recently added new dishes on the menu like the Adlai Chicken Biryani, inspired by a biryani recipe she learned from the chefs of Taj Hotel in India. Her version has a Filipino twist because instead of using basmati rice, she uses adlai, making the dish a bit healthier.
Another dish is the Miso-Glazed Salmon, inspired by Japanese food.
Then there's the Italian Beef Stew, slow cooked in tomato and red wine then served with a roasted bone marrow topped with preserved lemon and parsley gremolata. The stew usually uses beef shanks as its main ingredient but Wijangco uses chuck preventing a dry meat.
Then there's the Mushroom Orzotto. She cooks orzo pasta like a risotto in a rich mushroom sauce that is enhanced by pulverized dried shitake mushrooms. It's topped with chunks of housemade bacon.
Aside from the bacon, the restaurant makes almost everything in house like sausages and pastries. Chef Wijangco also sources ingredients locally and the only imported ingredients she uses are spices and others that can't be cultivated in the country.
She even has neighbors that supplies some of the ingredients like bignay, peppers, mushrooms, kaffir lime leaves, and curry leaves grown in backyards.
“One of my neighbors has a big kaffir lime tree and curry tree, I source from them. In exchange, I give them bread, like barter trade. You know it's organic because it's grown in the backyard. Hyper local sourcing, just around the neighborhood,” she said.
PERSONS WITH SPECIAL NEEDS
But what's unique about Gourmet Gypsy Art Cafe is some of the staff are persons with special needs. Chef Wijangco also runs the Open Hand School of Applied Arts, a school for adults with special needs.
The restaurant is famous in the community because of its freshly baked bread. And the baker is a person with autism.
Her school is actually moving to a new location along Maginhawa St. where she will also open a cafe, like a mini-Gourmet Gypsy.
“We're moving the school to Maginhawa and we're opening this November. The focus of the school before was training; now, we want to open it to the community. So the school will have public spaces like a cafe, co-working space, stalls where they [students] can sell their products. It's really to encourage engagement with the community,” Wijangco said.