Black Sheep Turns to Your Childhood for Its New MenuSeptember 25, 2014
As a kid in my mother’s kitchen, ingredients were some of the most fascinating parts of the cooking process. Going to the palengke, following her as she haggled with vendors, smoothed her hands over the bruised bodies of deep purple eggplants, and prodded the flesh of silver-skinned fish. The smells were always off-putting, but every visit made you more and more used to the pungency until it became a necessary part of the experience.
Many years later, as a food writer in the bustling city, I’ve become detached from my mother’s kitchen. The ingredients which permeate the menus I come across pride themselves on the foreign cities they come from, and more and more concepts are being brought in from abroad. But in Black Sheep, a moody, well-appointed space on the penthouse floor of the W Tower in the Fort, Chef Jordy Navarra is turning the focus back on the ingredients we remember from our childhoods, and going against the the grain of borrowed ideas cropping up in the metro.
There are a few others with Navarra who are part of a similar culinary movement, but for a young chef, his commitment is admirable—Navarra has even developed a line of carabao milk butters and aged butters with Ritual. The new menu at Black Sheep reflects a vision that is singularly his, inviting us to reassess what we know about the food we grew up with.
‘Bahay Kubo’ is the most blatant display of this vision, a bold attempt to put all the vegetables of the folk song onto one plate. They are pickled, dehydrated and ground with nuts, or turned into chips. It is by all means ambitious, and every bite has a different textural composition, a different combination of flavors (sometimes sweet, sometimes sour). An intense, hearty main from the ‘Farm’ is sourced from all over the country—brisket from Kitayama, heirloom rice from the Cordilleras, a sauce of sour fruit from Western Visayas. The smoked brisket can be a little salty, but served with bone marrow smoked in palay from Silang, it is fatty and indulgent. If it isn’t Filipino ingredients he plays with, it is the flavors—Bicol Express is now a coconut meringue with chili pork and kabayawa, and goto is made with cauliflower, squid, crab roe and truffle.
This is the kind of the modern thinking that will only propel Filipino cuisine forward. It is a bold, concerted effort to showcase our produce, and that sometimes, what is available locally can be even better than abroad. Jordy Navarra is doing something admirable at Black Sheep, and it will be exciting to see their kitchen evolve alongside this new culinary movement.