One Last Bite: Champêtre, a Farewell to BGC’s Iconic Rustic French BistroMarch 4, 2017
It is with a heavy heart and full stomach that we say goodbye to some of our favorite restaurants in the One Last Bite column, a reflection of the challenging restaurant landscape that has developed in Manila.
The closing of Champetre hit us like a shockwave. Known for its classic French food that has been a haven for the large French community in the Philippines and a door for Filipinos to experience France without a visa, Champêtre headed by French chef Marc Aubry will officially close their doors this evening.
Chef Marc first came to Manila in 1989 under the (now, also sadly closed) Prince Albert of the Intercontinental Hotel, where he met his wife. Because of his new family, he chose to remain in the Philippines for approaching 3 decades as he says he is fortunate to have found his place in the world here. “I very much enjoy the country and it’s people,” he says in his leisurely laid back tone of voice that allows you to understand how he is suited for our easygoing islands. After Prince Albert, Chef Marc operated Truffles restaurant with his partner, followed by L’Olivier (French for Olive Tree) in 6750 which ran from 1993 to 1996. It was when L’Olivier closed that Chef Marc joined the Le Soufflé group, and together in 1999, they opened Le Soufflé, one of the first restaurants in BGC at the time.
Finally, Chef Marc Aubry became partners with the Lagdameos and they opened Je Suis Gourmand in 2003, which offered French comfort food and had a changing menu depending on the season. In 2011, the same group relaunched the restaurant as Champêtre (French for countryside) focusing on countryside cuisine inspired by Chef Marc’s childhood in France.
Likely the reason Champêtre is such a hit with the French community is because of the fact that Chef Marc has never compromised nor adapted the recipes. “I take pride in cooking it the way it should be. When it comes to the ingredients, when I first came to the Philippines, [it was more difficult to] find [the right ingredients]. Now, there’s nothing you cannot find here. A lot of the ingredients are imported, like the foie gras [and] the escargot, but you have many ingredients here that are on par in terms of the quality of what you’ll find in France.”
Two of the bestsellers of Champêtre back when it was still Je Suis Gourmand (and were retained on the menu), the homemade duck foie gras terrine with salad and toasts and the escargot à la bourguignonne were our chosen last bites for an afternoon merienda at Champêtre where we spoke to Chef Marc in the comfortable corner table. Overlooking us in this corner were the bright yellow walls and flower details remind us of an ancestral home, with the comforts and familiarities of your grandmother’s favorite shelf knick-knacks. White tablecloths, white napkins, breadbaskets and silver, Chef Marc’s fine dining background is evident in the way that his wholesome mom’s-cooking cuisine is presented: a manner that shows a deep and utter respect for the dishes they create.
But woe does not befall those who have yet to try Chef Marc’s as together with the same partners, a fresh concept is already in the works and slated to open in June this year. This new restaurant will be called Sagana, the Filipino word for abundance and also a play on the Filipino word gana meaning appetite, but do not get it twisted! The new restaurant will still offer French cuisine, however shifting towards a more sustainable model as they aim to work closely with local farmers and source directly from them. They will also abandon the country home look for something Chef Marc describes as modern but still comfortable.
You can expect Sagana to open in the same location of Champêtre, and retaining some of the Champêtre favorites; Chef Marc estimates that they will likely keep about a fifth of the menu for items that are staples in French restaurants such as the duck terrine and escargot à la bourguignonne. However, the main feature of the restaurant will be fresh ingredients, with a menu that adapts to what their partner farmers have to offer. The farm-to-table Sagana will also be part-fresh food market where BGC residents can stock up on ingredients for their own homes.
It is part of the job to be able to evolve, especially in the Manila where Aubry points out that “the clientele does not rise as fast as seats offered.” In our metropolis where food novelty is celebrated, this creates a challenge for restaurants. Good-natured and as easy-going as a February night, Marc Aubry tells us his final thoughts on the shift: “It’s always sad to see the end of something you have worked so hard on and [put] all your heart and sweat [into], but it is also nice to accept a new challenge and to see where it’s going to take you. It’s good for the mind [as] sometimes you fall into a routine . . . It’s good to go out [of what you’re used to] and be creative.”