Chef Mitos Benitez Yñiguez on How She Started Hill Station, Smoking Her Own Meat, and Being Part of the Miele GuideApril 23, 2020
Over the years, Hill Station has cemented itself as a Baguio icon. A few months back, we got to sit down with the fine dining restaurant’s chef and owner, Mitos Benitez-Yñiguez for a casual chat about how she started in the business, the story behind her food, and her famous back-to-back Miele recognition.
Growing up in the restaurant business
As far as she could remember, Mitos started baking at eight years old—influenced by her mom, who made homemade bread for their household. Mitos would make cakes, pastries, and other sweets. By high school, “it became a raket.”
But then, she had always grown up in the restaurant atmosphere. Her parents were Mario and Nenuca Benitez of Baguio’s famous Spanish restaurant, Mario’s. At 21, Mitos even started working for her dad. And although it came to her naturally, she admits that she “learned the restaurant business through hard labor.”
Venturing Out on her own
She worked for Mario’s for 30 years, and, ironically, she was fired six times. “The last time [I was fired], I said ‘Okay, I’ll do this on my own.'” So she started taking reservations for private meals at her house. She mainly did this for friends, so when she started getting requests from people she didn’t know, she decided to stop.
Around that same time, Casa Vallejo contacted her—albeit as Mario’s—to open a restaurant in the historic hotel. “But I’m not Mario’s,” she told them, “I’m Mitos.” Still, they went with her. With no business experience, she had doubts about opening her own restaurant. But personal circumstances (and some encouraging words from a friend), pushed her to do it. So in 2010, she opened Hill Station.
Behind Hill Station
Hill Station’s menu “blend[s] the spicy flavors of Asia’s mountain towns with the taste of Old World Europe and New World America.” It’s actually inspired by Mitos’ travel, as well as some heritage recipes passed down from her parents and their business.
Whatever they’re serving (this rings true in their other Hill Station outlets, as well), Mitos’ driving food philosophy is making everything from scratch. “As a home cook, that’s how I do it,” she says. So she makes it a point to always be in the kitchen to make sure everything’s done without shortcuts.
A few years back, Mitos even adopted smoking her own meat. Aklay, a French chef from Sagada, who has become a close friend, taught her charcuterie “in the most third-world manner”—rustic, traditional, and natural. Since then, Mitos had fashioned her own smoker using old steel tanks, which she set up in her own home.
The miele guide
“I thought it was a hoax,” Mitos said on receiving the invitation from The Miele Guide. She kept brushing it off, until one day, they called her on the landline. A few days later, she was off to Singapore with some of Asia’s best chefs. “I was scared, but happy. More than anything, I was proud I was [a Filipino] representing the country.”
The Miele Guide gave Hill Station their big break. Because of it, she’s made it a tradition to bring her staff abroad every so often so they can try new food, and get a quick vacation. The recognition also ultimately encouraged Hill Station to constantly elevate themselves.
“I wouldn’t change this,” Mitos ends the interview. Everything—the cooking, the business, the food—came naturally to her; and she enjoys it all so much. She loves eating, she loves making food, she loves her job. “I don’t think I would’ve done [anything] else.”