Dolly Menghani from Black Apron Swears This Recipe Will Make You Fall in Love with Ampalaya

April 28, 2015

Dolly Menghani works silently in the kitchen corner. She layers her gratins of potatoes and ampalaya with deftness. No one really notices her as she almost flounces around the kitchen, any dirt magically disappearing as her hands hover over the counter, whilst finding the time to setup a possible collaboration. She seemed quite put together. It’s hard to believe that she’s 21 and gets excited when she hears about ice cream.


Dolly and her creative movement, Black Apron, have been going around the metro holding pop-up dessert tasting once or twice a month. They serve up beautifully structured desserts with a concentration on local ingredients. Not only serving original deserts, but original design. With potter Mia Casal making plates and bowls that exude an earthiness and hominess, and Gianna De Jesus, resident graphic artist, designing the simple aesthetic, Black Apron stays true to being “a playground for food and design.” Attributing their inspirations from world travels, like the tasting based of the 3 meals of the day, which she was stirred by a cereal dessert she ate in Singapore. From olive oil cakes to deconstructed banoffee pies, Black Apron is starting a dessert revolution.


Not only interested in fusing travel and locale, but collaborating with other establishments to bring out Philippine cuisine to center stage. More than highlighting Manila, she also wants to highlight the food, to bring the people closer to it, to touch it, “We want them to sort of experience where we’re coming from, it’s very raw, it’s very new.” Only on their fifth pop-up Black Apron is fresh, new, and constantly growing.

In respect of the future, Dolly simply affirms that Black Apron shall remain a pop-up. She wants to keep her audience guessing, “We want it to be something to be craved for and come back for.” She also wants to make the pop-up more frequent, increasing the number of tastings to once a week, rather than once a month. It’s an exciting prospect not only for her, but also for her audience, “When you’re surprised and you don’t know what’s coming, you’ll like it even more.”


Speaking of surprises, we challenged the pastry chef to come up with something children and grown adults amicably dislike—ampalaya.  And true to her treatment of food in Black Apron, she brought inspiration from abroad and utilized in on this indigenous gourd.

Though admitting to not particularly having an affinity to the gourd, Dolly did not find the bitterness of the vegetable to be all that challenging, “I don’t think it’s a hard vegetable to work with, it just needs more preparation and more time.” What was originally supposed to be a salad with sesame dressing and brown rice was replaced by something, a little more, indulgent. Dolly wanted it to be something even children could enjoy. She wanted it to be something that can be served at any time to anyone, and a gratin fit this perfectly “It comes with potato and cream and cheese, it’s like heaven.”

Ampalaya Gratin

Yield: 6 servings


  • 1 pc. long or 3 pcs. small ampalaya
  • 3-4 potatoes, average-sized
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp flour
  • 1 1/2 cups cream
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup water
  • a bunch of thyme
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 lemons (you can use calamansi if you wish)
  • 1/2 cup cheese (preferably Quickmelt or mozzarella)


  1. Remove the seeds from ampalaya and slice. Marinate in salt and lemon juice for 1.5 hours.
  2. Make the bechamel sauce placing butter in a pot and melting it. Add flour and stir for 1 minute with a wooden spoon. Add all liquid ingredients, thyme, garlic, salt and pepper; simmer for 5-8 minutes on low heat. Strain and cool down.
  3. Peel the potatoes and slice thinly.
  4. Pre-heat oven to 350 F.
  5. Brush some oil on a muffin tin and layer potato, ampalaya and sauce twice.
  6. Finish with potatoes and the bechamel sauce.
  7. Cover with Foil and bake for 35 mins.
  8. Remove foil add grated cheese, bake for another 10 mins.
  9. Serve hot.
Andre Orandain SEE AUTHOR Andre Orandain

Andre’s love for food began with his affair with a televised Nigella Lawson. He then met the literary voice Doreen Fernandez after reading Tikim, he was a changed man ever since. He aspires to eat around the Philippines, slowly unraveling the rich culture that archipelago can offer.

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