Around the world one plate at a time

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BACOLOD CITY – Ging Lewis still remembers the first time that she tried her hand at cooking.

It was ginisang talong (stir-fried eggplants). And she was just nine-years-old.

In fact, she recalls, she was so tiny she had to hoist herself onto a stool so that she could reach the kitchen counter, grab the knife and start slicing away at the ingredients of what would be her first masterpiece.

More than ginisang talong. El Raza’s offerings are culled from the owner’s numerous travels abroad. Photo by El Raza.

“I have always loved to cook,” Ging tells DNX, as she reveals how coming from a big family of foodies – mom’s a Tuvilla, known food lovers in the city – had helped her develop a deep, almost innate appreciation for food.

In fact, she remembers that while cousins and friends were skipping and hopping and running the streets outside, she was often inside the kitchen helping the cooks prepare the dishes for a party.

She learned the precision in the kitchen – strips for pancit, a certain cut for bakareta – which she carried over now that she is king of her own kitchen.

FROM D’RASA TO EL RAZA

Ging has certainly gone a long way from her ginisang talong, especially with the impressive modern minimalist restaurant she runs in Talisay, El Raza.  El Raza was a takeoff from D’Rasa, the Euro-Western-Asian fusion resto she opened 17 years ago where she got to showcase food from her own recipes, mostly her own re-inventions of food she encountered from her frequent travels abroad.

A simple shrimp dish gets spruced up flavors-wise. Ging doesn’t just rely on local ingredients so quality is never compromised. Photo by El Raza.

Ging’s love affair with the food biz hadn’t really stopped – despite two (minor) setbacks.  One was when she had to give up her space in Talisay and close D’Rasa, and second when she had to do the same with her restaurant Silver & Plum at Piazza Sorrento in Bacolod.  The latter, she says, she had to give up because the space was getting too cramped and too small to accommodate the hip burgeoning crowd that was finding its way every night at then Bacolod’s hottest hot spot.

What which protein do you prefer? Ging’s dishes pack enough punch, thanks to authentic spices that she orders overseas. Photo by El Raza.

Still, there were certain people who refused to let go of the food memories that went with Ging’s dishes.  One particular customer, as fate would have it, offered one of his properties so that Ging would be lured right back into the food biz.

And so, El Raza is born, with pretty much the same dishes that Ging’s customers have grown to love for decades.

SELF-MADE CHEF

The new restaurant is slowly but surely making a buzz now that word has gotten around that the former owner of the beloved D’Rasa and Silver & Plum has started firing up her ovens again.

Ingredients might be simple, but the flavors aren’t. Name a protein — from chicken to pork to beef — Ging will turn it into something magical. Photo by El Raza.

El Raza is opening its kitchens again with dishes that her loyal customers have grown to love — pork ribs ala Ging, beef Indian curry masala, cocktail buffet, and the Sunday roast.

Ging avers that she does not scrimp on her ingredients; she sources most of what goes into her pot from suppliers abroad – Thai chilies, the curry, even the gravy (“It has to be OXO!”).

A confessed “self-made chef”, Ging is an intuitive and talented kitchen meister with the knack for replicating dishes based off her senses.

Pork Ribs ala Ging (House Special) | Photo by El Raza.
More than just a fry-up. Flavors in her dishes make the main protein shine. Her inspiration, Ging says, are mostly Brits like Nigella Lawson, Gordon Ramsay, and Marguerite Patten. Photo by El Raza.

“I can tell which herbs are used (in a dish), or whether the garlic was fried or browned, or raw,” she says.  Her inspiration, if any, are Brits Nigella Lawson, Gordon Ramsay, and of course renowned cookery writer, Marguerite Patten.

Her travels abroad –  from Australia, to UK, to Hong Kong, Thailand, China, and Macau – helped shaped the flavors that come out of her kitchen.  It’s fusion all over again, the kind of mix that D’Rasa all those years ago was known for and which, as advised by a consultant from Manila, Ging calls “world cuisine”.

It’s not international; it’s world cuisine, Ging explains as she makes the distinction to describe her dishes. The word implies that the dishes represent the cuisine around the world, hence the label. Photo by El Raza.

Those flavors are invariably transferred to El Raza, of course, and with the same precision and attention to detail that has marked every food by Ging Lewis.

Ample help comes in the form of her kitchen staff, people she trained “from scratch”, and from her business partner, a cousin who takes turns watching the house while Ging is away as she goes to the other side of the globe (which she does rather frequently).

Photo by El Raza.
Big sizes, big flavors. There’s nothing small about the dishes in El Raza, which just mirror the owner’s plans of expansion. Photo by El Raza.

“My plan is really big,” she says, “and I cannot do this alone as I travel all the time.”

But, she assures, she does not think of retiring her knives and chopping board soon.  Not with her customers waiting for yet another of her re-inventions.

Indeed, Ging assures, the recipes will keep coming.

And for that, the Talisay food scene is thankful.

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