At the Vogue Philippines party in Los Angeles to celebrate H.E.R.’s cover launch: Filipino kakanin. Sumptuous biko, palitaw, suman sa gata, and cassava cake were spread across the event’s festive dessert table.
The Grammy and Oscar winner herself raved about the 24K crème brûlée cake, ube kalamay (rice cake), and polvoron (Filipino-style shortbread). “Oh, thank you! My favorites!” she gushed, and insisted everyone try them. There was much admiration throughout the crowd, appreciating the labor of love from the person behind all these delicious treats: Chef Justyn Mallo Reyes.
This wasn’t the first time Hollywood complimented Reyes over his sweet creations. His list of celebrity clients include The Weeknd, Lizzo, Nicole Kidman, and TV producer and film director James Hong. “As I expand my brand, I want to introduce Filipino cuisine to people who may have never had a chance to experience our culinary culture.“
The pastry chef credits his love for good food to his grandma. “Growing up in Angeles City, Pampanga, I was always greeted by the warmth and sumptuous aromas of my lola’s cooking,” he shares. “I associated her cooking with home, and [it gives] a sense of belonging.”
After graduating from De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde with a business degree, Reyes shifted gears and found himself pursuing a different career rooted in his culinary passion.
It was under the tutelage of a distinguished pastry chef, that Reyes says he honed his skills for gourmet desserts.
While he also specialized in chorizo de Cebu, pork skewers, Mexican tacos, and flautas during his early years in cooking, it was in sweet dishes where he excelled.
“I really started with the 24K artisan ensaymadas.” he recalls. “They were a hit! Lots of friends and family would support my early ventures when I would bake for them strictly [only] during the holidays,” he says. “As the business started to grow, it became a year-round gig for me. While I dabbled in savory foods, my bread and butter, pun intended, was really around gourmet desserts and pastries.”
Now, the 24K artisan ensaymadas come in different flavors: cheddar, almond, parmesan, salted egg, chorizo, and ofcourse, ube.
The birth of his own version of ube pandesal was with melted cheese. Reyes believes that his pastries are a taste of home. “There was a familiarity with the basic elements of pandesal, ube, and cheese, but we mixed it all up to create a memorable and iconic blend of sweet and savory.” “Whatever your passion is, bring your heart into it and never forget where you started—where you come from.”
Reyes launched his namesake brand in 2019, almost simultaneously in Manila and Singapore. Among those who commissioned him were Solenn Heussaff, Mond Gutierrez, Sarah Lahbati, Gretchen Barretto, and Senator Manny Pacquiao. Reyes imported the brand Justyn Café (@justyncafe.la) in 2021 to Los Angeles where he moved to with husband, JP Reyes Mallo.
“The pandemic really was a period of recalibration for a lot of people, both personally and professionally,” Reyes says. “The need for comfort and convenience was at an all-time high. My idea was to put an innovative spin on traditional Filipino dessert and comfort food, but find a way to elevate it a bit to give a little escapism when all of us were stuck at home.”
He encourages young entrepreneurs to stay balanced and mindful. “One can easily get lost with a little success here and there,” he advises. “But if you ground yourself, surround yourself with the right people, be in the right circle, then the possibilities are endless.”
The chef believes that food is “such a great way to bring people together from all walks of life while introducing the nuances of our [Filipino] culture through food. My hope is that even with a little sweetness, it can make someone’s day a little better.”