Pepper Hot and Pandan Cool: Chele Gonzalez and Zor Tan Collaborate for Gallery’s Anniversary Series

Photo by Dre Ferrer

Gallery by Chele favorites such as the Beer Urchin and Kare-kare Bonbon return with Born Singapore’s best dishes for the restaurant’s anniversary dinner series.

It took more than just hard work to keep Gallery’s kitchen running for a decade. 

On the restaurant’s tenth year running, chef Chele Gonzalez, namesake who has helmed Gallery by Chele all these years, reflects on their beginnings with a series of dinner collaborations featuring some of the best chefs around the world. For two nights in October, he worked with chef Zor Tan of Born in Singapore who has stunned the Lion City with French gastronomy and Chinese flavors.

On their menu are Born favorites and Gallery classics that commemorate their tenth year. “Back then, we were known as Gallery Vask. It was a journey marked by important lessons learned from the challenges we encountered,” shares Gonzalez.

When they first opened, the fine dining scene was not as sprawling as it is today. On top of that, Chele wanted to redefine luxury with local ingredients at a time when luxury meant using imported produce. Despite the challenges, they found themselves coming back to the Gallery kitchen because of their love and ambition for Filipino cuisine. Now in their tenth year running, they find themselves in a great place.

Interior of Gallery by Chele.
Courtesy of Restaurant Born

A Nostalgic Menu

Off the menu, the dinner began with a wink of gin and mushroom honey from The Lady Hatter cocktail. Sweet and surprisingly earthy, the cocktail uses Proclamation Gin, a spirit made with sampaguita botanicals for a boozy start that’s not too strong on the palate. An amuse-bouche featuring a subtle, but delightful bite of scallops with salty caviar and shavings of white chocolate followed suit.

And when the night picked up its pace, their extensive degustation menu toured guests back in time with old creations from the Gallery and Born kitchens.

“Oh, we haven’t made this in a long time,” one of the servers said, as he placed the Beer Urchin on the table, housed in its characteristic sea urchin-shaped bowl. Nostalgia can’t be helped when dishes like these are brought back on the menu. The salty foam, the creamy uni, and the play on textures were a refreshing nod to the past for both the diners and the kitchen staff.

Beer Urchin.
Photo by Dre Ferrer
Gallery by Chele dishes.
Photo by Dre Ferrer

The late food writer Clinton Palanca once wrote a modest, but optimistic review of the direction the restaurant was taking earlier in 2015: “A few might lament the loss of another facsimile of the modern Spanish-molecular restaurant, but I’m not one of them,” he writes. “I believe that Gonzalez’s take on Filipino food, while maintaining his exacting and transformative sensibilities, represents this chef’s coming of age and a natural progression of his creativity.” And true enough, Gonzalez continued to charm diners with his culinary vision in the years following that review.

It is this same brilliance and dedication for the craft that makes Chef Zor Tan of Born an apt collaborator for Gallery’s anniversary series. After the Beer Urchin, Tan’s heartier Fried Bao comes after. The aged wagyu tartare with oyster in a fried bao was part of his menu when he first ventured solo, opening Born and earning a Michelin star in its debut year.

The Singapore-based chef brings in a fresh perspective to the Gallery team with his French and Chinese culinary background. So, while some years his junior, the younger chef infuses the kitchen with fresh ambition. Gonzalez says that it’s always important to look back where you started, which is why it makes sense for him to bring in not only established chefs but also someone who used to be where they all were ten years ago.

Chefs preparing dishes in the Gallery kitchen.
Photo by Dre Ferrer

Opening Doors

A series of dishes by Gallery and Born back and forth follow. Zero, a tuna belly and fermented tomato dish from Gallery, earned its name from the mindful zero-waste preparation for the fatty belly paired with the bright tomatoes. The Grouper from Born warms the mouth with subdued heat from the sauce made with fermented capsicum. The Mole from Gallery played with textures next—the peas pop and stand in contrast with the buttery soft lengua cooked sous vide for two days, keeping the dinner interesting with each bite. Meanwhile, Tan’s Risotto fashions crab meat and aligue into a creamy dish with fresh and punchy seafood flavors.

In the middle of the dinner service, Tan navigated the restaurant to talk to the diners with ease. After serving the Lechal, his collaborative dish with Chele, Zor stayed to chat for a bit in a display of trust for the staff back at the kitchen. He was in no hurry. “No, it’s okay. [The kitchen] can run it,” he jokes.

Zero dish from Gallery by Chele.
Photo by Dre Ferrer
The Mole dish from Gallery by Chele
Photo by Dre Ferrer

He says he enjoys working with a bigger team for his first collaboration with the Spanish chef. At Born, he works with a lean team of ten—making their Michelin star debut even more admirable. However, finding his place in Gonzalez’ kitchen was also easy. “The team is very professional. They know a lot of things, have experience with many events, and still they are so keen to learn something different,” he notes.

While the two chefs are quite different in their background, they find common ground with their collaborative dish. Inspired by Chele’s memories of his home and Zor’s time in Spain at the prestigious ICEX Culinary Training Program, they served lamb with patatas bravas and rich eggplant caviar.

Lamb with patatas bravas and rich eggplant caviar.
Photo by Dre Ferrer

Sampling the best from each of the restaurants one after the other, it’s easy to understand why each dish has become a hit over the years. But of course, behind each of these successful bites was a long journey marked by both wins and missteps along the way.

“I also feel like an artist,” Chele admits. “My way to express myself is through the food and the experience. But sometimes, people won’t understand your artistic language.” He looks back on his struggles when the restaurant first opened with pride. “Because that means that we are authentic,” he says. “That this is real. If everything is easy, if you [are not pushing], then that means you are not opening doors.”

Chef Chele Gonzalez and chef Zor Tan.
Photo by Dre Ferrer

Since opening Gallery, Gonzalez and his staff have received generous accolades and accomplishments. It has become a strong contender for the Asia’s Best Restaurant awards since 2016, climbing as high as the 35th spot in 2017.

The dinner ended with a duo of desserts from Gallery: The pandan eclair with a shatteringly thin glutinous rice tuile, a pandan mousse, and nutty latik. Despite being full, the mousse was so light and delicate that an extra serving wouldn’t have hurt –but, their bibingka comes next. The flavors of the puffed cake to end the night mirrors the journey the restaurant has taken to get to where they are today. The pillow-soft dessert was a sweet victory made even more memorable with the tufts of salty cheese on top.

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