From creating whimsical dishes, pairing wines, and offering exceptional dining experiences at 36,000 feet to creating unique amenity concepts for VVIPs to hosting US President George Bush and his family at the 2008 Olympic Games; Chef Nouel has a flair for creating & presenting desserts in innovative, novel & contemporary ways.
Intensely passionate about Heritage cooking he explains that food is an integral part of our custom & traditions. It is deeply rooted in the culture, the country that one is born in, and relates to our upbringing.
Heritage food he says reminds you of family, of childhood days, and the things you become fond of as you grow up and it stays with you forever until the last day of your life, remaining with you as memories of the past. You may try out different exotic foods & cuisines but at the end of the day when you are looking for something more comforting one will always go back to something that is familiar and very personal.
“When I am feeling low & not 100%, I hunger for Charcoal Grilled Chicken that always comforts me & immediately makes me feel better”, he says to drive home the point.
“I was born to a family of foodies in a small town in the Philippines with mom owning a restaurant that served local food. She was a great cook & always encouraging of us whenever we wanted to cook up a dish. Father was an architect so everything around was very artsy”, he reminisces.
Pastry & Dessert happened quite by accident he recalls as the first cake he baked turned out to be better than what his mum made and that hooked him to explore more. Speaking about his love for everything sweet he tells us that Baking & Patisserie is more science than art as one miscalculation in the recipe ruins your product, and is very different from cooking which is more about emotions & feelings and can be turned around quickly.
“Baking comes as a natural fit for me and I am happy doing what I do”, he says fondly.
His first cookbook “Nouelʼs Nifty Chic Baking” was purely out of the desire to have a sense of accomplishment, to leave something behind as a legacy that lives on forever. He chuckles as he says, “There are three things one needs to do in life I had read – father a child, plant a tree and write a book. Out of the three, writing a book seemed to be the easiest to do.”
He then went on to co-author “The New Filipino Kitchen” which led him to promote more of his inspirations and works on social media that grabbed the attention of award-winning writer Flavel Monteiro who proposed a book with Chef John Buenaventura titled ‘Cuisinero - Taste the Philippines’. This book is uniquely Filipino and aims to showcase the cuisine & heritage of the country to the rest of the world.
“Filipino food is not as popular as other cuisines from around the world, and we want to introduce to the people what they have not had a chance to experience so far. Rice is a staple for all our meals and to create something authentic yet exotic was a challenge, but I’m proud I could do it.” says Chef Nouel. Expect the unexpected from the book he goes on to add. Going forward he aims to elevate his heritage and make it more accessible & reachable to the non-Filipinos.
Now having established his own company, Nifty Chef LLC, Chef Nouel is currently running several projects as a consultant putting up different food businesses in the Middle East using his 20+ years experience in the hotel and food industry. He is highly focused on designing interactive, signature and delicious desserts from the simple to the exquisite. The company also offers branding assistance, concept development, collaboration, kitchen design & outfitting, and kitchen staffing & training for new and existing restaurant businesses.
It was not a smooth road as he never had the privilege of being mentored or trained under an experienced chef. Beginning his career he got recognized for his dedication, hard work and strong interest to learn & innovate, got fast-tracked as a head pastry chef within a short time which he was bold to embrace as he has always been very ambitious. The downside was that it took a toll on his confidence as he soon realized that a lot of his staff was more skilled than him as they had been through many years of training in the kitchen under the guidance of executive chefs.
Undeterred, he saved up enough money to go to New York to take up professional culinary studies and travelled to other places whenever he got a chance to fill in the gaps & up his knowledge & skills.
“What made me very strong was going to the depths of learning, connecting the dots, and understanding the finer nuances of pastry art. Looking back I would not change a thing as it was because of the very challenges that I got creative & innovative that have made me who I am today”, he states feeling the pride.
To all future food entrepreneurs, his advice is to know what exactly one wants and to be bold in its pursuit. People will always have new needs & requirements; one can have a crazy idea and still be successful if one is true to the self at all times.
When he isn’t creating extraordinary desserts, he is gorging on motichoor ladoos with karak chai. Those are his favorites he says.
“I do take in a lot of calories as I need to taste what I make and sugar is definitely not your best friend for health’s sake. It is ironic I should say this being a chef that specializes in pastry & desserts”, he says feeling a bit foible. He also knows the importance of keeping the mind and body in sync and so balances out all the sweet stuff with smoothies, mindful eating, and exercise.
What is really important he believes is to be able to relate to people and to create an impact. It isn’t about being popular but about conveying your passion, enjoying the journey of your goals & aspirations, bringing smiles to faces along the way. It is all about being human & humble he remarks.
Image Courtesy: 66.media, myfoodbeginnings.
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