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“Quality is number one, price is just another consideration.”

Having grown up in Southern Ireland, surrounded by farmlands with produce ripe for harvest, Chef Billy King knows the value of utilizing the freshest ingredients. 

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“The neighboring communities had literally homegrown products. We grew our own fruits and 

veggies in our gardens, we fished for our own seafood from nearby rivers and seas. We even raised cattle and sheep for our meat,” he reminisces.

Everything was available around them, the chef continues, and they never relied on frozen food at all. “We were self-sufficient,” he says. 

Photo by Edu Jarque

At a tender, young age, he followed where his heart whispered to him to wander, leading him to different continents. King had no definite plans, and the free-spirited wanderlust traveler would welcome opportunities as they came his way.

“As I transitioned from country to country, I instinctively absorbed the cultures and traditions of each destination—earnestly appreciating that these were all crucial in the authentic preparation of food,” he shares. 

As he moved around, King was introduced to herbs and spices that he didn’t know existed. “I devoted myself to learn unfamiliar methods and unconventional techniques from the locals,” he says. “I still apply these prized lessons in my cooking every day.”

Best of the best

After his nomadic years, his fascination with our islands began. He settled for a more permanent fixture in the Philippines and eventually broke through its ever-growing culinary scene.

King started as executive chef at the Intercontinental Hotel Manila’s Prince Albert Rotisserie, where he was considered as one of the first to adopt neo-classical cuisine. He then opened the famed Le Soufflé, a pioneer of fine dining in the metro.

For almost 20 years since, he has been at the helm of Le Chef at The Manor-Camp John Hay in Baguio, where he heads the Food and Beverage Department. It is dubbed as the best breakfast in the city, with lavish splendid displays of farm-to-table fare, well-trained waiters, and a breathtaking view of the gardens and mountains as backgrounds. 

He likewise produces the various delicacies at the adjacent Le Chef Bakery, with a diverse selection of mouthwatering choices: raisin, banana, and tea breads, croissants and Danish pastries, pies and puffs, tarts and éclairs, scones and pretzels, and cookies and cakes. They also have a selection of flourless and sugar-free desserts, ube spreads, orange marmalade and a catalog of different berry jams.

The chef loves the Philippines, and, more so, our people. “Filipinos love to talk and eat excellent food. It is such a crucial part of their lives, which I find similar to our culture in Ireland,” he says. “That’s why I feel at home here.”

Quality is key

Chef Billy has observed that diners today have become more adventurous with their food choices. This newfound desire in culinary explorations outside of the familiar is coupled with the innate pride of Filipinos—whether residing here or abroad, of their own cuisine. 

These continuous exposures have brought the best of the Philippines to the world, and in turn, has encouraged the international travelers to visit our islands.

For him, consistency is king. “A good restaurant thrives on consistency, there must be clear and clean flavors in every dish where we should be able to identify what ingredients were used just from its taste.”

He holds his ingredients to a golden standard. “Quality is number one, price is just another consideration. Valued ingredients will never betray you—that I can guarantee,” he explains.

Le Chef’s pork, he shares, comes from either France or Spain, while the beef is sourced from the USA. Their seafood is freshly caught from Palawan and General Santos while their poultry fruits, and vegetables are from genuine, no-nonsense local organic farmers, he reveals.

Passing knowledge

“Whether you like it or not, there are seasons where fruits and vegetables are at their best. That is when you should get them—and if you can help it, get them at no other time,” King recommends. 

It is through these cherished experiences that King has learned and yearns to continuously and constantly exert his best, no matter what he prepares in the kitchen. “I pay the same kind of meticulous attention when I boil an egg and when I prepare goose liver,” he shares.

Photo by Edu Jarque

A team player, he also does not limit himself to culinary experiments all alone. He would often assist other chefs with the same passion who introduced him to the sciences of cuisine.

“I relish passing down the knowledge that I have, for I also learn whenever I impart whatever I know,” King discloses. “When my apprentices ask questions, it opens up new avenues of insights for me as well.”

Both Le Chef and Le Chef Bakery at the Manor, Camp John Hay are currently open from 6 A.M. to 9 P.M. 

This story originally came out in the April-May 2020 issue of Lifestyle Asia.

Banner Photo by EDU JARQUE

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