On Welcoming Changes and Healthy Food Discoveries in the Kitchen
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On Welcoming Changes and Healthy Food Discoveries in the Kitchen

On Welcoming Changes and Healthy Food Discoveries in the Kitchen

Food & Entertaining | June 15, 2021
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While reflecting on the changes brought about by the pandemic, Chef Robby Goco shares how to make vegetables into a main dish.

“When you have more than you need, build a longer table, not a higher fence.”

– Anonymous

The first few weeks of the pandemic were spent in quiet disbelief—if not restrained patience. I personally thought it shouldn’t last that long. I’d hunker down with my little family, take care of my employees, and deal with the changes and challenges posed on the traditional way we were doing business.

But things didn’t get better. Before we knew it, we had to temporarily close our restaurants, reinvent options to keep our business going. And the rest is what we now look at fondly as history.

The thing is—and it’s an important thing—we are alive, together and safe. The same cannot be said for so many other people—some we know, some we hold dear, and some are just names to us, but it still hurts. It hurts because somewhere, a child has lost a parent and vice versa.

On Making Conscious Choices

To get to this stage I had to change. I made a conscious effort to lessen stress, make good choices, and get more sleep. I learned about anti-inflammatory food to boost my immune system.

Overall, it was an uphill climb. As much as I have always been conscious of these (thus the early decision to espouse farm-to-table, slow food movements), it was more challenging when there’s a real battle of survival involved. One day you’re juicing greens, and the next, you just want to bite into Reese’s peanut butter cup—hoping the pandemic will go away.

But good habits always pay off. Little by little, I was reacquainted with old healthy favorites—much like the ones I am sharing with you now. These are vegetable dishes but of a truly delectable variety. As proof, I offer the insane amount consumed by my carnivorous children!

Turning Vegetables Into Delicious Dishes

Vegetables, when picked fresh and cooked well, become delicacies in their own right. They are not simpering side dishes, but rather, elegant and filling—commanding admiration as the main dish.

For example, central Greece has an eggplant dish called nafpaktos. The green peas dish is arakas laderos, while the mixed vegetable stew is called briam.  They are all called ladera or “vegetables cooked in extra virgin olive oil.” This is a category of vegetable dishes with roots in the cuisines of the former Ottoman Empire, notably Greek, Turkish, and Arabic cuisines.

Best of all, these dishes are wonderful even as leftovers. They’re just as good served at room temperature or straight from the fridge—with rice, bread, or quinoa, topped with feta or eaten as is. They’re so versatile, so undemanding, yet impressive in their rich flavors that it leaves you wondering how you’ve put these dishes away from your cooking repertoire for so long.

Paradoxically, it also feels like home, yet makes you remember summers in Kalamata, Peloponnese, or the first time you smelled the Agean Sea.

The Kitchen: My Source of Inspiration

As inspiration comes from a place of calm: my home kitchen. It’s where I’ve experimented and slowly brought these dishes to our restaurants. We now have mezze platters—smaller portions for casual afternoon get-togethers, when you want a little pick-me-up but don’t want to be too full for dinner.

It’s like being in Europe, where first-time Asian tourists initially bemoan why dinners are so late. But the beauty in this is that you can enjoy all the grazing before dinner finally gets served! (Oh the memory of past trips just gives me a high!)

So we evolve and change, give up well-loved traditions for new ones and make new memories. Then after a while, our newfound joy in these things inspires us to take longer walks outside—with the hope that soon, bare feet will touch the sand, while the sunlight bounces on deep, blue waves.

The Changes We Go Through

This is not just about surviving—it’s living. We look around and the changes in others move us too—from community pantries to recipe sharing. Why the world has been a kinder place when we allow our hearts to see!

Because almost everything has evolved online, we beefed up our online presence. And not a few tears were shed over a son ordering Mother’s Day platters from Singapore for his mama here in Manila, or a nephew in the US just wanting to say “I love you” to the aunt who raised him by sending food—one quiet Sunday.

Then just like that, being a chef, father, husband, employer, and having these plans placed on Level 2.0 because of the pandemic, have more meaning. Change is not always a bad thing—even the quasi-traumatic ones that brought grief. You see, it’s what happens to your heart after that makes a difference.

Check out how I made my favorite ladera dishes here!

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With more than 20 years of professional cooking, kitchen management and restaurant experience, Chef Robby Goco is responsible for all-time favourites such as Cyma, Souv! By Cyma, Green Pastures, Charlie’s Grind and Grill, Cangrejos Locos and the list goes on. He believes in constant innovation and outdoing himself each and every time. He is a staunch supporter of everything sustainable and local. When he is not grinding in his restaurants’ kitchens, he is happily whipping up feasts for his wife and two daughters at home.
More from Robby Goco
May 14, 2021 | 4 min READ

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