It’s always been a question of how art comes to terms with gastronomy and innovation; a query that begs to be solved. But who could solve this? A young fesity duo comes to mind.

We’re fortunate enough to be able to live in a day and age where people like Gab Bustos and Thea Rivera exist in the food industry. The dynamic power couple, who just recently got engaged, took over Aguirre in 2013 at a time when the renowned eat street was anything but bustling. Even if the titular diner, The Girl + The Bull is currently on break, the duo behind the endeavor and modern izakaya 12/10 still looks to be a perfect study into the curious case at hand.


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A Blank Canvas

It was a bold move, come to think of it, and a risky one too. Back then, Gab just dropped out of a Fine Arts degree while Thea graduated from a management course in college. The two had no culinary background to begin with. In all honesty, the Girl and the boy – or Bull, rather, had to make ends meet. But they chose to run with every opportunity.

It was a trip overseas that started their love affair with gastronomy. Gab shares: “We were really juiced up and inspired from a trip. We were actually trying to apply to different places, but everyone turned a blind eye. Luckily, my mom had a restaurant that wasn’t doing so well and a lightbulb just went off in our heads.” The thought process was the first step to their daring pilgrimage. There’s no formula to it, really. If anything, it’s the outpouring of a chef’s heart and personality. It’s a silent dialogue in which he imparts his encounters through the plate. The hope is for each dish to resonate with the patron’s taste buds. And for them, it was a successful feat. Their unique concoctions have consistently been the talk of the town, and drew rave reviews ever since. Nothing could have prepared them for the madness that was to come.

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No Holds Barred

In pursuit of the perfect plate, the lines between food and art often blur. The question of time-tested gastronomic traditions come to mind. Does one have to obey the rules before breaking them? Is there a boundary to begin with? And if there was, to which extent is crossing the line acceptable? Gab Bustos and Thea Rivera have no qualms about these. Their principle has always been go crazy or nothing. As completely foolhardy and reckless as that may seem, the dishes Gab cooks up still has a certain discipline to it.”Actually, my tip is not to follow any rule, but then you have to strike a certain balance. You have to respect the classics, but at the same time, you can’t let that bind you,” he says.

Paying reverence to the roots and understanding it to a certain level is still essential. Once achieved, one has the license to bend all the statutes in the book to his heart’s content. An embodiment of this can be found in their brainchild restaurant concepts. The charm of each plate is in the surprise factor it possesses, each element with its own narrative to tell. The result is an exquisite one, all the notes coming together to form a beautiful harmony. The potent and the bright rise in marvelous crescendos, followed by the delightful surprises of the subtle and the arcane, coming into a fruition worthy of applause.


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Beyond Aesthetic

One would think that to be young, wild, and, free in a sea of more established forces in the industry would inspire a certain amount of intimidation. But Gab and Thea are choosing to look the other way, taking their brand of peculiar as a card only they can play. Theirs is a philosophy that involves marching to the beat of their own drum, lauding another’s success, and constantly striving for 100 percent everyday. Thea breaks it down to a certain science, “We never really factor in our age. We always live by the idea to just give our best every day, pushing ourselves to keep on improving.” There’s always something new to learn, always an opportunity to get with the times, and grow further. Contrary to popular belief, work and life must bleed effortlessly into each other, coming together in holy matrimony. “We both understand that work is life and life is work. It’s really an extension of us,” the Girl quips. And the Bull attests to this.

As our conversation draws to a close, I’ve finally come to deduce the curious case of what links art to gastronomy and innovation. And it is this: art goes beyond the aesthetic of plate and space; it rests in the entire process. There’s an art to service, an art to making money, an art to making sure that things get done when problems arise. This also means having a strong identity, a healthy dose of vanity, if you may. This is where the triumph of a diner lies.

It’s imperative for a restaurateur’s voice to be heard, firm and loud, in an industry where it’s so easy to be drowned out by the deafening harks of the big leagues or the products of infectious hype. It’s about creating a genuine palpable experience with your audience. The denouement then is the beauty of gastronomy – the emotions it evokes and how it takes on to the past, makes one revel the present, and gives one a glimpse of the future.

This story is an updated excerpt from Breakfast Magazine’s February-March 2017 issue. If you want more tales like this, check this out!