There’s this basic culinary practice called mise en place, the process of gathering all tools and pre-measuring all ingredients necessary for a certain dish prior to cooking it. It’s a method that helps cooks become more efficient in the kitchen. If translated to English, the French phrase means “everything in its place”. In a sense, the mise en place is a “falling into place” of some sort – sometimes, like destiny, like life. And Chef J Gamboa is one such manifestation of the term. He is surefooted in his steps, almost as if he had known all along what he ought to do in this life.
He proved himself worthy of the local culinary scene when he opened 4 conceptls, all housed under one roof – the Milky Way Building in Makati. Each floor will lead you from one world to another by way of gastronomy, from Thailand to Japan to Spain and back home again. And it really comes as no surprise that he would come up with this grand vision given his childhood. “I’ve always been around food. I really grew up inside the kitchen. I remember doon ako naglalaro…I became very comfortable around it, like it was all familiar,” he recalls fondly. After all, J’s mother, Julie, put up the original Milky Way restaurant back in 1962. Like the time-tested ritual of passing the baton, he had always been primed to continue the legacy of his mother, while also making a name for his own.
Fast forward to the present, with his sister Malu by his side, his establishments are now considered some of Manila’s most beloved. And his secret to keeping the best restaurants in this side of town? “Best product, best technique. You have to respect your product and use it well, serve it well,” Chef J notes. This is evident in his Tsukiji diner, where 80 percent of their ingredients are flown in from Japan 3 times a week. Apart from this, he complements this philosophy with his hands-on approach to his establishments, making sure he’s there most of the time – a bona fide trait of one who wants to put his best foot forward.
However, being one of the greats is no easy feat. This especially with the country’s food industry at its prime, and with up-and-coming establishments mushrooming just about everywhere you could think of. Indeed, competition bites. But J won’t let this fact swallow him up alive, “We just do our own thing and we’re comfortable with that”. He also ensures that they go along with the field’s continuous progress. For one, J seeks to immerse himself in various lands and curate the best that he could from their cuisine and culture. This has paid off big time, earning him various recognitions from different award-giving bodies. But this man is not one to rest on his laurels either. For instance, he is keen to give back all that he has learned by getting involved even further in the local gastronomic landscape, through supporting and promoting Filipino chefs via different programs and activities with the LTB Chefs Association.
His life in the kitchen is proof that drive and passion combined is sure to take one places. This is a man who’s not afraid to try his hand at anything to achieve his perfect taste of life. He is always cooking something up his sleeve, constantly working, to be better, to be greater, and to uphold all expectations. The tools have been gathered and his recipe to success has been made complete.