On bright sunny afternoons at 7 years old, when most children enjoyed the bask of daylight, Myke found an unexplainable joy in accompanying his folks to the market—taking interest in choosing the right ingredients and seeing fresh, beautiful seafood perfectly laid out. “The very process of buying ingredients and talking to farmers, that was really fascinating for me,” he says as the memory comes back to him more vivid than ever. Suffice to say, this was how Myke “Tatung” Sarthou’s love affair with gastronomy began.
Indeed, his present-day foray into discovering Philippine cuisine is an inspiring one. The man has his sights set on going back to the roots of our heritage, to determine who we truly are as a people. Case in point are his two brainchild concepts—Alab, and now, Agos—and how they seek to merge the classics with the unknowns, the cuisines of our childhood with those from far away. The writer-turned-chef has also penned the well-received “Philippine Cookery: From Heart to Platter” and its much awaited follow-up, “Rice to the Occasion”. But the man is one who neither lives for the applause nor the jeers; rather, he has devoted himself to a life of full-fledged advocacy.
“There was a time in my life that I was in a crisis,” he recalls, “I wasn’t happy with what I was doing. I knew I was a great cook but I realized that my calling really goes beyond the cooking.” To him, cooking is not an end goal, but just a means to arrive at a much bigger purpose. One such thing that helped him to evolve into this mindset was his immersion in the mountains of Sagada. The trip was a span of six months, and he had done a good amount of reflection, a bit of writing, and a lot of engagement with the community. The trip was where he eventually found his soul and his mission. “What makes a Filipino, Filipino?”, he musters, “I realize there’s just this deep spirituality to the work I do which I have to live up to.”
To be frank, he is not concerned about Filipino cuisine gaining international merits or popularity, either. It’s just a matter of time until we get there, and he knows this by heart. He would rather face the realities of our cuisine before getting to that point of recognition. Food security and food sustainability are just two of the few things he actively fights for. His words ring in my ear, palpable and distinct as his tale comes full circle, “We should be able to steer people’s minds to the right direction, open up discourse, and create the right platforms for it. Taste is powerful, it really changes something. And so food is merely the vehicle, the metaphor towards the future.”
He sees several of these futures. One, where food becomes democratic and bereft of social status in the Philippines. Another, where taste goes beyond “best of” lists. I couldn’t stop thinking how that would be such a great time to be alive. I bet 7-year-old Myke Sarthou would be proud.