December 12, 2017 | MANILA, PHILIPPINES

Intergalactic dining

FROM a galaxy far, far, away to Privatus Dining in Pasig, Plato.ph hosted a Star Wars-themed dinner on May 4th (As in, “May the Force be with you,” as the jedi were wont to say before the end of the Republic).


The dishes were based on themes and food seen in the immensely popular film franchise, such as Blue Milk and Cookies (as seen in the Mos Eisley Cantina, translated here on Earth as Blue Curacao-tinged milk with chocolate chip cookies), or The End of Sarlacc (the sandpit beast slayed in Return of the Jedi, here on Earth recreated as a grilled octopus with bacon breadcrumbs and garlic mayo). Star Wars toys, costumed characters with lighsabers, and the soundtrack from the films, of course, were present. The dinner was prepared by AJ Reyes, who used to work for Mecha Uma and Vask, and who now concentrates on Privatus, a private dining venture (which, oddly enough, sounds like the name of a Sith Lord).

While the company is relatively young, the idea forming in 2015 and finally launching in 2016, this isn’t the company’s first themed dinner: a series of dinners in April revolved around the concept of April Fools, with food not quite looking like what they should taste like (such as a coconut breaking open to reveal another dessert). According to CEO Martti Uy, other dinners being planned include a horrifying Halloween dinner. Two more Star Wars dinners will be held on May 20 and 27, if you really want to scratch your nerdy itch.

UBER FOR CHEFS
Now if you’re wondering why a chef like AJ Reyes would cater to the whims of Star Wars geeks, that’s because he’s part of Plato.ph’s two-pronged approach. Aside from hosting these novelty dinners, Plato functions like an Uber for chefs. Book a chef and an appointment about a week prior to your special day, and a chef from some of the more popular restaurants in the city (think the head chef of Black Sheep, or else a MasterChef Asia contestant) will arrive at your doorstep to make you dinner, at prices ranging from about P700 to P5,000. Founder and CFO Laurence Espiritu came up with the idea while cooking himself. An engineering student, he got into cooking because of his concerns about fitness, and his food turned out to be quite good. “I’m not a professional,” he confessed. His food was so good that his friends who would come around for dinner would bring other friends over to dine, and some of these friends of friends happened to be chefs. “That’s when people started saying, ‘Why don’t you make this into a service?’ We started realizing that there are lots of chefs out there that don’t have the means to put up a restaurant, but are very talented.”

The network of chefs began with student chefs, and private dining chefs who gladly opened up their own homes, or else traveled to private homes to cook for people hosting dinners. Things started to get serious when the idea caught on (again through word of mouth), and chefs comfortably ensconced in their own restaurants wanted in.

“A lot of chefs are very hungry for it, because exposure is one thing that all chefs are looking for,” said Mr. Espiritu.

The service, which one can book through the Web site, Plato.ph, serves as a sort of restaurant with no walls or rules (a minimum requirement though, is a kitchen and dining area in your home -- obviously).

One of the conveniences cited by Mr. Espiritu on his end, is its flexibility. “A theme of a restaurant is only limited to its interior, and since we don’t have a restaurant, we can always adapt to a certain chef, or a certain theme, and change up the experience.”

The flexibility of the format also allows the chefs, supposedly tired of serving the same thing over and over again, to flex their creative muscles. “It’s a platform for them not just to promote themselves, but also test different recipes that they want to show.” He added, “For this, they feel the total freedom of doing anything they want.”

Of course, once they’re booked, sample menus are available on the Web site, but any modifications, special requests, and themes can be made -- within reason. “They don’t have a boss to answer to. Because they have this freedom, because we want to bring back that passion in cooking, it’s already an easy sell for them.”

And as for their customers? Apparently, while the themed dinners are popular with the young set (at about P1,500 per head), the personal chef service are more popular with what Mr. Espiritu calls The Titas of Manila. Armed with designer bags and Spanish fans, Mr. Espiritu noted, “They like having good stuff.” While the chefs are obviously quite happy with the arrangement, one hopes the customers are more than satisfied as well. “We like to open up the minds of our customers... to show [them] a whole new experience, a whole new way of engaging with their food; a more immersive experience. It’s not just about the food that they get, but it’s also the chef that they can talk to.

While you can, of course, just get a real Uber to go to a real restaurant, as Dorothy from Wizard of Oz once said, and which has been said so many times, “There’s no place like home.” Said Mr. Uy, “With a very intimate dining experience, you can control things. They can tell us that [for example], ‘My wife and I had fried chicken on our first date,’ which the chef can probably whip up for you.” -- Joseph L. Garcia