By Dolly Dy-Zulueta
CHEF SAU DEL ROSARIO is one of the biggest culinary stars in the country today. His culinary career has taken him to different parts of the world, including Singapore and Thailand, until he decided to come home to Manila and make a name for himself in his native land. At the back of his mind though, he had always nurtured the idea of going back further into his roots, back to where his impressive young mind was shaped by the cooking of his mother and his grandmother.
Now, he is back home in Angeles City, Pampanga, via Café Fleur, the intimate restaurant that he recently opened in the heritage district of Angeles City. Located along Miranda Street, in front of Imerex Hotel, very close to the Holy Rosary Church and Holy Angel University, Café Fleur occupies an old heritage house that Chef Sau has refurbished into a cozy and quiet restaurant that serves international favorites, including a number of Kapampangan dishes. These include Tamales Pampangueña, Sisig, Crispy Hito and Green Mango Salad, Pakô Savage Salad, and Lamb Shank Caldereta.
He opened the restaurant in December of 2015 and, since then, Chef Sau has been juggling his schedule between Manila, where he still maintains a lot of culinary responsibilities, and Pampanga. He makes it a point, though, to be in Pampanga every weekend, so that he could personally supervise the restaurant and make sure that the quality of the food and the service are consistent.
His efforts have paid off. Upon learning that Chef Sau has “come home,” many of his fellow Kapampangans have visited Café Fleur and dined there. They now frequent his place and have made it one of their favorite hangouts for good food. Manila-based gourmets and gourmands have also turned it into a destination dining venue, and are pleasantly surprised to see that the whole heritage district is paved in cobblestone and has the feel and look of Old Pampanga. Heritage houses in the district are carefully preserved, including the heritage house occupied by Café Fleur.
Chef Sau has also converted other parts of the house into intimate concept restaurants, with Leh-Leh Thai Comfort Food occupying a small room on the ground floor and Babô Avant-Garde Capampangan taking the whole second floor.
At any given day—and even any time of the day—a good mix of diners can be found at Café Fleur, enjoying its appetizers, salads, soups, main meals, desserts, sandwiches and its extensive line of indulgent smoothies and hot and cold Tsokolate Batirol drinks. Its cakes, such as Bibingka Cheesecake, Choco Sansrival, Dulce de Leche, Lechemon, Brazo de Calamansi, Jackfruit Sansrival and Pandan Sansrival, have also turned out to be delicious discoveries that can be enjoyed only at Café Fleur.
Just recently, specifically on April 28, 2016, native Kapampangans and Manila-based guests converged at Café Fleur to enjoy Chef Sau’s brand of cuisine during the joint blessing of Café Fleur and the Pampanga launch of Chef Sau’s cookbook, 20 Years of Love + Cooking. The blessing came first, followed by an early dinner. Chafing dishes filled with Spicy Tuyo and Capers Pasta, Citrus Aligue Pasta and Papaya Salad lined the spacious lawn, along with a carving station featuring Chef Sau’s famous Crispy Pork Belly with all its crackling skin goodness, a grill station where skewers of Chicken Satay cooked nonstop, and an interactive station serving Chef See’s Seafood Laksa and Tamales Pampangueña. Bite-sized pieces of Dulce de Leche and Salted Choco Caramel Cake were passed around as a meal-ender.
While everyone was having a feast, the program for the book launch began, with Manila-based Spanky Enriquez sharing hosting chores with Chef Sau’s fellow Most Outstanding Kapampangan awardee Cecile Yumol. The three ladies closest to Chef Sau’s heart—Atching Lillian Borromeo, also a Kapampangan, who makes the heirloom cookie called Panecillos de San Nicolas; food expert and entrepreneur Nancy Reyes-Lumen, and fellow recipe developer Edith Singian—also spoke about the author who spent three years working on the book. After all, 20 Years of Love + Cooking recounts Chef Sau’s 20 years of experience in the culinary field and contains recipes which he has acquired, grown up with, developed, and shared by friends over the years. Published by Akme Publishing, Chef Sau’s youthful publisher Alexis Kim Cuizon welcomed everyone to the event, and then it was Chef Sau’s turn to talk about the ups and downs of his culinary career over the past 20 or so years.
“Through it all, I have always said to myself that, yes, I want to come home to Angeles, Pampanga one day and have my own restaurant here. I have always thought of going back to my roots. I think, now, I have come full circle, and I’m happy to be home,” said Chef Sau.
Image credits: Rafael R. Zulueta