Jam Melchor: Preserving Philippine culinary heritage

In Photo: Melchor

AT 31, millennial chef Jam Melchor has already accomplished what many of his contemporaries would take a lifetime to do. His success, however, came after years of working with top chefs and learning a lot from them. Those days meant hard work at the kitchen, which he enjoyed because he grew up in Pampanga, the country’s culinary capital.

Melchor opened his first restaurant, Villa Café, in 2011, serving his own version of Kapampangan heirloom recipes. The following year, he established Bite Contemporary Cuisine, which was hailed as one of Manila’s best restaurants and known for its organic dishes and its advocacy for sustainability.

In 2013 he established Healthy Eats Manila, now known as YesPlate, and considered as the only sustainable diet delivery service in the metropolis. From 2014 to 2015 he was commissioned by the Philippine government under the Department of Agriculture to be the Chef Ambassador representing the Philippines for the Asean Roadshow 2014 Linamnam!:
Flavors of the Philippines.

This enabled him to establish, with food-magazine editors and friends, the Philippine Culinary Heritage Movement with a mission to preserve Filipino cuisine. PCHM believes that educating people, especially through taste, is the best way to preserve our culinary heritage.

As the featured chef at the 2016 Salone del Gusto/Terra Madre in Turin, Italy, Melchor cooked champorado, bringhe, pancit and he also made Pinoy desserts like maja blanca, to the delight of the visitors who were trying Filipino food for the first time.

A poster boy for Capampangan cuisine, Melchor is a Slow Food advocate, preserving traditional cooking methods and using heirloom ingredients like turmeric, adlai, kini-ing, pinogpog and other food ingredients found in every grandmother’s recipes.

Though he suffered some hiccups in his business endeavors, like the time when competitors managed to take away from him his previous brand, Melchor challenged himself to make YesPlate a brand patronized by Manila’s celebrities, fitness buffs and diet-conscious consumers.

“I don’t want to fight people,” he said. “I prefer to move on and just do what I like to do while making some money.”

Melchor knows the entrepreneurial road is not a smooth one. But he remained undaunted. He’s been through a lot of challenges in the past seven years, and he has also been to a lot of places to talk about Filipino food and promote the country’s gastronomic heritage.

That’s how he got noticed by the Slow Food people who invited him to the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Italy for two weeks to teach young chefs there about
Filipino food.

Melchor said: “I started going with the Slow Food Manila people just a few years ago and have learned a lot about preserving culture, heritage and biodiversity.” He has influenced young farmers to follow suit and work with young and not-so-young chefs.

In the recent “World Disco Soup Day” (a disco event to promote “Fighting Food Waste”)  the young entrepreneur/chef/organizer called the shots. He organized the students, the chefs and farmers and made sure the youth signed up as members of the Slow Food Youth Network.

“I’m happy, and I can go on and on, cooking and promoting our cuisine and the Slow Food principles of good, clean and fair food,” Melchor said.

“I wish other young chefs would take the challenge and join the Slow Food Movement while keeping watch of their storefronts and kitchens,” he continued. “I know it’s not easy,” he added, “specially when you have financial partners.”

Exuding the charm of a positive chef, Melchor has done much to raise the profile of Philippine gastronomy outside the country, and he looks forward to inspire young Filipinos to discover our fascinating food culture, with its rich history and diversity.

 

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Rizal Raoul S. Reyes has covered technology, science, business, property and special reports. He had working stints with the Business Star, Manila Bulletin and Independent Daily News.

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