Expert Interview Series: Dee de los Santos of Gastrofork On Filipino Cooking and Trying Out Different Restaurants While on Vacation

Dee de los Santos is the owner of Gastrofork.ca, and she is also a notable food and travel writer who was named one of the Top 25 Culinary Travel bloggers to follow in 2014 by TripAdvisor's FlipKey blog. We...

Trying out different restaurants

Dee de los Santos is the owner of Gastrofork.ca, and she is also a notable food and travel writer who was named one of the Top 25 Culinary Travel bloggers to follow in 2014 by TripAdvisor's FlipKey blog. We recently caught up with Dee to learn about her process for rating restaurants while traveling as well as the ins and outs of Filipino cuisine.

Tell us a bit about yourself. Why did you decide to start Gastrofork?

Gastrofork was created from the love of food that has been part of my entire life. Growing up, my father was the cook in the family, and everyone he cooked for came back with raving reviews. Inspired to learn how to cook Filipino dishes from my dad and having a love of trying new cuisines, I wanted to share my adventures with friends and family around the world. This sparked me to create a blog that would focus on my food experiences and travel to other countries while trying different dishes.

When you go out to a restaurant to review it, what are the key criteria that you use to evaluate the establishment?

The criteria I use are as follows:

1. Food/Drinks - rated on the present visit, appearance, and taste

2. Service - rated on the present visit compared to any other visits (if applicable), rating how friendly staff are, attentiveness, general treatment before/during/after the meal

3. Value - rated by comparing similar restaurants' prices, it also depends on the previous ratings (Service/Food)

4. Ambiance - rated by the look, feel, and comfort of a restaurant

5. An overall score by averaging all other points.

We all know that sometimes mistakes are made at restaurants. Do you consider these mistakes to be a sign of poor service? How do you differentiate simple mistakes from poor service at a restaurant?

Mistakes are an everyday part of life, and I think the most important part is how a restaurant deals with a mistake. Restaurants have several hubs that work together - management, servers, and kitchen - and they all need to work in tandem with one another to create a great experience.

Oftentimes at less-than-stellar restaurants, one of these blames the other for a problem. On the other side of the service, customers tend to blame their server when it may have been a kitchen issue. What is most important for a restaurant is to take ownership of the mistake as a whole rather than assigning blame and apologizing to their customer. I feel more inclined to forgive if they are up front with me.

Also when dining out, the tolerance scale varies. If I'm at a hole in the wall, I'm not going to expect 5-star service. However, if I am at a high-end restaurant, I do expect the service and quality to be much better.

Everyone has their own way of judging a mistake from poor service. But ultimately, the lack of empathy solidifies whether the service is good or not.

When you travel for vacation and are looking for restaurants to review, do you target places which cater primarily to tourists, or do you look for eateries that are favorites of the locals? How should the overall dining experience differ between these two types of restaurants?

I look for both local favorites and tourist favorites. The reason has to do with my curiosity. Why does one place attract travelers? What is compelling about their food or story that have people recommending these places?

With tourist-centric restaurants, the dining experience tends to be catered to a wider audience and service is fairly consistent in terms of quality. Typically, these restaurants take the best that the local cuisine has to offer and remix it to make it more approachable to visitors.

With local restaurants, you get to experience what locals enjoy eating; and if it's your first time trying the cuisine, it's a great introduction to it. The dining experience at a local eatery may not be as polished as a touristy restaurant, and there may be some sort of quirk that makes the restaurant what it is, but it adds to the charm and authenticity of a local restaurant.

Given Gastrofork's focus on cocktail recipes, could you tell us what the traits and components are of a good cocktail?

I think we all start our alcohol journey when we're quite young; and because we have very little income, we tend to choose the cheapest alcohol to fill our needs. But as time goes on, you learn that a $10 bottle of whiskey is not the same as a $100 bottle of whiskey. Quality ingredients really make a difference between a cocktail that is average and one that excites the senses.

Personally, I enjoy cocktails that are a good balance of sweet and spicy. Quality ingredients such as bitters, herbs, liqueurs and fresh vegetables really create a better-tasting cocktail. There are many small distilleries, breweries, and wineries that focus on creating a quality product with nuances that you wouldn't notice in bigger brands.

I'm not a big fan of flavored alcohol, as I feel that if you wanted that particular flavor, you could add the flavoring to the cocktail itself. Flavored alcohol tends to be sweeter than it needs to be.

Since you're a connoisseur of Filipino foods and dishes, how would you describe this type of cuisine to someone who has never experienced it?

Filipino food is similar to many other cuisines in the world, mostly because of the history behind the Philippines. Throughout history, the Philippines have been home to Chinese, Japanese, and Spanish settlers and conquistadors. Much like other cuisines, depending on where you travel to within the Philippines, you may find more pork and beef or you may find a lot of seafood in the cooking. You'll find a lot of noodle dishes, stews, grilled meats, and fusion dishes. You'll also notice differences in how a specific dish is prepared. Flavor profiles are mostly garlic, salty, and mild in heat.

Do you mind sharing one of your favorite Filipino cuisine recipes with us?

Ingredients:

3 big tomatoes

1 small can tomato sauce

4 cloves of garlic

2 medium onions, chopped

4-6 cups water

2 lbs beef steak, cubed

1 ring of sausage, sliced

1 bay leaf

1 lemon/calamansi

1 red pepper sliced and fried

4 small potatoes, cubed and fried

soy sauce to taste

black pepper to taste

Instructions:

1. Put all meat into a large pot and fill with with a little bit of water.

2. Cut up tomatoes, chop onions and garlic, and add into pot. Add bay leaf.

3. Pour tomato sauce into the pot and mix. Add a little bit of soy sauce and black pepper and salt to taste.

4. Squeeze some lemon into the pot.

5. Simmer for 30-40 minutes.

6. In a pan, heat oil and fry red peppers until just cooked.

7. Remove from pan, fry potatoes until browned.

8. Stir the pot once in a while as it boils.

9. After 40 minutes, add potatoes and half of the red peppers.

10. Let cook for another 5-10 minutes.

11. Pour into serving dish and garnish the top with leftover red peppers.

When you are cooking in the kitchen, what are the utensils, tools, and other items that are most important for you to have?

When I was growing up and watching my dad cook, he had just the essentials: he julienned, sliced, and diced all his vegetables with his trusty knife and used his hands a lot for mixing. I've adopted this way of cooking, so I normally only need my bamboo cutting boards, an array of different knives, a digital thermometer, a cookbook, lots of small bowls to keep items separate, a mortar and pestle, measuring cups, and spoons.

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