We were driving around the back roads of Mandaluyong looking for I-donâ€™t-remember what-now. I was in the back seat craning my neck, my eyes peering out into the darkness. Suddenly a large blue and white sign appears on the left with letters that I could just make out: Chefsâ€™ Nook.
â€œHey, that looks cool!â€ I remember pointing and yelling to my two friends up front. â€œQuick! What street is this?â€
â€œPilar,â€ my friend, Mari mumbles distractedly, too intent on her driving.
That was way back in 2003. I remember coming back to the exact same street a few days later, this time on my own, to check out what this â€œChefsâ€™ Nookâ€ was all about. I found a store crammed full of the widest variety of Thai ingredients and even better, baking ingredients (yippee!). So enchanted was I with Chefsâ€™ Nook that I immediately pitched the idea to my editor (of the food magazine I was writing for then) and I didnâ€™t stop pestering her until she gave me the go-ahead to feature it.
Thereâ€™s no way that I couldâ€™ve known then that the owner of Chefsâ€™ Nook would become one of my dearest friends. Sheâ€™s Imelda Go, baker of the famous White Velvet Symphony and Triple Hazelnut Mousse which was featured at the tea party last March. Imelda owns this treasure of a store along with her friend and business partner, Sally So. Chefsâ€™ Nook is actually an offshoot of a sister company, Magic Kitchen, which is Imeldaâ€™s home-based made-to-order bakery.
Thai stuff galore
When I first wrote about Chefsâ€™ Nook when it opened three years ago, I was taken with their immense assortment of Thai ingredients â€“ from assorted curry pastes, packs of ready-to-cook tom yum goong soup, dried rice noodles and rice papers, sweet chili sauce, dark soy sauce, sweet potato powder, cassava starch, dried galangal, dried kaffir lime, â€“ name it, they had it. And they still do. Three years later, their Thai line is even more extensive than Iâ€™ve ever seen it to be. Now thereâ€™s even Hibiscus tea, Thai teas, dried chilies, large and robust cinnamon sticks and palm sugar. Happily, they still carry that green mango dip, Nam Pla Wan, which is a favorite of mine and Sharon Cuneta (as Imelda tells me); dark and sticky, itâ€™s an exciting rush of spicy, sweet, and salty. Mmm, I salivate as I write this.
Over the past few years, Imelda has added even more stuff to her store. Tools for cooks have sprouted up like Cuisipro kitchen rasps, Microplane graters, Salter kitchen scales, baking and cooking pans, pie toppings, tubs of shortening, Chinese rice wines, black vinegar, and plenty of Oriental ceramic plates. On my last visit, I see an entire line of silicone bakeware and accessories displayed across some slick- looking knives. I squeal excitedly when I see bottles of Myerâ€™s Jamaican Rum, the best rum, bar none, for rum-butter cake.
Chefsâ€™ Nook is where I buy my Silpat mats, baking wonders which I consider the next best things after dessert. Ever since I bought my Silpats here, I wonâ€™t make pie crust or bread without them. I also adore the cocoa powders here: Bensdorp cocoa, and two kinds of Tulip cocoa â€“ Burgundy, which has a 10-12% fat content, and Bordeaux, which possesses a 21-24% fat content, and is thus darker (see photo below) and more redolent of chocolate. Both are terrific for making chocolate cakes that are as dark as night.
Speaking of chocolate, no one can beat the chocolate bars offered at Chefsâ€™ Nook. Thereâ€™s an entire line of Callebaut chocolate — milk, bittersweet, couverture, the entire sugarfree chocolate line â€“ and my favorite, Gianduja, an unspeakably divine mix of hazelnut and chocolate. Also available here are Callebaut pastes and fondants, perfect for cake and truffle fillings. A cheaper but equally quality brand of chocolate is also sold here, Tulip. It comes in dark couverture and milk chocolate as well as a good chocolate compound thatâ€™s perfect for enrobing chocolates and candy, since it eliminates the need for tempering chocolate.
Chefâ€™s Nook is the only place in Manila where I will buy nuts for my baking. Because of their high oil and fat content, nuts will turn rancid easily, which is why I store mine in the freezer. I wonâ€™t tell you how many times Iâ€™ve seen rodents scampering around other more popular baking-supply stores. At Chefsâ€™ Nook, all the nuts are kept where they should be, and thatâ€™s in the chiller. Every kind of nut is available here, from macadamias to pine nuts, and the almonds are available whole, slivered, and sliced. Impressive. New offerings include figs and fig pastes, dried blueberry nuggets, tropical raisin medleys, and dried cranberries. Itâ€™s a wonderland, I tell you.
One last thing Iâ€™m very grateful for here at Chefsâ€™ Nook is its knowledgeable salesperson, Jo Ann. She knows each and every ingredient at the store and will even portion out as little as Â¼ of a kilo for any of the cocoa powders or nuts. Ah, service and variety. I couldnâ€™t ask for more from a store.
220 Pilar St., Addition Hills, Mandaluyong City.
Open Monday-Saturday, 9am-5:30pm.
17 Penelope Lane, Acropolis, Libis, QC.
Read my original Chefsâ€™ Nook article (circa 2003).