Owned by partners and friends Imelda Go and Sally So, the newest little haven for food lovers opened just last August. It’s an offshoot of a sister company, Magic Kitchen, a home-based made-to-order bakery that offers edible sins such as White Velvet symphony – a white chocolate glory with meringue layers, Triple Hazelnut Mousse, and an elegant Banana Macadamia Cream pie, among others.
Originally, the concept of Chefs’ Nook was to be an Asian deli-store, but more emphasis was placed on the Thai products, since Imelda and Sally noticed an abundance of Japanese and Korean stores in the city.
Indeed, you need look no further for authentic Thai ingredients. Aside from the usual soy sauces and fish sauces, there are bags of potato flour and cassava starch, a complete all-in-one pack of ingredients needed for tom yum goong soup (with a sachet of chili to boot), dried peppers and other spices, and a host of dipping sauces. I am told that Sharon Cuneta drops by occasionally to shop and pick up a bottle of the nam pla dip for mangoes, a favorite of husband Senator Francis Pangilinan. At another time, actress Judy Anne Santos was also here to pick up some things for her own restaurant. Chef-instructors at the nearby Center For Asian Culinary Studies (CACS) run by Chef Gene Gonzales (of Café Ysabel fame) are frequent customers as are their students.
Imelda, who is a food technologist by profession, says that she and Sally are food enthusiasts who love to eat, cook, and bake. They have no formal culinary background, except their love of food and the passion for it. For them, relaxation is taking a cooking class.
On their partnership in Chefs’ Nook, Imelda says, “It’s like doing business and having fun at the same time. It’s liking what you do – knowing everything that you have and being able to impart it to customers.” She recounts stories of customers asking her how to cook with a particular ingredient and she readily gives them recipes.
The better part of an hour can be spent perusing the racks of ingredients at this little store and dreaming up endless culinary possibilities. Aside from the line of Thai products, there is a wide array of baking ingredients: instant yeast (much better than the active-dry kind found in supermarkets); various cocoa powders (non-alkalized and Dutch-processed); chocolate compounds; semisweet, milk chocolate, and white chocolate blocks; 500-gram bars of Callebaut chocolate (an imported, high quality brand); chocolate chips; sprinkles for cupcakes; cupcake holders; cooking wines; shortening. At the front of the store is a small selection of tea sets and various cookware. I was especially impressed to find various Silpat baking molds and Silpain mats for bread making at more than half the price at other cookware stores. These special mats and molds are from France and made with silicone. With good care and maintenance, they’re reputed to last up to 2,000 uses.
At Chefs’ Nook, high turnover is of utmost importance to ensure fresh stock all the time. The various nuts are kept in a chiller, as well as other products like the 1-kilo bar of Anchor cream cheese, whipping cream, and Caspian dates. I told Imelda how pleased I was with the assortment and quality of the products being sold and she replied, “I treat my customers the way I’d treat myself. The things I sell are the things that I have used and are happy with. If it’s below my standards, I won’t sell it.” I concurred, knowing that a cooked or baked product comes out only as good as the ingredients that go into it.
Imelda and Sally plan to expand Chefs’ Nook by bringing in more interesting items, things that are rarely found elsewhere. They believe that is what makes the store unique. To widen their product line and make it more comprehensive, the pair go on buying trips and oftentimes go as far as hand-carrying the products home themselves if not brought by freight.
A love for food, and a desire to share is what keeps this humble store grounded. Says Imelda, “It’s fun to run Chefs’ Nook, and when I see people come in and be overjoyed with what we have that’s a reward already.”
Chefs’ Nook is located at 220 Pilar St., Addition Hills, Mandaluyong City.
Magic Kitchen is located at 17 Penelope Lane, Acropolis, Libis, QC.