Boy Saycon’s latest venture
From race car rally driver and navigator to political gadfly and now restaurateur, Pastor “Boy” Saycon has lived, and lives, many lives and identities.
Most of his time and energy these days seems to lie in running “Pastor’s Gastro Pub,” a casual dining establishment that is casual only in terms of interior decor (dark wood furniture, brick walls, Iberian art and posters on the walls including the ubiquitous tourist-y bullfight posters), and the ambience and attitude of its staff.
But in terms of the food, Pastor’s is deadly serious, as in seriously hazardous to one’s health, as one bite of any of the top-of-the-line Spanish hams is bound to lead to another, and another, and another…
And we’re not even talking about the rest of the menu that consists of such classics and favorites as callos, rabo de toro, bacalao, and two kinds of paella.
Boy Saycon’s son JJ is executive chef. Educated at the prestigious Culinary Institute of America and trained in New York City’s top restaurants, JJ tries to put his own “touch” on the classic dishes that Filipino foodies have grown up with and come to love. But it is Boy’s enthusiasm for the dishes he serves that gives the added sheen, the shine to the diner’s enjoyment of the flavors.
“We wanted a casual, friendly atmosphere, but at the same time we wanted to serve really good, quality fare,” says JJ. He tells of a regular customer who one day walked in with his wife. “She discovered that her husband had been going to a ‘bar,’ and when her husband protested that he was coming here for the food, she said she had to go and try it herself.” Needless to say, the visit restored marital harmony and perhaps even enhanced it. They have since become regular customers.
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OPENED just recently, Pastor’s Gastro Pub isn’t located in a prime spot. It lies at the rear end of Hobbies of Asia Complex, behind the Gloria Maris restaurant along Macapagal Boulevard in Pasay. But the parking attendants can readily tell you where to find it.
Although this is Boy’s first restaurant venture, it is not his first time to enter the culinary field. A self-taught gourmet and enthusiast, he has been supplying friends in the food trade with his specialties like buro, and regularly puts on a chef’s apron during Holy Week at the Baguio Country Club because patrons tend to look for his specialty bacalao, the salted-codfish dish that is a staple of our Holy Week tables.
During a trip to Spain, he recounts, he approached a butcher and asked to sample some jamon Serrano, which to Filipinos is already some kind of status symbol. “Señor,” the Spanish meat shop proprietor replied, “you have come all the way from the Philippines only to eat the ham of the poor?”
That was the beginning of his education not just in the many varieties of Spanish hams, which are classified according to the breed of pig the ham comes from, the area of Spain where these pigs are bred (and what they’re fed), and the method followed in butchering and curing. Drop by Pastor’s to sample the hams and see if you can tell the difference!
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OF COURSE, no conversation with Boy Saycon can be considered complete without local politics entering the equation. He makes no bones about supporting Vice President Jojo Binay, whose long-announced and anticipated run for the presidency in 2016 he enthusiastically supports.
Who would make for an ideal running mate for Binay? “I like Alan Peter Cayetano,” he ventures, perhaps because the senator’s image is splashed on the huge TV screen in the private dining room as we speak. “He is straight and is capable,” Saycon adds, “and no hint of scandal has touched him or even his wife” (Taguig City Mayor Lani Cayetano).
Ironically, we are watching, between bites, the Senate blue ribbon committee’s hearing on the allegedly overpriced Makati City Hall parking building, where Cayetano has been playing a provocative role, trying to ensnare the Vice President in the accusations of overpricing and corruption.
But Saycon and most political observers apparently know that in politics, especially Philippine politics, anything is possible—including former enemies turning into bosom friends, and vice-versa. So I agree with him, a Binay-Cayetano pairing is still within the realm of the possible.
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WHAT about the first-termer Sen. Grace Poe?
“She is a good person, intelligent and sensible” is Boy’s judgment. “But she has been upfront in declaring that she is not interested in running for president just yet. People should just let her be, to ripen in politics and grow into her role in the future.”
Maybe Grace Poe will indeed ripen into “presidentiable” material in the years to come. She certainly has been showing keen instincts for what appeals to public sensibilities, such as joining the queue for the MRT and enduring the same heat, crowding and impatience that ordinary commuters go through.
So then again, I find myself nodding in agreement with the proprietor of Pastor’s Gastro Pub. Grace Poe has plenty of time to explore a bigger political role if she so desires. This is a time for learning, for building experience, for developing her own brand of gravitas.
And as he did in previous political regimes, Boy Saycon will be around, perhaps as a gadfly, or a secret operative, or a consultant. Of course, he will have Pastor’s Gastro Pub to distract him, but I suspect that politics, and the art of sensing and manipulating public consciousness, is as much a personal predilection for him as cooking and eating.
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