As a child, winner of the inaugural E&O Search for AFC’s Next Celebrity Chef, Dino Ferrari was glued to the TV, but not to cartoons like most kids his age. Instead, the charming chef spent hours watching cooking programmes, picking up skills that now stand him in good stead. He shares with Travel 3Sixty° his inspiration and what cooking ‘Dino-style’ is all about.
Compiled by: Chitra S Images: Courtesy of AFC
Who or what inspired you to cook?
Growing up, I watched cooking shows instead of cartoons. Every summer, my older sisters who returned from college, and my sister who studied hotel and restaurant management in Switzerland, taught me to fold napkins, make crème brûlée and pastries, which inspired me to try my hand at cooking. My true inspiration to cook came while I was in college in the United States. In the dorm room, armed only with a rice cooker (every Asian student had one) and a microwave oven, I would cook up my favourite Filipino dishes for friends and dorm mates.
Describe your cooking style.
I call it ‘Dino-style’, fun and simple, yet entertaining and impressive. My cooking philosophy focuses on clean flavours and comfort food. At the end of the day, we’re all looking for a home-cooked meal. And I try to spice it up –Dino-style!
Tell us about your journey thus far as a chef.
I attended business school in California and it took me three years to persuade my dad to let me enrol in a culinary school. The deal came with a condition – I had to attend hotel and restaurant management school as well. So, I applied to Ecole Hoteliere de Lausanne, Switzerland but that still wasn’t what I really wanted to do. All I wanted was to cook! I worked part time for catering events, took on any side jobs in the kitchen, and thus developed my love for cooking and entertaining. When I returned to Philippines, I worked for Chef Cyrille Soenen, one of the best French chefs in the country and I used to cater for my parents’ and friends’ parties on the side. I got so many return calls, I began cooking for small groups of people as a private chef, which I’ve been doing ever since.
What are your favourite ingredients to work with and why?
BUTTER! The more, the better! And garlic, which just has to be in everything. I also like duck, which is so flavourful and versatile. And true to my Filipino heritage, I can’t say no to vinegar, be it white or balsamic. They are great flavour enhancers.
Your favourite guilty please when it comes to food is…
Instant noodles! I know it’s not the healthiest, but it’s my guilty pleasure. As chefs, we work late, and instant noodles are just perfect for a quick meal. Put it into a pot with boiling water, and add anything you like, meat or vegetables, and top it off with an egg.
You are of Filipino and Swiss parentage. Have you tried mixing these two cuisines?
I haven’t had much practice mixing both cuisines, but I do give Filipino dishes my own twist. For instance, I’d make classic Filipino Adobo, with balsamic vinegar instead of white, and bake the dish in the oven instead of stewing it. Swiss cuisine has a lot of meat and potatoes which I love, but sometimes, I’d substitute the potatoes for rice by making a pilaf or a risotto.
Having won the inaugural E&O Search for AFC’s Next Celebrity Chef, what are your plans for the future?
I will be working with the E&O Group as Creative Director of their Hospitality and Lifestyle Division. I will be following food trends and designing permanent, seasonal and special menus. I’m looking forward to this very much! I read food blogs all day long, and researching food is what I love to do in my spare time. I also have a contract with the Asian Food Channel (AFC) as a Celebrity Chef, and I will be travelling and expanding my knowledge of different cuisines, which will be shared with viewers when my show airs in the coming year. Besides that, I’ll be working on my very first cookbook, featuring all my favourite easy-to-whip-up dishes.
What was the toughest challenge you faced on the show?
Personally, the toughest challenge was the Private Dinner for two, during Episode 7. With only three hours to cook five dishes, working in the tiniest of kitchens, and with no clue what ingredients were at my disposal, I was sweating bullets! Normally, guests at a private dinner would be served the same course, but this challenge required me to come up with FIVE dishes. Two different appetisers, and two different mains. Luckily, I managed to convince my guests to have the same dessert!
How do you intend to wow diners with your culinary expertise as the Creative Director of E&O’s Hospitality and Lifestyle Division?
My style is to keep things simple with clean flavours and the best and freshest of ingredients. I‘m also open to new cooking methods, and mixing classic techniques with new ones such as molecular cuisine will be my way of wowing the guests. Classic food stands the test of time, and I want to mix and match familiar cuisine with a little surprise! You will have to come and visit me to find out exactly what!
When not whipping up meals, what do you do to chill out?
I try to spend as much time with my girlfriend of almost two years, cooking something special for her. When I’m not with her, I enjoy playing tennis (Dino was an international tennis junior), futsal and reading food blogs.
If you could take on any celebrity chef in a cook-off, who would you choose for the challenge and what would you serve?
I would take on Chef Bruce Lim, we are both classically French-trained Filipino chefs. I think it would make for a very interesting battle. I would serve my favourite eggplant salad with bell peppers, tomatoes and salted eggs with a Filipino dressing, and my roasted chicken Adobo, with rice pilaf cooked with duck fat, and a braised beef tapas. And for dessert, I would make leche flan, our version of milk custard, infused with coconut! Delish!
What is your advice to aspiring chefs?
Stay true to who you are, take a chance and do it with passion – food always tastes better that way.