Behind the kitchen of one of Manila’s latest foodie finds is a 26-year-old Chinoy chef who trained in the world’s sixth-best restaurant — Kevin Uy.
We first discovered Kevin during an afternoon scroll through Instagram. We were reeled in by a brightly manicured array of Spanish, Peruvian, and Japanese dishes served hot by online food store Viajé by Kev. Personally, I was intrigued by the selection. After all, it’s not every day you get to find a place that guarantees both a plateful of barley risotto and freshly roasted cochinillo — the lechon’s cute Spanish baby cousin — for daily orders! It was something especially eye-catching, an exploration of Latin-centric cuisines that you don’t typically get to see in an Instagram shop.
“What exactly is the story behind this?” I remember asking myself, curiosity evolving into a firm resolve to get to know Viajé’s origins.
So here we are after a Zoom video interview with the man behind the food. Kevin Uy, who has returned home from Peru, shares now with CHiNOY TV his insights and experiences from both time spent abroad in world-class kitchens, as well as his latest foray into the local dining scene.
The makings of a chef
A brief cursory glance at Viajé’s menu is all it takes for one to see that Kevin creates not only food but also experiences — ones painted by the vivid stream of his own memories as a wandering culinary aficionado. It’s pleasantly unsurprising. Kevin has always had a rich background in appreciating a good meal. Even in his childhood, he and his family would go on trips around the world, with their itineraries planned around the best places to eat.
“There were a lot of things that made me want to start cooking, the first one being that I come from a family of foodies talaga — not chefs, ha. Not chefs. Foodies,” Kevin quipped.
Later on, that love for great eats developed into something a little more serious. Kevin, who jokingly bemoaned the absolute focus that his own Chinese-Filipino alma mater Xavier School held on academics, eventually found himself growing immersed in gastronomy. “I realized I wanted to be a chef when I was 16,” he shared. “I like meeting people. I like serving food. I like creating. It’s really fun.”
Determined to pursue this dream, Kevin spent his undergraduate years studying international hospitality management, with a specialty in the culinary arts in Enderun Colleges. This ultimately paved the way for a path that he would eagerly take: Kevin would go on to continue his studies in Spain, exploring a master’s degree in Gastronomic Sciences at the Basque Culinary Center, before seizing the opportunity to train in Peru under word-class chef Virgilio Martinez in Central, recognized by the World’s Best 50 as the sixth-best restaurant in the world.
Somewhere along the way, Kevin would also discover the scrumptious combination of Peruvian roast chicken and beer. He grew a connection with the nature and the farmers of the Andes. And he would serve a piece of his thesis-influenced ham to Gordon Ramsay for the latter’s National Geographic show Uncharted.
In essence, life is a fun adventure. Kevin explains this best by sending delicious pleasures onto your doorstep.
Unraveling the present
Although Kevin had to take a pause from his professional work as a chef in Central due to the global pandemic, he remains as productive as ever, opening up Viajé, a brand new food concept that has steadily been gaining popularity throughout the Metro.
“First of all, Viajé was actually inspired by the pandemic itself,” shared Kevin, introducing his brand’s concept and philosophy. “[It] is adventure on a plate. It’s called Viajé because ‘di ba the pandemic stopped all travel? Instead of going to different places, we use food to represent the different places people would normally go to and to give them a simulated experience out there in the comfort of their own homes.”
On a more personal note, Kevin also added, “We would like to treat it as a trip, but they’re also a representation of the places that mean a lot to me and [where] I have been. […] For example, the pollo a la brasa represents my time in Peru, having a beer with my friends after our long service at work.”
However, despite his nostalgic spotlight on Latin American cuisine, Kevin explained that he does not want to make any claims toward his own specialty just yet, keeping a grounded focus on the fact that there is still so much to learn. This is why the concept of Viajé itself can hardly be any more fitting. If there is anything that perfectly encapsulates who Kevin is, it is this culinary wanderlust, the hunger for food and experience — the learning about different cultures and lifestyles.
His most memorable memory, for instance, belongs to his time in Vigilio Martinez’s restaurant Mil, which is located high up in the Andean mountains, far away from civilization.
“I think that a point where I was happiest in my career — I think it was there. Because I love the mountains, and just the connection with nature, and the relationships I had with the farmers there. It gave me a deeper understanding of where food comes from and what it means to our culture. That really, really resonated with me and much more,” said Kevin.
This was why before cooking professionally in Central, Kevin made the firm decision to spend some time in Peruvian farm fields with an altitude of over 3,500 meters. Under Martinez’s guidance, he worked diligently in the restaurant and on his thesis, researching charqui and Andean methods of drying meat. It was because of this that he also got to meet international celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay.
“I didn’t really cook for Gordon, but I made him a ham,” recalled Kevin. “It became such a big thing for me because Gordon Ramsay actually went up to the restaurant to film a documentary with Virgilio. And it was like, at that point, I just see these two culinary giants, exchanging ideas. It was just so inspiring. And I loved watching every single second.”
Looking beyond the horizon
Respect is key in the food industry. Kevin reveals that his ambitions for the future are inspired by insights from his mentor Virgilio Martinez, who, for the longest time, has been his culinary hero. Kevin met Martinez back in 2016, during that year’s Madrid Fusion Manila. “He showed [me] what it was like to cook in a third-world country with an underappreciated cuisine,” said Kevin.
“From my observation, Peru has a lot in common with the Philippines in the sense that we are a third-world country. We are very proud of what we do. It’s just quite under-appreciated by the world.
“[Virgilio] showed us ways on how he can represent his country using his cuisine. He showed us — using the way he interprets Peruvian cuisine — how he elevates it to such heights. That really inspired me because he also actually helps the tourism industry a lot. Because of the concept. And when he was telling me, I was hooked. At that point, I was hooked. I bought into his concept and into his philosophy; and from that point in Madrid Fusion Manila 2016, I made it a point to go there and work for him.”
It was evident that this national pride resonated with Kevin. Now that Kevin has found himself back in the Philippines, he hopes to one day be able to open his own restaurants in Manila.
“I have a lot of different concepts brewing in my mind, but the concept I really want to do is something that just involves what Virgilio does — helping out in the exposure of Filipino food and showing that we are not just about adobo, lechon, and sinigang,” explained Kevin, proving the depth of his respect for the history behind our local plates. “I love Filipino food. I grew up with Filipino food. I just find it delicious, and comforting, and, of course, it reminds me of home. But what I like most about Philippine cuisine, actually, is that there’s a lot more to it than [what] meets the eye. More than anything. […] There are actually so many things that we haven’t discovered yet about the Philippine cuisine.”
It was when Kevin mentioned this that the truth made itself clear. I was looking for the story of the chef behind Viajé, but there are chapters that have not yet even begun.
At the end of the interview, I asked Kevin if he had any parting advice to those just starting out their culinary journey. He said this: “When it comes to looking at the food industry as a whole, the best piece of advice I can give is to rely on each other. I think that the food industry can only grow when there is collaboration, teamwork, and cooperation amongst its chefs. Because when the industry wins, we all win. Share. Learn. Because the amount of experience and learning you share, you will get back from others.
“Find friends. Find people to collaborate with. Find people to talk to — to learn from them, grow with them. Open up pop-ups, or open up businesses. Don’t fear people stealing, or don’t fear the leak of information. Take advantage of it; and one day, all of us will succeed together.”
About the author:
There is nothing that Jodie enjoys more than writing about food, language, and the intricacies of a Chinoy life. A sales manager by day and a CHiNOY TV producer by night, she spends her free time diving into a world of Asian dramas and literature. Occasionally, she screams about figure skating.