Despite working in kitchens all around the world, and more recently as head chef of Melbourne's Rice Paper Sister, Ross Magnaye still calls his grandma for cooking tips. "Even if I know how to do a dish, I'll always ask her for her input, it's something very special to me," he says.
The chef has been living in Australia since he was a teenager, but his grandparents are still in the Philippines, where his grandmother Carol used to own a restaurant named after her. "On my mum's side, the food is very Spanish-influenced. We'd eat paella, callos, and a lot of traditional Filipino food as well, but a bit more jazzed up, while on my dad's side, it was more country-style cooking," he explains.
"You know how you sometimes have to chase around kids to feed them? When I was young, my mum used to say I was the opposite. I'd be at the table before dinner, you didn't need to call me."
His love for food goes back way before he decided to become a chef. "You know how you sometimes have to chase around kids to feed them? When I was young, my mum used to say I was the opposite. I'd be at the table before dinner, you didn't need to call me," he says, laughing.
Magnaye first worked as a chef in Australia, then in Brazil and Thailand, but it wasn't until he returned to Melbourne that he started incorporating Filipino elements into his menus. He started with small touches at Rice Paper Scissors before becoming head chef at sister restaurant Rice Paper Sister, where he brought Filipino cuisine to the forefront. There, he has transformed sisig, usually made with pig's ears and chicken liver, into a vegetarian mushroom dish, and puts his spin on the classic vinegar and soy sauce-based adobo, using pork belly and scallops. For his gratin dauphinoise, a French potato dish, he uses a peanut sauce, inspired by kare-kare.
Through collaborations with restaurants like The Hardware Club and events organised by the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival and The Entree.Pinays, the chef has been a major player of the new Filipino cuisine movement in Melbourne.
And while he loves introducing his dishes to a wide audience, he says there's nothing better than when Filipinos give their seal of approval: "The best thing for me is when Filipinos come in - and Filipinos are fussy - when the lolas, the grandmas, love it."
Last year, his grandparents came to eat at Rice Paper Sister. "I mostly made simple stuff, and I wanted them to try Australian steak. I also made thermidor with béchamel and cheese, but with Moreton Bay bug instead of lobster. There's a Filipino version of the dish as well that my grandma used to make so it was pretty awesome to make this for her,” he says.
Last month, he called her to get her recipe for callos, a Spanish-Filipino dish made with beef offal, chorizo, olives, capsicum and a paprika-infused tomato sauce. The hearty stew is served with rice or bread.
"Here you can buy tripe pre-cleaned, but what makes this dish special is that when you buy tripe overseas, it's very fiddly and it takes time to clean it. It's a labour of love. My grandma only cooks it for occasions like birthdays and baptism so it's pretty special," he says.
"I made it for the first time two weeks ago. I called her and asked for the recipe. I also have an old-school cookbook so I mixed the two recipes to make my own. My mum was here and we cooked it together."
Callos is a stew common across Spain and was brought to the Philippines by the Spaniards in the 1500s. It's a tomato-based stew with beef tripe, chorizo and olives. The beef tripe can also be replaced by beef cheeks if desired. It's a very special dish in the Philippines and is prepared with a lot of love.
2 kg tripe
1 brown onion
6 cloves garlic chopped
200 ml olive oil
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 red or green capsicum deseeded and chopped
2 carrot, peeled and cut into large pieces
1 L beef stock
1 L tomato passata
1 kg Spanish or any chorizo
1 jar pitted green olives
400 g chickpeas in tin
Pinch sweet paprika powder
Fish sauce to taste
Bunch of chopped parsley
Crusty bread or rice to serve
1. Grab a large stockpot with water. Add a handful of salt then bring to boil.
2. Add tripe and boil for about 15 mins depending on the tripe and how soft you want it. I like mine with a bite.
3. Remove the tripe, cut into serving pieces and put aside.
4. In a separate, large heavy-based pot, sauté onion and garlic with olive oil.
5. Once translucent, add tomato paste and cook off a little.
6. Add chopped capsicum and carrot, and add beef stock to cover the vegetables.
7. Add tomato passata, tripe and chorizo.
8. Once simmered, add olives, chickpeas and season with fish sauce and sweet paprika powder to taste. You can reduce the sauce however you want.
9. Add chopped parsley.
10. Serve with crusty bread or some rice.