Artist and Chef Claude Tayag’s home cum restaurant, Bale Dutung, feels like a museum. The house is patterned after the traditional Philippines rice barn or “kamalig”. The dining area is set in the first floor and is pretty much open as there is only a single wall that separates it from the kitchen. It was supposed to serve as a display area, like a mini museum, and still serves as such. His wooden furniture, sculptures, folk art collection, vintage vinegar glass jars, and other stuff are positioned strategically, presenting surprising finds as you wander about in between servings.
Old as it feels, the structure is actually quite new. Unlike the traditional Filipino home, the house of rock or “bahay na bato”, the first floor is unenclosed. It only feels old because it is made from scraps, much of which were reclaimed from an ancient church.
He was driving through his wife Mary Ann’s hometown in Mabalacat in 1989 when he chanced upon a church that was undergoing renovation. Workers were bashing the adobe brick into smithereens and burning the wood, which they thought were termite infested. He negotiated with the parish priest to purchase the materials and ended up paying more for the hauling than for the ancient wood, adobe and stone. Construction was delayed when Mt. Pinatubo erupted and spewed ash all over the world. But the cloud of ash couldn’t keep this artist from creating his dream home from what other people felt was junk. And so his home figuratively and literally rose from the ashes.
While his art is his bread and butter, he broke bread with one food writer, the late Doreen Fernandez. She prodded him to share his cooking to others so that they would appreciate Filipino cuisine. He and wife Mary Ann have taken this to heart, not stopping with the restaurant but actually going around the Philippines and writing about their culinary finds.
And they were successful in introducing Filipino cuisine to the world. Among his notable guests were Anthony Bourdain, Bobby Chinn, Andrew Scott Zimmern, and Simon Majumdar, who said that Claude’s cooking changed the way he thought about Filipino food.
I guess that Claude Tayag’s Bale Dutung has that effect. Who would have thought that scraps would not only make for a comfortable home and restaurant, but a poster child for recycling? A good thing that this is starting to catch on, with the very successful restaurant Colonie, in Albany, New York making waves not only for its food but its use of repurposed materials.
If scrap is used to make great restaurants with good food, who are we to keep refusing to reuse?