Eric Costille, a native of Cannes, France, is the executive chef tasked with calling the tune at Spiral, the Sofitel Philippine Plaza’s flagship restaurant. Following an $11m restaurant reboot, Costille has assembled a team of seven master chefs to bring the tastes of Asia’s sidewalks and hawker centres to Manila
What made you decide to leave France – and a 3 Michelin-starred restaurant, no less – for Asia?
I always wanted to travel and be exposed to different cultures around the world: that has been my dream since I was about 13 years old. My parents have Italian and French blood, plus my father ran a bistro in Cannes. Growing up I saw that he had an independent and creative job. His day was never the same.
As a young boy I wanted to be free. At 14, I got my first culinary break – I worked for a 2 Michelin-starred chef in Cannes. My passion for cooking grew through the years, and that led me to work in a 3 Michelin-starred restaurant and later at luxury hotels.
You travelled through Asia looking for inspiration for Spiral. What is the most intriguing dish you were presented with during that time?
I’ve tried three intriguing Asian dishes over the years. In Bangkok, I tried deep-fried grasshoppers, which were like crispy shrimp. In Seoul, I tried dog meat, barbecued pork intestine and live octopus. And here in the Philippines, I tried the local delicacy – balut, the fertilised duck embryo egg.
You have assembled a team of elite chefs from all over Asia. What is it like working with such an international group?
Having top chefs from different cultures and backgrounds, and with different personalities, actually leads to friendly and healthy competition. They are always coming up with interesting recipes in an effort to draw guests to their atelier. Every chef wants to do things their own way, and that’s why they can’t compromise. It is challenging yet fun.
What was the most difficult customer you ever served or the most unusual request you have received?
The most difficult customer I’ve ever served was a hotel owner in Singapore because of his unusual diet. He required low-fat everything, particular brands of dressings and kosher food. We had to order everything two weeks before he arrived: caesar dressing; chocolate dressing; kosher meat; Lebanese salad; cold cuts – all flown in from the US.
The most unusual request I’ve ever received was from a guest who wanted a bottle of ketchup to go with his foie gras – an insult for any French chef.
If you had the night off, which Spiral atelier would you visit?
For sure I would go to the cheese and charcuterie room (L’Epicerie), because it reminds me of home and brings back childhood memories. From the 1920s until 1998, my great grandparents owned a typical l’epicerie in our village outside of Cannes. They sold a range of cheeses, breads, hams, wines, jams, fruits and vegetables. It was a meeting point in the village and I spent a lot of time there helping my grandmother.
Which ingredients do you like working with the most and why?
For me, it is the humble tomato, because it is a very versatile fruit. There are a lot of things you can do with a tomato. You can serve it cold, hot, smashed, baked, grilled and many more.
Do you ever cook in your free time or do you prefer to get take-out?
Fast food? Not really. I cook but only simple dishes like pasta and salad, depending on the season.
What piece of equipment can you not live without?
The stove – it’s like a Chinese chef who can’t live without his wok.
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