Last week, a good friend of mine, Richie Zamora of ThePickiestEater.net and his wife Rina invited me and my fiancee to join them for a private dinner set up by writer Spanky Enriquez (juice.ph) inside the beautiful home of Tinee De Guzman who is more properly known as Mr. Cochinillo. When The Pickiest Eater invites you to eat, you just say “yes.” We got to his lovely home in Green Meadows and from where we parked on the road, we could already smell the scent of baby pig angels cooking inside. We were offered some Champagne and Scotch as it was suggested as a good warm up to the Cochinillo before we were taken to the kitchen. It wasn’t too long before we met the chef.
Truth is, he doesn’t like being called a “chef.”
“I’m just a cook,” he says, but “scientist” might be more apt. He has personally set up his kitchen as a laboratory to cater his porky experiments. Tinee isn’t so tiny at all. He is an energetic tower that is quite immobilised inside his tiny shed of a workspace, especially when crowded with us onlookers. But he is quite the entertainer, becoming a lightbulb when he begins talking about his pigs and his custom-made ovens that he had contracted Jerry Yu to make specifically for his culinary needs. Tinee accidentally found himself offering to prepare the suckling pig for a party his guests and friends were throwing. He was known for his Pizza then, since he had already acquired a brick oven for this. But when they took him up on his offer to cook a pig–and as soon as they tasted it–the requests for his Cochinillo never stopped.
A Cochinillo is a spanish dish that’s basically a Lechon, but a very young lechon. It’s a pig that’s barely 25 days old and cooked slowly under controlled heat until it is perfect. Unlike the more popular Lechon (which has regional varieties) this pig doesn’t rotate over an open fire with a grotesque bamboo steak through its rear and out its mouth. Instead, this baby just sleeps and slowly cooks in the low heat for about 5 hours, stewing in its own herby juices.
What really got my attention was the craftsmanship of these bespoke brick ovens. They are ordered and built according to the particular specs of Tinee and his requirements. Some can fit 2 pigs, others 4 and one that can roast 6 25-day-old pigs. It’s a greek bath! He is naturally modest when talking about the brine and curing process he uses, but becomes so engaging and passionate when talking about the experience of eating his Cochinillos.
Watching Tinee carefully lay these babies onto their banana leaf cribs is almost religious. He had also prepared, albeit nonchalantly, a starchy Fideua (a noodle paella) to compliment all the fatty richness of the pig. “You can choose either white rice, or the Fideua, they both work.” The glorious roasts come in two approximate sizes: one that serves 8-12 people, and a bigger one that serves 14-18 people– this is a very rough estimate and it really depends on the appetites of the guests.
Cutting the Cochinillo is also part and parcel of the experience. Tinee ritualistically takes a ceramic “platito” and hands it to Richie for him to personally segment the pig. It’s all just an elaborate process to delay our gratification–for good reason too. As soon as the dull edge of the plate touches the shiny golden shell a crisp and brilliant “crack” resonates. That was the righteous signal for all of us to dig in.
The pig was just damn tasty. It was briny, salty, peppery and just downright holy. More than the herbs and spices, a huge part of the taste is credited to the brick ovens used in slowly roasting them. It passed the usual test: crispy skin, crispy ears, crispy tail, finger-licking ribs and moist lean loins. But there is a rustic and earthier tone to the roast that is difficult to mimic in an industrial oven. I reckon the age plays a big factor–the fat of a 25-day-old pig is very different from the fat of a 4-month-old pig. Equally potent, equally tasty, can both get you just as nauseous after some servings, but distinct in flavour.
A surprise for me was the absolutely fantastic Fideua that Tinee so loosely introduced. It cooked and looked exactly like a Seafood Paella but it didn’t taste as heavy or as starchy. The difference is the noodles. Instead of grain, Tinee used chopped up noodles (which up close looked like instant mami noodles) to be vehicle to all that seafood and clammy flavour. The toasty “tutong” crust underneath held together great as well. This was a perfect leading lady to the hero that was the pig.
But what made the entire night so memorable was getting to know the man behind this talked-about dish in Manila. A father, a businessman, a netflix geek and a passionate, albeit accidental cook. Tinee joined our table for dinner and would not be tamed in his excitement to just entertain, making sure we were enjoying as much as he was. He toured us around his gorgeous home and told us of his younger years when he and his friends would party. We eventually started talking about the rising trends in Coffee, Cigars, Japanese Whiskey, Farm-To-Table restaurants–among others–and how at the end of the day, we all have different tastes, and we consume what we enjoy.
This…we enjoyed. A lot.
+63-999-881-0810 or +632-633-0043
email at orders@mrcochinillo
Medium – P 6,000.00
Large – P 7,000.00
Medium – P 4,000.00
Large- P 6,500.00