A SHARP turn from Naguilian Road, one of the busiest and traffic-logged streets in the city, leads to a surprisingly quiet lane – Road 2 of Quezon Hill.
It seems like the ideal setting for this particular dining place, one that is more of just being another eatery among the many restos that have sprouted in the city in recent years, but also a melting pot for a like-minded crowd where plans and ideas are brewed, so to speak, to spark ways to better living and in spreading kindness.
Up a few winding steps of No. 6 opens up to a sprawling frontage of a building of old architecture – the Gypsy Baguio by Chef Waya.
The interior exudes a homey feeling, it clearly being formerly a residential place, and the senses open up to a breeze of politics, paintings on walls, musical evenings, art discussions – for these are the imprints left by the like-minded crowd we speak of – artists, writers, craftsmen, poets, social influencers, journalists, filmmakers, chefs, creatives – people with advocacies who gravitate towards one another in a place conducive to a sharing of ideas, or simply for chilling out.
And lest we forget, there is the waft of aromatic flavors from the tight but very clean kitchen that turns up the specialty dishes of the day. Waya Araos- Wijangco, owner of Gypsy Baguio, is afterall a seasoned executive chef. And there are the guests who come to seek out elegant and yet casual dining they have heard of through good reviews on social media or by word of mouth.
The evening of March 25 gives a glimpse of the ambience of the Gypsy Baguio community.
It was an evening of a four-course Chinese dinner served by celebrity chef Sherwin L. Tee to an intimate setting of only about eight tables, each sitting three to four close friends together.
Here is what Karlo Altomonte, who I may call our very own Baguio boy social reformist on a quest for spreading kindness, has to say about the menu:
Happiness in four courses. Chef Sharwin L. Tee‘s popup at GypsyBaguio by Chef Waya – stimulating and comforting. The 1st course,steamed vegetable package, pretty much a chopsuey in a cabbage wrap, topped with an egg sauce was delicious in its simplicity. This was followed by a pleasant unexpected flavor from the Xinjiang style beef in egg noodles. And then that main – rich, spicy, bold flavors in a bowl of shrimp mapo tofu complemented by a creamy XO cabbage. The panghimagas was refreshing: fresh fruit cocktail in orange
ginger syrup with a dollop of avocado ice cream and topped with a gooseberry.
And there was the delightful treat of the presence of Chef Sherwin himself – a television personality hosting GTV’s Let’s Do Lunch and Curiosity Got the Chef – coming face-to-face with the guests to talk about the dishes he had whipped up. Pointing to the spicy mapo tofu, he said, “This is a family recipe, my brother’s,” giving a personal touch to the cooking he had made for the evening.
And the touch of humanity beyond just an evening of business? The proceeds go to supporting a remote elementary school in Barangay Polis, Benguet. For Chef Waya has started venturing into the more distant towns of the Cordillera in acquainting herself with native cuisine and local resources.
But certainly, she started with exploring the city market.
On March 7, Chef Waya organized the first of what may happily be a series of ‘Market to Table’ tours, among a small circle of friends. Mia Magdalena Fokno, a friend of hers and known for her advocacies actively posted on social media, joined the market tour, and here is what she said of the experience.
I SAW places in the market that I never even knew of!
Thanks to Chef Waya’s market-to-table experience, I and several other people were treated to a multi-sensorial food extravaganza.
We started by going on a short tour of the Baguio City public market where Chef Waya shared with us tidbits of its remarkable history and present-day setup. She also gave us pro-tips on where the best deals are for getting your market needs.
I was surprised by how the price of cauliflower could be cut in half by a mere five-meter distance between two stalls! One stall was in the main thoroughfare versus another stall in a small alley.
What the market episode really tells is that what is served at Gypsy Baguio comes fresh
from the market and that Chef Waya, like a true chef, personally looks into the ingredients that go into your dishes served at her resto.
Even short conversations with Chef Waya as she sat with guests during that evening dinner with Chef Sherwin hinted at the expanse of what she has been doing in growing into her Gypsy Baguio venture.
She expressed her clear frustration with seeing American menus in Benguet, such as in one known hotel, where otherwise more exotic and tastier dishes could be made from local ingredients. In a visit to Kalinga, she told of a story of how she and another chef reinvented a local cuisine which the locals delighted in. She laughingly shared how she harvested some crops in a town wearing her beret under the searing heat of the sun. She also spoke of having made deals with some farmers who now supply her with their produce. “This cuts the middleman and gives the farmer more profit. It also allows us to have vegetables according to our specifications,“ she said. Her passion for developing dishes using local products is shown by her keenness and excitement in discovering even the plants that grow wild in the valleys and hillsides of Benguet – such as the gooseberry that became a topping of the dessert for the night.
The gentle touch that is in Gypsy Baguio comes with its gentle beginnings, ironically brought about by the harshness of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Excerpts from her maiden column at the Baguio Chronicle tells of how Gypsy Baguio came to be.
In May 2021 I had just been discharged from Notre Dame de Chartres Hospital and recovering from a bout of severe Covid-19. I went for a walk every morning around the Burnham Lake to get much needed sunshine and exercise. On my first try I barely finished going around the inner lane around the lake and had the hardest time catching my breath.
In the coming weeks I regained my strength and was able to get back to work and normal life. I started living on a more full-time basis in Baguio in early 2021. My husband, Ernie, works in Baguio, and we were separated by the pandemic lockdowns for nine months in 2020. When the restrictions eased in December, I finally took a trip to Baguio to join him. His apartment was on Kisad Road at the time, and we would often take walks in Burnham Park.
On those walks, I prayed for guidance moving forward in these unsettling times, nursed heartaches from losing so many friends during the pandemic and hatched the idea of opening a restaurant in Baguio.
Chef Waya had spent a lot of her childhood in Baguio with her grandparents but this changed when her grandparents moved to the US. She started coming more regularly when her grandmother came back nursing an Alzheimer’s condition.
Over many visits in a span of 20 years, my family and I grew into Baguio. We developed a community of friends who have become family, discovered new favorite haunts, and created our family traditions here.
The atmosphere is conducive to pursuits of the heart and spirit. When I moved to Baguio, I found myself cooking, painting, and writing not just for work but for the sheer joy it brings.
“Breathe Baguio” is one of the slogans of the City of Baguio. I never paid much attention to it until the pandemic happened. When I came up to Baguio in December 2020, it was a literal breath of fresh air. I did not realize how stifled I had been in Manila and being in Baguio freed up my heart, my spirit, my breath. In the darkness and despair that the pandemic has wrought on my life, I made my way back by walking around Burnham Park, breathing in the Baguio air and finding my way home.
Her bionote says: Chef Waya Araos-Wijangco has been in the F&B Industry for over 20 years working in catering, restaurants and consultancy. Coming from a background in development, she uses her restaurant work as a launchpad for various advocacies: championing better equality for women in the workplace, sustainable restaurant operations, inclusive employment and better relationships with farmers, suppliers and food purveyors. She is currently the Executive Chef of Gypsy Baguio by Chef Waya.
And so Chef Waya is now thankfully a part of the Baguio community, creating a smaller community out to create spaces of love and kindness, and yes good food.