Chef Robby Goco looks back at 12 years of Cyma, back when he ignited a love for Greek cuisine in the Philippines.
There are a number of reasons why Chef Robby Goco chose to go for Greek food in a country that doesn’t really seem to appreciate it. For starters, it’s because it wasn’t being represented well. “I have to feed [Filipinos] something that they’ll understand. If you design a menu that’s imposed on the diners and they don’t understand it, you’re not going anywhere. They will get intimidated.” shared Chef Robby.
“Greek is a long shot but if you really think about it, the Philippines and Greece are both archipelagos. If you go to any Western country with big Filipino and Greek communities, you find Filipinos who’ve progressed. You ask them if they’re familiar with Greek food and they sound off on famous Greek fare like Souvlaki, Gyro, and Moussaka. I’ve talked quite a lot with them, and despite not having Greek restaurants in the Philippines, I know that a progressive Pinoy would enjoy Greek food.”
It was a huge overlap that Chef Robby couldn’t ignore. There was a burning passion in his voice and a fiery sense of knowing he was onto something. He points out how living on an island shaped their cuisine, a similarity that Greece shares with the Philippines.
“I mean, from land-backed areas like Germany and Middle America, they think differently about food. For us islanders kasi, we rely on the sea for sustenance like Greece. Plus, it’s a sub-tropical country that’s very family-oriented. You know right away na we have the same ugali.” he explained, calling Greece the Philippines of Europe. And as he developed his menu, Progressive Greek came to mind. It’s a summary of his journey as a Filipino chef looking to bridge the gap between Filipinos and Greek cuisine, and describes the other half of his menu: modern cooking using traditional Greek ingredients. Chef Robby saw the opportunity and leapt.
Sticking the landing
Greek food, as you would have it, was a major hit. 12 years later, Chef Robby has Greek folk salivating over his dishes and begging to talk to the “Greek” chef whose cooking reminds them of their grandmother’s. Of course there’s always the occasional critic, but it’s something that Chef Robby chooses not to focus on. “There are a lot of Greeks who come in and openly criticize, and I always challenge them to open their own restaurant. Everyone who took me up on that challenge has closed.”
The success of Cyma became a launch pad for some of his other ventures like Souv!, where he gets to experiment with more modern forms of cooking using Greek ingredients, and Green Pastures, his organic farm-to-table restaurant.
Resting on his laurels
These days Chef Robby lives out a simple life. He starts his day before it even ends. “Before I go to bed, I have my little diary and write. I browse through what I learned that day and what I want to do tomorrow.” The next day, he wakes up at 5:35 am. “I wake up and send my kids to school and I personally make their baons. My kids have the best lunchboxes and it’s a challenge because they’re very picky and it’s always hot dogs. After bringing them to school, seriously I do this every day, I get on the treadmill and then have some coffee.”
He continues to talk about his day in extreme detail. It’s a whirlwind of a routine that takes him everywhere from school to the farmer’s market and back to where the cycle begins. “It’s a very busy life and it’s very repetitious. It’s amazing because when you have kids it changes the whole story and it’s fun.”
Cyma brings the finest of Greek cuisine to Shangri-La Plaza, Greenbelt II, TriNoma, Eastwood Mall, and Robinson’s Place Manila.