Lessons in Lockdown: Chef Chele Gonzalez on Pandemic Learnings, Championing Local Produce, and Putting Mother Nature First - Lifestyle Asia

The man behind Gallery by Chele reflects on the state of the F&B industry, the world, and the greater role we have to play to come out in a better state after this pandemic.

Never one to lack heart or energy in anything he says or does, Chef Chele Gonzalez invited to his home turf last year, months into the pandemic the world continues to live with. 

READ ALSO: Honor Roll: Gallery By Chele And Antonio’s Are On The 51-100 List Of Asia’s Best

At Gallery by Chele in BGC, he chatted about his personal journeys and the greater responsibility we all have in surviving this global crisis. 

Finding purpose

Gonzalez admits that the situation has taken a great toll. On a personal capacity, being cooped up for a long time does not bode well for one’s mental state. “I remember during the pandemic, you know, I’m a very creative person enclosed in a small condo.” 

A sentiment that many of us can relate to, he continues that the longer he stayed inside the more it challenged his mental health. “I was filled with anxiety and that was unhealthy for me. For a creative person, you know, do you just sit down?” 

But even with the mental weight, he was able to find ways to pull himself out of it such as providing food for frontliners early on in the pandemic after which he focused on recalibrating his 

business to not only provide food for loyal patrons but to sustain the livelihood of those who worked for him. 

“So that was the main purpose. Always, I think you need to have a purpose,” he imparts.

Free spirit

A fact that might not be known to some is that Gonzalez didn’t initially aim for culinary life. A lot of twists and sudden adventures led him to where he is now, as is befitting of his spontaneous nature. 

He shares that he originally studied marketing, and after graduating he opened an underground electric club where he partied frequently. Soon, he felt that his passion wasn’t in the nightlife. 

Pursuing a career as a chef dawned on him after being inspired by prominent Spanish chefs at the time such as the likes of Ferran Adrià. His free-spiritedness soon landed him a post in the Philippines to which he has stayed ever since. 

Through all of this, one thing that has stayed consistent with him is his zest for life, and the resiliency he has when faced with obstacles. “I think every day is a challenge,” he says. “When you have a challenge and you get through that, another one will come. I always see them as opportunities, as an excuse to become better, [to be] happier.”

Pioneering local

Gonzalez is known to promote the use of local produce, galvanizing the idea that they are of quality and are worth recognition. This advocacy is rooted in sustainability. 

“I think a lot of small efforts of many people become a big effort,” he shares. “So, my goal really for restaurants is for them to try to take these values to work with local ingredients sustainably, check on what is out there, drive that energy so we can inspire other people—that will be our legacy.” 

He adds that finding rare and interesting ingredients is just a happy byproduct of his main cause of working with sustainable sources. “[When] I engage with farmers or with people involved in natural sustainability, you find more things.” 

The chef goes on to share that he is currently working on recipes using local pears, developing a curry incorporating the fruit with fresh mussels. “It’s a very light, subtle sweetness, but [the pear] also provides texture because the mussels are creamy, and then the curry is creamy, so when you bite the pear there’s a crunch.”

Challenges ahead

Today, Gallery by Chele, like many of its contemporaries and industry colleagues in the country, tries to do more in light of the challenges around. The restaurant, which placed 90th in this year’s Asia’s Best Restaurants list, currently offers its menu through intimate dining rooms or via al fresco dining at its deck.

“Over the pandemic, the most important thing I have learned is we are very vulnerable,” Gonzalez says solemnly. “We are not dealing with mother nature and with other animals in a coexisting way. We’re just becoming very selfish.” 

He believes that the pandemic exposed all the flawed systems of society, making us realize that the disregard for ecological stability can only lead to one solution. 

“It showed me one way to look at the future for the good of all of us,” Gonzalez says. “To be more concerned about the environment, if we don’t take action now, and we don’t learn how to find a more sustainable way of living, we will face many [more] of these kinds of problems.” 

He is more driven in his advocacy as he expresses that this isn’t just an F&B industry concern but a human concern. 

“I hope this pandemic will teach us that we need to change our mentality and actions, and the way we are living and in my case it’s an advocacy for nature, sustainability, and food… [because] the way you eat [greatly affects] the environment.” 

As much as we need to heal now economically, he says, systematic changes must be made once we’re back on our feet for us to have lasting healing.

Gallery by Chele is at 5/F Clipp Center, 11th Avenue corner, 39th St, Taguig. For reservations, contact +63-917-546-1673 or email [email protected].

This updated story was first published in the November 2020 issue of Lifestyle Asia.

Banner Photo by FLOYD JHOCSON

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