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Grit, Flour, and Community—Michel’s Bistro & Bakery Quietly Simmers in the Heart of Metro Cebu

With new restaurants and cafes popping up all over the metro, one can’t possibly keep up with all of them. And while it’s exciting to quench your FOMO for the latest hot spots, there’s nothing like the humble mom-and-pop where you can just come as you are, feel at home, and enjoy your usuals.

Stepping into the restaurant, you’re greeted by the team’s warm smiles and the smell of freshly baked bread straight from the open kitchen, you are then seated and handed their friendly menu peppered with photos of dishes unassumingly called “Ratatuy”, “Bolonyes”, and Cake-in-a-Jar.

Conceptualized and run by seasoned chefs Philippe and Valline Arduino, Michel’s is more than just a restaurant—it’s the culmination of diligent toil, a heartfelt nod to the past, and an homage brought to life. Such culmination also marks a fresh start in their pursuit to make French cuisine and artisan bakery approachable and friendly to the discerning Cebuano taste buds.

Paying culinary homage through good French bread

“We have always wanted to open a restaurant to share our passion for bakery and food. Michel’s is our first step in truly growing our roots in Cebu. We moved to Cebu from Manila, and we wanted to build our lives here,” shares Philippe, chef of the kitchen and the front of the restaurant. “Michel is my father, who dreamed of opening his own restaurant in Argentina, but because of an accident, he could not do so. We named our shop after him to realize this endeavor, to bring about his inspiration.”

Philippe has been a baker for 26 years, and needless to say, his father played a huge role in this gourmet adventure. “I was 14 years old when I decided to become a baker. As for being a cook and in the hot kitchen side of things, I have always enjoyed eating. Food is such a big part of being French, and my father has always liked cooking and was always cooking. I can’t remember how it all adds up, but I have always known how to cook. Michel’s menu is just how I like to cook and the kind of food I like to enjoy and serve to people,” he adds.

On the other hand, Valline, the ‘Chef’ of Operations, enjoyed the plot twists from the corporate rat race to becoming a baker. Born and raised in Manila, she had a desk job after college. After much prodding by her doting father to start a business, she thought of a catering business and went to culinary school as the first step. “I fell in love with baking and cooking during culinary school,” she says. From there, her culinary adventure unfolded, taking steps that would lead her to Hong Kong and back to Manila as a chef, where she would meet Philippe.

Dedication to local-first and farm-to-fork menu

While relatively new in the neighborhood, this restaurant is slowly and steadily gaining loyal patrons, who long just to enjoy good food with no pretense whatsoever. And that’s exactly how the Arduino’s envisioned Michel’s to be.

Valline explains, “We want an open dialogue between the kitchen and the customers hence the open kitchen layout, like when you visit a neighbor or a friend in their house, everything is open and cozy. The menu is not intimidating, you may even think it’s simple, but we want the customers to have their first bite and feel the difference in our intention: the beautiful texture of the bread, the taste of the farm fresh egg, the brightness of the freshly squeezed calamansi juice, the realness of the sauces.”

This down-to-earth approach is rooted in their commitment to good food, which has much to do with good quality local ingredients and availability, or food security on a fundamental level. “We all know the frustrating experience of ordering something and then getting the disappointing “not available” warning from the waitstaff. We want to remove that from Michel’s, so the dish has to be available to be prepared all the time. The main ingredients of the dish need to be available locally or even produced and grown locally,” shares Valline.

Essentially a French ensemble of homegrown ingredients, each item on their menu is steeped in personal histories and philosophies. The team’s daily work on freshly baked sourdough bread, for example, resonates with Valline’s experience baking 1000 croissants a day in an Eric Kayser bakery in Hong Kong and Philippe’s experience baking 6000 baguettes a day in a bakery in France.

“The Big Mec burger is a summary of our craft: we make the mustard ciabatta buns, the local beef is hand-chopped to preserve juices and flavor, and the Bordelaise sauce is made to be poured to the burger just before eating so that the texture of the bread will not be compromised, and the pickled whole baby cucumber that comes with the dish is offered to introduce a clean finish and crunchy bite,” describes Valline.

As for the sugar fix, the banana chocolate crepe equally echoes their dedication to good quality food, “We use real whipped heavy cream, and ganache that is made from wonderful local chocolate produced in Zamboanga. Lastly, the crepe is made using a family recipe from Philippe’s Belgian side of the family.” And Keeta readers get an insider tip from the chefs themselves: ask for their secret menu!

Creative collaboration with local communities

This intention to subsist in their locality and what it has to offer proved to be limiting, yet the chefs took this as a challenge to thrive. It opened the doors, not only for the freshest ingredients but also for the freshest ideas and most creative conversations involving customers, friends, and communities. 

Almost all of the items on their menu started from a conversation between friends, customers, and the chefs. “We dwell on the idea, think about how we enjoy eating it the most, and proceed to create the first instance of that dish. The recipe is finalized when we are able to realize the full enjoyment of the dish for ourselves. The next step is to share it. For example, the Big Mec burger started as a conversation between Philippe and our friend Edjie. We wanted a bun that could withstand the juices of the patty and the sauce but a great contrast in texture with the patty, so finalized it using a sturdy ciabatta bun. We wanted the flavor to complement the beef flavor, hence flavoring it mustard,” recounts Valline.

Two years in and steadily gaining momentum, Michel’s is a testament to the literal meaning of the word “chef” in French or chef de cuisine, where the captain of the entire kitchen brigade requires a whole different set of skills than a cook. Valline shares, “In some ways, I feel that running Michel’s is a good balance between chef and cook. Philippe and I have designed, planned, and opened a lot of bakeries and restaurants. Opening Michel’s was our little special project, because of its meaning in our lives and it ties up to a lot of people we have met along the way.”

Needless to say, the food and beverage industry is a tough and challenging industry, especially during these hard economic times. Like yeast to the rising dough, collaboration has proven essential for Michel’s to flourish relentlessly day by day, working together with suppliers, partners, employees, and establishing cooperative relationships.

“When you have a mindset that is open to working together, you will discover that most people are willing to help. We feel lucky to be welcomed by Cebuanos—the chefs’ group, the Guadalupe neighborhood, and the French community in Cebu. We met so many people from different walks of life through the shop, and we found ourselves growing into our place in the community while working together with local food growers and farmers to be able to contribute to the growth and sustainability of the local agricultural industry,” adds Valline.

How to find Michel’s Bistro + Bakery

Immense effort and love go into every dish at Michel’s, and every bite is a story waiting to be enjoyed. Michel’s Bistro + Bakery is open Mondays through Saturdays, 7:00 AM to 7:30 PM, and is located at G/F, S Hotel, 827 M. Velez St, Cebu City, Cebu. Find them on Instagram or contact them at 09291388148 or michels.cebu@gmail.com for intimate dinners and more.

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