Amici’s new executive chef, Paolo Moran, met us on a random Friday night. He had just arrived from Makati and was in the middle of preparing fresh pizza dough for an experiment he was working on.
When we finally sat down to talk, Paolo offered us a slice of his freshly baked Margherita pizza. “I’m planning to hopefully transition all the pizzas to this new dough,” he explains, brushing off a bit of flour from his black shirt. “Hopefully, mas malasa siya. [It has] more flavor, uses less yeast, [and is] aged longer.”
“Kaunting tweak pa,” he remarks, after tasting the pizza.
This brief introduction set the tone for the rest of our meeting.
Determined to inject his youthful spirit into a decade-old brand, Paolo Moran is the mind behind Amici’s latest offerings. Recently, he released new pizza variants to add excitement to the restaurant’s menu. All of these will be available for a limited time.
Learning From Mentors
Pursuing a career in the food and restaurant business is in Paolo’s blood. A son of Tessie and Danny Moran, the couple who founded Red Ribbon, Paolo grew up surrounded by people who had a real passion for food. After selling Red Ribbon to Jollibee, his parents acquired Amici di Don Bosco from the Council of Salesians, who established Amici’s original branch in Makati.
Growing up in this environment gave Paolo the idea of becoming a chef. After college, he flew to the US where he started working in the kitchen. Since he did not have a culinary degree, he started with the basics: first, making salads, then preparing sandwiches, and then finally sauteeing simple meals. Aside from working and training abroad, Paolo would also return home to the Philippines to learn from the Italian chefs that his parents hired as consultants for Amici. One of them, Chef Francesco Mansani, stayed in the country for three months and worked with Paolo the entire time.
Chef Francesco was the one who eventually referred Paolo to all the restaurants Paolo worked for when he lived in Italy for a year. He started by working in a destination restaurant in the outskirts of Florence. Talking about his experience in Italy, Paolo notes, “I mostly started with prep, assisting the kitchen staff… I moved around wherever I was needed.” Aside from Florence, Paolo also worked and trained in other parts of Italy, specifically in Siena and Sicily.
The Creative Process
After staying in Italy for a full year, Paolo went home to the Philippines to take over Amici’s kitchen. Remembering his experience after returning to the country two years ago, he says, “I thought I could just use whatever I learned in Italy and bring it here. But, no. The culture is different. The palate [of diners] here in the Philippines is different.”
The young chef realized, then, that he had to be more inventive to appeal to local tastes. “I tried looking for a balance of different flavors. In Italy, I noticed they liked to concentrate on fresh flavors–not too many mixed together. Here, we’re looking for a burst of flavors. In simple terms, I think of a dish then think of ways to make it bolder.” Through this creative process, Paolo was able to come up with unique dishes, like the fiery Seafood Diablo, which was based on a simple tomato-based pasta dish. To make it more interesting, he added seafood, chili, and finally, cream, to balance off the flavors.
Asked how much creative freedom the brand gives him, Paolo explains, “We have an approval process. First, I think of something I want to do. Usually, I can go crazy. Then I’ll have the family try it.”
If his family likes the dish, which he says is rare, and sees its potential to do well in the market, it goes through another approval process where they let a few trusted people try the new offerings. Because of the rigorous process, Paolo says that only about 30% of his ideas make it. But that doesn’t stop him from innovating–by March, he plans on releasing six new pasta dishes.
“Italian food here in the Philippines has its own identity,” Paolo explains. “It’s still rooted in an Italian base, but if you bring something to a different culture, it’ll evolve. [People] will bring what is authentic to them, but they’ll use what ingredients that are locally available. For example, Filipino food in LA uses Heinz vinegar…. Their kare-kare uses Skippy.” He chuckles a bit, and says, “Sarap!”
Turning serious again, he tells us, “Italian food here is still Italian, but it’s Filipino-Italian. It evolved to the taste of what Filipinos are looking for.” While he subscribes to these beliefs, Paolo’s philosophies still reflect what’s most important to Italian cooking. “[You need to have good] ingredients. Kasi that’s one thing I learned in Italy–your food will only be as good as your ingredients. If your starting ingredients are good, then the rest is easy.”
A New Generation
Despite being named one of the chefs who made 2017 an exciting year for Philippine gastronomy, Paolo maintains a humble and cheerful disposition. His face is all over the brand’s social media accounts, showing the market that a young and fresh personality has taken over the classic Italian restaurant’s kitchen.
Asked about his dreams and aspirations, he shares that he wants to be just like his mentors, especially Chef Francesco Mansani. “His whole philosophy is [about] enjoying life, and loving life as it is, and not to be too materialistic… he enjoys what life can offer him and [is] always thankful for what he does.” Paolo also expresses his admiration for Pasqualino Barbasso, another one of Amici’s consultants, who is now an acrobatic pizza-maker who’s known for his skills in dough-flipping.
Today, Paolo and his brother Philip Moran, COO of Amici, have taken on the reins of their family business. Because of Paolo’s creativity and his undeniable passion for Italian cuisine, it’s no surprise that Amici is once again making headlines.