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Fernando Aracama Is Back For Limited Time With Lasa Ng Negrense

Our verdict on the four-course menu? Namit!

From Ova to Embassy Bar to Early Night to his namesake restaurant Aracama, seasoned chef-restaurateur and proud Bacolodnon Fernando Aracama has made a name for himself in the industry. Though Chef Ferns may joke and say most people know him as a bar chef because of his past business ventures, we all know him as one of the icons of the Philippine culinary scene. 

Chefs of his caliber are a rarity, so when another culinary heavyweight, Sau del Rosario, posted about their upcoming collaboration, we knew we had to be there.

Friday nights in Poblacion are always busy, but even more so on the first night of “Lasa Ng Negrense”, a three-night event hosted at Sawsaw featuring a four-course menu of Chef Ferns’ dishes inspired by his hometown of Bacolod City. This is the first of the “Lasa Series” Sawsaw will be hosting. The goal is to feature regional cuisines by inviting chefs to highlight their provinces through food.

Chefs Sau del Rosario and Fernando Aracama cook up the first of the Lasa Series | Ching Dee

It was Chef Sau who coaxed Chef Ferns out of his cozy little world, which he had built during the pandemic.

“I was practically retired,” Chef Ferns recalls. During the lockdown, he built his home garden, adopted an army of cats and a bulldog, and of course took care of his family. After three years of living a simple and quiet life—the exact opposite of working in a hot kitchen—Chef Ferns wore his chef whites again and got cooking. 

Fernando Aracama with his first course, Cansi | Ching Dee
New Restaurant: Filipino Food Is Brilliant At Sawsaw


New Restaurant: Filipino Food Is Brilliant At Sawsaw

“I just came out because Sau asked me,” he said matter-of-factly — speaking volumes about their relationship, which started in their college days in UP Diliman.

They both recall studying and perfecting French cooking techniques and now, decades later, life has come full circle as they find themselves championing Filipino cuisine through their own restaurants.

The culinary collab will run for the last two weekends in March. | Ching Dee

“When we came up with the series, I knew I wanted Chef Ferns to be the first guest chef,” Sau shared. “There’s nobody else I could think of. It had to be him.”

The food served at the first run of “Lasa Ng Negrense” (yes, there will be a second run, but more on that later) was inspired by his childhood. Growing up in Bacolod, he enjoyed traditional Negrense cooking — slow-cooked, bursting with flavor, and now, nostalgic. 

The meal started with everyone’s favorite Negrense soup, Cansi. It was served in a tiny copper saucepan with the tender beef already shredded and soaked in that unmistakable Batwan-laced broth — so rich and only slightly acidic, just enough so you can still enjoy it with the subtle flavors of the roasted bone marrow and the crunchy biscocho.

Cansi | Ching Dee

“The key to the Cansi is the bone marrow for that fatty deliciousness,” he explains. “I wanted to serve it in a way that doesn’t overwhelm you.” 

Chef Ferns shared that he’s been working on this dish for a long time now which was originally for his restaurant Aracama but he never got to execute it because they had to close due of the pandemic. This collaboration at Sawsaw is the culinary closure his Cansi deserves.

The second course is another Visayan comfort food, Pancit Molo. Usually made with pork or chicken, Chef Ferns’ version has wontons filled with scallops finished with green onions, crispy garlic, and chive oil. The bowl is served and the shrimp caldo (broth) is poured, releasing aromas that will instantly transport you to your lola’s home when you were a kid visiting for the weekend. The flavors are delicate, nothing too in-your-face; it just holds you and hugs you and tells you everything will be alright. “Since it’s Lent, I wanted to make Pancit Molo but with seafood,” Chef Ferns said. 

Pancit Molo | Ching Dee

For mains, diners get a choice between two Negrense classics: Tinu-om and KBL. 

The Tinu-om is made with delicately flakey sea bass flavored with kamias and aromatics and cooked ‘en papillote’ using banana leaves. The addition of the creamy butter sauce elevates this Negrense dish that’s actually often eaten by workers as packed lunch. It’s traditionally made with chicken and aromatics wrapped with banana leaves, buried underground with coals to naturally steam. For ‘Lasa Ng Negrense’, Chef Ferns used the same recipe that earned him the title of National Champion in the Maggi Plan A Meal competition in 1987 while he was still studying in UP Diliman. 

Tinu-om | Ching Dee

Meanwhile, KBL or Kadios Buntot Langka has two huge pieces of meaty oxtail with peeled cherry tomatoes and tender jackfruit. The broth is poured over everything, like a warm bath awakening each component. KBL is traditionally made with pork (with the B in KBL actually meaning Baboy), like when Chef Ferns showcased KBL with pata (pork hock) at Madrid Fusion Manila in 2015, but the two veteran chefs decided to use oxtail for a richer flavor and to make the dish easier to serve as a plated course. The skin of the Kadios (pigeon peas) easily snaps when you bite into it, with the softness of the bean erupting; while the Langka (jackfruit) imbibes the flavor — and texture! — of the meat. The Batwan broth is not too sour yet full of umami, thanks to the ridiculously tender oxtail that gives in at the slightest touch of the fork. Normally, one would eat KBL with rice, but since the flavors were not too overwhelming, eating the meaty dish on its own won’t make you miss the rice. 

KBL | Ching Dee

What better way for the son of Sugarlandia to end his comeback meal than making a dessert reminiscent of his childhood meriendas. The last course is Bunuelos, which reminds Chef Ferns of the beignets his abuelita would make for him at home. It’s usually served with tsokolate and sugar on the side, but for ‘Lasa ng Negrense’, he and Chef Sau made Salted Dulce de Gatas sprinkled with chopped macadamia nuts. The Bunuelos are light as air with a crunchy exterior and pillowy within, not too sweet but pleasantly so, making it perfect for dunking in that saccharine Salted Dulce de Leche that just makes you want to lick it off the bowl. 

Bunuelos | Ching Dee

“Another one of my dreams is to make Filipino food that could be enjoyed with wine,” Chef Ferns shares on the sidelines of the immaculate Sawsaw kitchen. “I think the Cansi appetizer would work well with a crisp white (wine).” 

For the past three years, Chef Ferns was either relaxing at home and taking care of his mom or traveling abroad to judge culinary competitions as an active member of Les Toques Blanches. At this point of his career, he is now more concerned about leaving a lasting legacy and shaping the next generation of chefs in the Philippines.

A lifetime friendship with Chef Sau del Rosario is what convinced Fernando Aracama to come back and cook again | Ching Dee

“The idea of opening a new restaurant is not a foreign thing,” he starts. “I just need kids to nourish. I need like-minded people, kids with good attitudes that are hard-working. And if they’re talented, that would be a plus.” 

He adds, “I’m just looking for the same person that I was in 1999 when I first started.” 

Cabel Serves Nostalgia And Fine Filipino Comfort Food


Cabel Serves Nostalgia And Fine Filipino Comfort Food

‘Lasa Ng Negrense’ with Chef Fernando Aracama will run from March 24 to 26 (weekend lunch) for ₱1,750 per person. And good news: Chef Ferns’ turn in Sawsaw’s “Lasa Series” is extended to next weekend (March 31 to April 2) with a completely different menu.

For reservations, contact Sawsaw at 0917 810 9322.