I had this not of the usual type of invite recently and it required me to cover a product in the client’s own backyard. It was an invitation from the family of Art Legarde, a passionate food lover, who is already in the prime of his life at 65. He together with his staff prepared a gastronomic meal fit for an always hungry me. I got to observe how its done all the way from the serving table, while Art giving me in between stories of how Chicken Sarap Catering started.
Chicken Sarap story is a relatively new one. It was established in 2011 all the way from Silay City, Negros Occidental. It is a town known for old cultures and food traditions. A number of old families reside here as well. In Silay, Inasal na Manok is but one of many native favorites that is available in countless food stalls and restaurants, many claiming the “originality” of their recipe.
Going back to Art Legarde he is actually not the pro by culinary standard, he is not a chef, nor even a weekend cook. Although his father and mother-in-law were known to have been really good in the kitchen, Art stayed away from pots and pans. What he did enjoy though was spending time with his family in picnics or eating out. And “inasal na manok” was a regular favorite.
With his “children” all grown up and Manila-based, Art and his wife Lucille decided to move to Manila to be closer to the kids and young grandchildren. But missing local food from home, Art decided to take matters into his own hands.
With the full support of Lucille and the Legarde brood, Art began the tedious process of developing a marinade for chicken inasal that held true to local ingredients and preferred local flavors. A little tangy, a little sweet, and with the undeniable hint of lemongrass and other local ingredients; that was how Negrenses loved their inasal. It took countless trials and errors of experimentation with family and close friends before the perfect marinade was created, a mixture that matches perfectly with the charcoal grill to transform the humble chicken into a simple yet truly aromatic and flavorful experience.
And so, the hard work of building a loyal base of clientele began. “Grill-on-site,” they call it. With this approach, they captured a niche amongst inasal-loving people. Since then, Chicken Sarap has done the food servicing rounds with people from all walks of life. From some of the most selective palates and well-known names in town to corporate clients, barkadas and families looking for something different in their food experience.
What sets CS apart is really what Art Legarde refers to as the “Chicken Sarap Experience” – that special combination of a super marinade, fresh chicken, a hot charcoal grill, that smoky eye-watering haze as one of the grillers cooks your food, plus all the trimmings and rice toppings such as really flavorful chicken oil, toasted garlic bits, and “kalkag” (dried baby shrimps). You can’t have all that in a restaurant.
Fast forward 6 years hence to 2017. Chicken Sarap is still going strong with a steadily growing list of loyal clientele. The family business is still of a manageable size but frequently handle multiple bookings in a day, especially during special seasons.
From Ilonggo dishes, CS began expanding the concept of “grill-on-site” and applied it to other favorite cuisines. Early this year they launched Shokutsu, a casual Japanese catering service but one that offers a teppanyaki table-on-site at your event venue. And just recently, they launched Mongolian+, a fresh new revival of the classic Mongolian bowl.
Katrina Legarde-Gonzales, who manages the day-to-day operations of the business says this latest venture gives a simple but new twist to the Mongolian bowl we all know and love. Best of all, you can enjoy it almost anywhere.
“It’s really hard work, but there is nothing more fulfilling than having your clients thank you after a really satisfying and down-to-earth hearty experience,” says Art.
CS has successfully grown even without any of those big ads and savvy marketing strategies. They relied on their simple Facebook page, Twitter account, and a word-of-mouth campaign started by happy clients that has spread far and wide among food lovers from all over.
Art said, “Since we began, God has backed us all the way and saw us through all the challenges of a new and struggling business. What a blessing!”