In creating new items to celebrate the Asian café’s tenth anniversary, Gabriel Garcia draws from his baking, fine dining, and economics backgrounds—and a little bit of nostalgia.
“This is my first corporate launch, so it’s a big deal. Before coming to work today, I was quite anxious,” Gabriel “Gab” Garcia, head chef of Elephant Grounds in Manila, candidly admits. We are seated inside the BGC branch; the café is buzzing with customers filling up the al fresco and indoor dining areas, and food writers catching up while chatting about burgers, milkshakes, and coffee.
Gab’s nervousness is understandable. After all, he’s not just introducing something new to an established regional brand that’s known for its coffee and brunch offerings (Elephant Grounds, which has its roots in Hong Kong, has branches in Beijing, Chengdu, and Guangzhou, and Manila—BGC and the Podium, to be exact). Gab spearheaded the creation of menu items for Elephant Grounds’ tenth anniversary. By no means is this Gab’s first culinary baptism of fire, but he reiterates that this particular launch is markedly different.
The highlight of Elephant Grounds’ tenth anniversary menu is the EG Cheeseburger, made with house-blended premium beef, house-made buns, pickles, lettuce, and a signature sauce. “It took me nine months and six ‘drafts’ to arrive at the finished product,” Gab quips as I slice through the burger’s layers. “Of course, I wanted my first project to be perfect.”
Gab’s perfectionism stems not only from his baking and fine dining background, but also from his reverence for a good burger bun. “People often think that the bun is just a vessel. For me, it makes all the difference. You want a bun that has structure; you want it to toast well on the griddle, absorb the sauce and juices of the patty without getting soggy, and hold its shape as you slice or bite through it.
But a great bun isn’t worth anything without the meat of the matter: the patty. As much as Gab is particular with his bread, his creation process for the EG Cheeseburger began with the patty, a mix of 70% top sirloin and 30% short ribs.
“It’s definitely the highlight of this burger. I wanted the meat to be fresh, so we had specific instructions on how to freeze, store, ship, and prepare the beef,” he explains. Gab reiterates that the meat is kept frozen from whole beef to patty. “The only time it thaws is when it’s about to hit the grill. That’s why we’re so confident in serving it medium, unless our customers request otherwise. We don’t put any seasonings or enhancers as we mix the meat; we only salt the patties when they’re about to be fired up.”
Gab notes that the EG Cheeseburger somehow deviates from Elephant Grounds’ usual concepts: Asian-inspired flavors transformed by Western cooking techniques, he describes. However, he draws from nostalgia and the enduring popularity of a good burger to stand by his creation. “Growing up, burgers were a big part of my identity. I’m sure we all have our own favorite childhood burgers; that’s where I’m coming from. It’s not about filling a gap, but I like seeing things that the market misses and telling myself, ‘maybe I want to have a say in this type of food.’ That’s also why I don’t pin myself to just one cuisine.”
The rest of the anniversary menu is just as special as the EG Cheeseburger, with the drinks and desserts serving as a sweet and light counterpoint to the savory dish. There’s Elephant Hong Kong’s specialty coffee, the Americano Air, a smooth and micro-aerated iced Americano; a new milkshake line with toasted rice, açai, and hazelnut flavors, and signature ice cream cones available in red velvet and charcoal.
Since they are making dishes and drinks on a large scale every day, Gab admits that there is that pressure to maintain the same level of quality in every iteration that they put out. It’s a departure from the worlds of fine dining and degustacion from which he came from—he only took on the role of head chef for Elephant Grounds Manila in February of last year—but it’s a welcome leap of faith, nonetheless.
“I welcomed the idea of going corporate, even if I was scared at first. I thought my projects would become purely mechanical, numbers-based, and decision-based,” Gab shares. “However, I approached the challenge by thinking of the job as a masters program where I get to work and learn while getting paid in the process. Even if it’s hard, at least I learn something new every day. That’s my logic.”
Elephant Grounds is managed by The Standard Hospitality Group. The expanded menu will be available daily from 8 am to 10 pm on Monday to Thursday and Sunday, and 7 am to 11 pm on Friday to Saturday. Elephant Grounds is located at the lower ground floor of One Bonifacio High Street, BGC and Level 1, The Podium, Ortigas City. Reservations are available on Mondays to Thursdays via 09998871407 at BGC and 09998861603 at The Podium. For more information and updates, follow Elephant Grounds on Instagram (@elephantgroundsph) and Facebook (@elephantgroundsmanila).