The Dancing Chef

FOOD enthusiast and amateur cook Jigs Arquiza indulges in his love of Italian cuisine with Cebu’s “dancing” chef.

He’s not only a chef, he’s also a dentist. And yes, he dances. Whether it’s in the discotheque or in the kitchen, chef Moreno Benigno can be found dancing to his heart’s delight. According to Moreno, he was sixteen years old when he had his first real kitchen experience.

Moreno recounts his early days in the kitchen, “I started out as a dishwasher. On my first day, I had to wash over a thousand dishes at the place at I worked at!” The lively 31-year old Sicilian continues, “a few days later, I had to fillet over a hundred kilos of anchovies!” Hard work, yes, but Moreno insists that it’s all part of working in a kitchen.

Moreno clarifies, however, that his love for cooking and the kitchen came naturally.

Growing up as a boy, he would spend hours in his grandmother’s kitchen, learning from her and other female relatives. “My grandmother’s baked potato is the best I’ve ever tasted,” Moreno says, not without some pride.

Moreno had already worked in Cebu a few years ago, at Giuseppe’s Kitchen in Maria Luisa, but returned home to Italy to be with his family. When popular Italian chef, restaurateur and television host Giuseppe Genco asked him to come back to Cebu, to work at the newly-renovated restaurant The Loft at the IT Park, Moreno jumped at the chance.

“I love the Philippines. My life is here!” Moreno explains, adding “I’m even trying to convince my parents to move here.” Asked why he loved the Philippines so much, Moreno says “The Philippines is a country of smiles.” Comparing the Filipino culture to his own Italian heritage, he says that another thing that endeared him to the Philippines is the importance of family. “It’s the same in Italy, family is very important!” he declares.

Speaking of family, Moreno discusses his relationship with chef Giuseppe, “I can say that Giuseppe is my mentor. When I met him, I started my real life here in the Philippines.” Continuing, Moreno describes Giuseppe’s influence on his cooking style: “Giuseppe brought me back to the traditional,” insisting that “everything on the plate must be eatable.”

Of Moreno, Giuseppe says “Moreno is a good chef, he knows the business.” The portly Italian then adds, “We work together as a team!”

Speaking about working with Giuseppe at The Loft, Moreno says excitedly “We’re ready to fight! I’m excited to be working with Giuseppe again.”

And what about dancing? According to Moreno, though he feels perfectly comfortable in the kitchen, dancing relaxes him, and it helps put him in a good mood when he cooks.

Still, he has something to say about cooking styles and cuisine, “Cuisine is part of one’s culture. What’s the point of being a foreign chef when you’re doing crazy things? You have to bring the taste of your country to your diners!” And being Sicilian, he speaks highly of his island’s cuisine “Sicilian cuisine is very complete in taste.” Moreno adds jokingly, “Of course, you have to come to The Loft to taste it!”

Asked what advice he would give aspiring cooks, Moreno pronounces, “Understand and respect the ingredients. When you have the best ingredients you can get, the inspiration to cook great food will come out naturally!”

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