When I was twelve years old, during my school summer break, I enrolled in a basic chef’s course. I can remember putting on my double-breasted jacket and toque, memorizing new cooking terms, and listening to the instructions from a fascinating chef who introduced me and other wide-eyed students to the smells and flavours of cooking. Today, the glass doors where I stirred my first minestrone soup open for me again.
This haven is La Vetta. It is an exquisite restaurant and wine bar offering French Mediterranean Cuisine. And the inspiring man in the kitchen is Carsten Radke, La Vetta’s Executive Chef and owner, who now, minus his chef’s whites, sits down to talk with me about his career and business.
Q: Please share with us some of the important points about your life story.
Chef Carsten: I am born in Berlin; I had my culinary studies in Berlin. I left Berlin very young and then travelled and worked around the world as a chef. And then at 2005, I came to the Philippines where I met my wife, got married and now, we have three children.
Q: Aside from the culinary arts, what are your other interests?
Chef Carsten: When I was young I played soccer a lot, and I went cycling – even professional cycling; mountain biking and a lot of snowboarding during winter. Over fourteen years, I did snowboarding. And then later in the Philippines I started playing golf because it became too hot for the other sports. Seriously, no soccer anymore, everything became too dangerous and too hot. Golf is acceptable. [laughs]
Q: When you go out to eat, what do you look for in a restaurant?
Chef Carsten: I look really for the quality of the food. It has to have life inside. And I mean it has to have different flavours and aromas and a nice presentation. It has to have correct cooking methods, meaning the chef should know what he’s doing; the meat should be tender and juicy and not over-cooked, for example. When I spend a lot of money I look also look at the ambiance. For example, just recently, we’ve been to Hong Kong and we ate in this very small ugly place but the food was stunning. You know what I mean? [laughs] No ambiance at all but the food was amazing.
Q: What is your favourite dish to eat and what is your favourite dish to prepare?
Chef Carsten: My favourite dish to eat changes always, Angela. It’s always a phase, I have a phase where I like to eat sweet things for maybe, three weeks. Kind of in small cravings for sweets – so I create dishes in that direction, I eat a little of my own food from that. And then after that, it’s done! We’re all satisfied and after that I start having a craving for pasta dishes or maybe pizza. It depends really, there’s no favourite dishes existing for me because my whole life is about food. So it’s kind of always available in different directions but I always have a certain period of around you can say, two weeks, three weeks where I crave for certain flavours in my dish. And my own food, what I like to eat a lot is a lamb racks.
Q: Out of your restaurant’s menu, what do you recommend always to clients? Why?
Chef Carsten: It depends on what kind of customers we have. Plenty of Filipino guests are very happy with our steaks because they are cooked perfect, and they are very tender and juicy. This is good for foreign guests who are more exposed to different kinds of international cuisine and Mediterranean food.
Q: What Filipino dish do you think can make it to the international restaurants? Why?
Chef Carsten: Very difficult question, [laughs] I cook for my family at home, I cook for them adobo. Maybe not in a one hundred percent authentic way but I made some minor adjustments regarding Mediterranean food. I believe the adobo dish and maybe the kinilaw has some potential, and you can implant it on an international restaurant.
Q: Any plans for the future? Any message to those who want to pursue a career in food service?
Chef Carsten: It’s a tough business. Days can sometimes become very long, it’s maybe a little difficult to socialize because you are working on holidays like Christmas and New Year but you have to be aware of that before you start your culinary career, which something I think is hard. Because for example, there’s a lot of cooking on TV, like Master Chef and Hell’s Kitchen, and cooking became a big run, very popular, but it just shows the glamour side which is less than one percent. So people are just seeing it from the TV and thinking they want to do it, but the way to get there, it’s a long way, and sometimes it gets very tough and hard.
Q: La Vetta is Italian, and it means the summit or the peak. What do you think makes La Vetta stand out from other restaurants?
Chef Carsten: The way La Vetta prepares its food, meaning the way everything gets cooked. We have very fresh dishes because we use many different herbs… and things you want prepared gets prepared only in that moment you order. There’s nothing in the food warmer. I think that’s a very big difference from all the other restaurants.
And true to its claim, this fine dining destination at Rosario Strip, Limketkai Center continues to whip up gourmet meals for its clientele. And with an Executive Chef who also trains young visionary soon-to-be-chefs, La Vetta never fails to impress food lovers – I should know, for I stayed a little longer with my family, and enjoyed my favourite from the menu. Scallops with bacon strips, anyone?