The term atelier is more commonly used to describe the workspace of a chi-chi fashion designer or gallery-worthy artiste. But in this case, Atelier 317 is the workstation of one of Philippine society’s glam girls who, not content with being a statistic on the Manila’s Best Dressed list, slips out of the designer dresses to don a chef’s jacket and cook for her customers. We refer, of course, to Stephanie Zubiri, Cordon Bleu alum, food writer, young fashion icon, entrepreneur, and now, after a gorgeous wedding to Jonathan Crespi at Misibis Bay, a newly-wed.
Because of her rep as an “it” girl, she may seem intimidating and stand-offish – until you get to sit down and chat with her about her many passions, with a side-trip stories of her teenage escapades in Europe. The same may be said of the restaurant, by virtue of the owner’s background. It may seem intimidating on paper, but a step inside Atelier 317 brings you to a homey atmosphere, with an artsy touch to the knick-knacks on the tables, the assortment of unusual plates and cups, down to the mismatched chairs of the dining area.
There is even an old sewing machine that she had converted at a local shop into a conversation piece/eating area. It’s all hers, she says, “I took my time decorating because I wanted it to reflect my tastes. Everything here, I chose myself. We didn’t get an interior decorator – I bought every piece, and I am actually surprised at how well it all came together.”
The food is also quite eclectic. “I am always asked what kind of cuisine I offer,” she grins. “People like to box you in, and probably because of my culinary training background, they always think I make fancy French food. No, I don’t make fancy French food!” she mock groans. “For me, why does a restaurant have to have a specific cuisine? For me, it is about world food, not just French cuisine. Almost all these recipes are what I eat at home. I like simple ingredients, I like using herbs and spices. These dishes comprise my personal comfort food.” One of these is the Spicy Lamb Bolognese, which she swears is one of her favorites and is a staple in her own home kitchen.
She talks about her mission to make an Atelier meal a memorable experience. “When I was starting out, I was looking for an alternative to my catering business. I wanted to make a restaurant that people will not go to only for special occasions. I want to offer what people like and look for every time they eat at the restaurant, which is comfort food. From our catering, we had a lot of things that were really doing well, like the Bicol Express Chicken. I want people to come here with an open mind, and try new versions of the things that they like or are familiar with.”
Her travels also have a strong influence on her menu. “My menu constantly evolves. I visited Vietnam three times last year to explore, and I loved the food. I went to cooking classes in Thailand. I go around asking people for their recipes. These are the techniques and flavors that I try to translate with my own dishes. I love Indian food, so I am developing South Asian dishes. I talk to friends in the food industry to find out what is happening.”
Still, she insists on keeping it simple and relatable. For all the prestige of Cordon Bleu, she candidly says she did not exceptionally enjoy the experience. “It was too serious, too difficult! I like to cook from the heart!” Her tapa is a recipe from her Lola Zubiri, and aside from the addition of foie gras bits in her molo soup, the bola-bola follows the family formula. “She used to make her bola-bola with tomato sauce, and on some days, I offer that as well,” Stephanie says.
She adds that her philosophy is all about offering the best quality within more reasonable price points. Her hollandaise sauce for the fab Eggs Benedict is made fresh from scratch. Her best-selling Caprese salad is made with kesong puti, instead of the more expensive mozzarella. “I don’t want to charge P500 for a Caprese salad when there is a good alternative that will offer better value!” she says.
Here, she flame-broils the cheese and plump tomatoes to give them a smoky flavor, and drizzles these with olive oil and balsamic reduction, followed by a smattering of fresh basil leaves. A must-try is the melt-in-the-mouth Balsamic Beef Adobo, slow-cooked US Black Angus Short Rib served with Portobello Mushroom Sinangag Rice.
For those who are not inclined to “sin,” Atelier 317 offers healthy vegetarian options such as the Falafel Pita Burger and the creamy Spiced Pumpkin Soup, along with salmon dishes like her Red Curry Salmon Parmentier – flaked, poached salmon topped with lemongrass and fried shallots, served with red curry sauce.
The restaurant, which is now equipped to handle small gatherings for cooking demos at the top floor, is a favorite haunt of well-known personalities for its laid-back vibe. The location, a stone’s throw away from the Powerplant mall, is perfect for a weekend brunch away from the maddening crowds. Stephanie says that her decision not to locate at a mall offers some kind of freedom. “There is no pressure to have a high turnover, and guests are more inclined to linger over coffee or good wine.”
Atelier 317 is located at the Palm Rock Bldg., 6060 Palma corner Osias Sts. (near Makati Science High School) in Poblacion, Makati City. The restaurant is open Mondays to Fridays from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.; Saturdays from 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. and Sundays from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, call 358-0987, 0917-8308393 or e-mail email@example.com.