MANILA -- Foodies who frequently walk around the Bonifacio Global City may have noticed a space reserved for M Bakery at One Bonifacio High Street.
M Bakery is a branch of Magnolia Bakery from New York, famous for its banana pudding and cupcakes. This branch also shares the same DNA as one of the most revered places to eat down in Cagayan De Oro City.
Ask a foodie from Cagayan De Oro where to eat and this list of must-try restaurants will inevitably include Candy’s Cafe.
Candy is Candy Lu, who started her culinary education by going to the California Culinary Academy for summer culinary lessons when she was in high school. In college, she sold homemade puto and small cakes in school, confessing to loving baking more than cooking.
Her love of the kitchen led her to the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu Paris. When she returned home, she migrated to the City of Golden Friendship from Manila when she got married to a Cagayanon.
Candy’s Café was borne out her passion for cooking and baking. It was pretty daring of her to set up a French restaurant with a high price point in 2003 outside Manila, at a time when the Cagayan De Oro food scene was dominated by inato (barbecued chicken).
“I really wanted to open my own restaurant. I might as well do something I really want. I had a hard time for two to three years. I had a hard time explaining my food. At that point, people don’t understand using herbs. What is this, what sagpot (Bisaya for 'grass') is this?”
The pastries kept the restaurant going since it was easier for Cagayan De Oro food scene to understand. The baked goods were Candy’s forte and the restaurant became known for cakes and desserts.
Lu did deviate from the French pastries to adjust to local tastes. “The French like their cakes small but full of mousse and pastry cream. Here, we like it with more cake,” she explained.
She persisted with her vision, and then after three years, for no apparent reason, the restaurant just clicked.
Lu admits that she had to make compromises. For example, the French are strict when it comes to having no condiments on the table. She gave in to having ketchup available for customers.
The menu of Candy's Cafe is a delight with some common entrees and some that are somewhat surprising. Take, for instance, the bruschetta with tomatoes on a bed of mashed avocado.
Tomatoes and avocado together as guacamole would be more at home on a nacho or a tortilla chip, and not a slice of baguette. But it works and I wondered why I never came across it before.
A dish which I thought encapsulated Lu’s cooking philosophy was her Pork Confit with Sweet Pork Adobo Sauce. Just by looking at it on the plate, it looked like any ordinary dish of crispy pork with some sauce. Have a bite and the that crispy shell just envelops very tender pork meat. Then I sensed the unmistakable fruitiness of balsamic vinegar and something sweet.
She later revealed that the pork was shock-fried before serving to produce that crisp and she used a special honey balsamic vinaigrette as a glaze.
In a snooty Manila restaurant, this would probably appear as “Pork Confit with Bukidnon Honey Balsamic Vinaigrette Reduction.” In Candy’s, it’s sweet pork adobo sauce. Rather than make the dish out of reach, Lu makes it sound more grounded and less intimidating.
Candy’s is still known for her desserts, the Tartufo in particular. It comes to the table as a large globe of chocolate. Break it open and you find vanilla ice cream and honeycomb crumble encased chocolate cake and ganache. Lu said that the dessert is a crowd-pleaser because customers wonder how she put the ice cream inside.
But even with the Tartufo’s popularity, Lu's favorite dessert is the Belgian Chocolate Cake which she said is the most challenging to make in her dessert menu.
Sadly, for foodies outside of Cagayan De Oro, Candy’s will continue to be a plane ride away. “There will only be one branch of Candy’s and that’s this one in Ayala Centrio,” Lu declared. “I want that if you want to go to Candy’s, you go to Cagayan De Oro.”
Lu may not be bringing Candy’s out of Cagayan De Oro, but she is bringing a taste of New York to Manila. Lu and her husband are bringing the celebrated banana pudding and cupcakes of Magnolia Bakery to BGC.
In New York, the price for a Magnolia Bakery cupcake starts $3.50 for a plain vanilla cupcake. Lu promised to bring down the prices for Manila to make it more accessible without compromising on quality. She still has to import the ingredients so the taste is exactly like the ones from New York.
In the end, these culinary pursuits are really all about her love of cooking and making her food approachable.
“You do it out of passion. I’m happy when I see that my customers are happy. When they appreciate the food, that’s a bonus already,” she said.
Candy’s Café is located at the G/F of the Ayala Centrio Mall in Cagayan De Oro City and is open from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. M Bakery will be located at One Bonifacio High Street Park at Bonifacio Global City and is slated to open later this year.