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Exclusive interview: Miko Calo moves on from Metronome

Miko Calo moves on from Metronom. Photo by JL Javier 2,

Yesterday, chef Miko Calo did what she’s always done for the past few years—run her kitchen at Metronome with passion and precision, sending out plates of elegant, exquisite food that look as good as they taste.

But today, she won’t be back. Last month, she handed in her 30-day notice—she was resigning as executive chef of the award-winning French restaurant that she opened with four other partners. 

“I think it’s going to be very emotional for me. I’m going to exit a place that I built and I gave about five years of my life, everything,” she told Lifestyle in an exclusive interview. 

It’s the week before her departure and we’re in Taqueria Franco, her French-forward taco joint in Makati. It’s a Monday and the place is closed so instead of tacos, we’re talking over fried lechon with suka and champagne. 

I ask why she’s leaving and it’s clear that she’s choosing her words carefully. “I’m leaving because of the instability in the company’s ownership. I don’t want to divulge too much.” 

Reasons

I pushed and she added, “For me, other than it being emotionally, mentally and creatively draining not knowing what your future is and not knowing what the future of your creation is, it’s really also a business decision.”

It was a decision she agonized over. “A lot of it was really being more introspective and thinking about what I am holding on to. Am I holding on to the physical restaurant? What is connecting me to that restaurant? What is it that I cannot let go of? It took me a while to get to where I am right now, where I can confidently say I’m gonna walk away from that, that it’s not good for me anymore. I’m gonna take control of what I can control and I’m going to take myself out of it. That was the only thing I could do.” 

Exclusive interview: Miko Calo moves on from Metronome
Miko Calo and her Metronome Team

Pandemic

It was the people, her team at Metronome, that made the decision a difficult one. “I knew that that decision will affect so many lives, lives I’ve tried to really protect as much as I could during the pandemic. I didn’t want to give up on them.”Metronome had opened just six, seven months before the COVID lockdowns of 2020 and, of course, the business was hit hard. Restaurants adapted by focusing on takeout, but their fine French food wouldn’t work as takeaway. 

“As a young business owner, it really scared me. The most important thing to me was to make sure that we could take care of our team,” Calo said. 

She and her cousin RJ Galang, also a partner at both Metronome and Taqueria Franco, had another concept they had been working on called Lazy Oeuf. “We decided to let Metronome borrow it. It was launched prematurely because we needed to do something.” 

They served burgers, pasta, quiches, croissants, profiteroles and more for takeaway. “All our sales went to the allowance for the staff. I was there every day with maybe two or three people and one or two people from service … It was really a team effort. And that was when I knew I gained a family.”

Family

And it’s that family that she finds so hard to leave. “I think, more than anything, I will miss the family that I have created. I’ll miss the people, I’ll miss working with my team. I’ve developed relationships with them and I’ve seen them grow and mature and gain confidence as cooks. And that for me is one of the things that I’m very proud of. These were young girls when I met them and now they have gained the confidence and the skill behind that confidence.”

She loves how the service staff care for the restaurant like it’s their own. She sees it in the way they take care of things, even the way they make sure there isn’t a wrinkle on any of the linens. 

Exclusive interview: Miko Calo moves on from Metronome

Tough

“I know that I can be tough on them,” Calo admitted. “And I won’t apologize for being tough on people. I expect a lot from them because I know that they can give a lot. It’s a push and they have all risen to that expectation and I’m very appreciative of that. In kitchen terms, they ate a lot of s__t with me. I wanted to make sure that every day that they were there, they were learning.”

Her sous chef, Georgina Gorospe, started as a pastry commis at Metronome. “She worked her way up. At a certain point, she felt like she didn’t deserve the position I was giving her and I said, ‘George, never diminish yourself. Always know that you deserve everything that you are being offered because you worked hard for it … Take up the space that you deserve. Always.’”

Some of her staff have gone on to work abroad—in France, in the UK, at Robuchon in Doha. “They’re all working for Michelin-starred restaurants and that confidence was built in Metronome. For me, it’s very important to create the kind of space for them to learn and  improve.”

Shocked

Of course, the staff was shocked when she told them that she was leaving. “The question was, ‘What’s gonna happen to us? What’s gonna happen to Metronome?’ I told them, whether or not I’m here, I got you. However I can help, I will help. I just need to take myself out of this  situation … It was just weighing me down.”

She added, “I don’t like this whole idea of a chef being a diva…If you really are a mature person, you don’t throw a tantrum. You don’t get your perfect world, though. You move on…You need to strike the balance of protecting yourself and protecting the people around you. 

“And it took me a while to actually learn that because, you know, as a woman, as a Filipina, you’re always told to accommodate. This is not a tantrum that I’m throwing. It’s a decision that I have to make as a business owner and also as a chef who has to set boundaries.”

Even industry insiders were shocked to hear the news of Calo leaving. After all, her name has always been synonymous with Metronome. “They’re shocked but supportive…I’m lucky to be a part of a community that is very supportive in a very cutthroat industry. We look out for each other. There’s that kind of camaraderie and that kind of bond. We know what we go through every day.”

‘Serendipitous’

Calo becoming a chef was “serendipitous,” she believes. 

Failing to make it into her dream university, she ended up going to St. Scholastica’s College Manila. “They said, ‘You have bad grades so this is what we can offer you—a certificate course in HRM (Hotel and Restaurant Management).’ I hated it. I hated the fact that I was in an all-girls school again.”

But during lab classes, she had an epiphany: “You can do this for a living? I had no idea that it was a career possibility. I got excited… This is what I’m gonna do for the rest of my life. I was very lucky to have found that very early on.”

Calo With Bruce Ricketts and Jordy Navarra

Calo loves everything about being a chef. “I don’t cook with my brain. I cook with feeling and emotion. I love how it makes people feel when they get fed. I also love that it’s a tough, tough situation that you put yourself in. I guess I thrive in that kind of hardship.”

Food was always a big part of her life. Calo grew up in Butuan, in a family where food was always important. At 9, she learned how to gut and clean fish. At 10, she was in charge of cooking vegetable dishes. 

Good ingredients

Her aunt, the late TV host and perennial traveler Susan Calo-Medina, who she lived with when she moved to Manila to attend high school at Assumption College, played a role in developing her palate. “She was the one who introduced me to the finer things, brought us to restaurants, taught us how to appreciate good ingredients…We would travel with her or she’d bring back food from different places. I was always surrounded by food, our heritage, but at the same time, also being told that there’s a bigger world out there.”

Calo conquered that bigger world, graduating at the top of her class at the prestigious Ferrandi Paris and getting an internship at La Table de Joël Robuchon. 

“I always knew I wanted to work with Joël Robuchon. Before I even started culinary school, when I visited my family in London, we ate in La Cuisine de Joël Robuchon and I actually told my cousin, ‘I’m going to work here.’ The way he was making food was super brilliant. It’s so simple but it’s not.”

Exciting

She would spend the next seven years working in Joël Robuchon restaurants in Paris and London before becoming the junior sous chef at L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon and Restaurant Joël Robuchon in Singapore.

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Then, she returned to the Philippines and opened Metronome. “It was very exciting for me. I was also very scared because I was this new person in the industry. I was away for a long time. This was my first business. I feel very lucky to have been able to meet the partners that I have and them being so generous with their support and belief in what I can do. Having them see the talent and see the potential, I’m very grateful for that. I’ll forever be grateful for that.”

She added, “I’m not being ungrateful for stepping away and setting my boundaries. I just want to move on. I wish everyone well.”

‘A great education’

Calo calls Metronome “a great education.” “It was like going to graduate school, because I opened new concepts within the space. It’s also like I did an MBA on how to make a business survive a pandemic. It’s a huge learning experience. Every minute of what I poured into Metronome I loved, and it was out of the sheer love and passion for what I wanted to do.”

Miko Calo Johanne-Siy-and-Margarita-Fores
Miko Calo with Johanne Siy and Margarita Fores

She was named 2022 Chef of the Year by the Philippine Tatler Dining Awards 2022, while Metronome’s accolades include the 2020 Best New Restaurant Award from the Philippine Tatler Dining Awards and making it to Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants’ 50 Best Discovery list.

One of Calo’s Metronome highlights? Getting to work with three of Asia’s Best Female Chefs—Pichaya “Pam” Soontornyanakij from Bangkok, Johanne Siy from Singapore, and Margarita Fores, who Calo has always looked up to. “That for me was a privilege because I know how important representation is.”

Rite of passage

How has Metronome changed her as a chef? “It really helped me mature. I am starting to understand how to balance creativity and business, between being authentic to myself and being relevant as well. It’s almost like a rite of passage from being a cook to being a chef patron. This also taught me how to value myself more, that as a creative you put something intangible to the table.” 

She may be leaving Metronome’s kitchen but she’s still a partner—she still has shares in the restaurant. When asked what she wishes for the restaurant, she said, “I hope that it will continue on as a business…I really don’t know what their plans are. But I hope it thrives because there are people there who need the livelihood.” 

Elbert Cuenca, president and CEO of Metronome French Restaurant Inc., told Lifestyle, “The partners are committed to continuing on with the restaurant. We are strategizing and working on plans for the future of Metronome but for now, it’s status quo. It might be Metronome forever or it might be something else later on.”

They are looking for a new executive chef for Metronome. 

Miko Calo | Photo by JL Javier

‘Make it their own’

What would Calo like to tell Metronome’s next chef? “Make it their own. They don’t need to continue what I’ve started. It’s not gonna hurt my ego. They can even change the name if it doesn’t ring true to them.”

Today, her first day after leaving Metronome, Calo will be doing something she hasn’t done in what feels like forever. “I’m going to stay in bed for as long as I can. Because that is a luxury that I haven’t had ever since I started working in Joël Robuchon—the luxury of having time for myself, especially in the last five years.” 

And then, it’s back to work. Calo is doing a fundraising dinner for an organization that provides scholarships for women. She’s in talks for more collaborations with other chefs. She’s also planning to open her own place, one that’s “more authentically me, that reflects my heritage, my life experiences, my skill, my background. It will reflect me, not just what I can do. The when and where, that’s still up in the air.”

To fans of her food who might be looking for her at Metronome, she has this to say: “I’m very sorry. But I’m not going to disappear. This is not the end, it’s just the beginning.”

*The article “Miko Calo moves on from Metronome was originally published in the Lifestyle section of the Philippine Daily Inquirer on April 18, 2024.

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