Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Lawrence “Toto” Erfe was, just like other professional chefs, busy as a bee.
As a senior instructor at chef Gene Gonzalez’s Center for Asian Culinary Studies (CACS), he had a full schedule. Handling all major subjects and restaurant operations classes of the professional culinary arts courses, he was shuffling between CACS-Manila to CACS-Davao on a regular basis.
But the pandemic — and the ensuing quarantines — happened, and everything changed. Suddenly, work and classes were suspended indefinitely, restaurants had to close and offer only food delivery and pick-ups, people were required to stay home, and chef Toto found himself grounded at home.
He soon developed a line of frozen, ready-to-cook and reheat food, an idea that’s been at the back of his mind but didn’t have time to pursue — until the pandemic struck. He started with family favorites, which he called “emergency ulam.”
He said: “We always had them in our freezer — tapa, longganisa, marinated barbecue. We made burgers when we wanted to have real burgers. We also loved to hold family gatherings in the house and, normally, I would cook for them and their families. The kids liked the food and they would go, ‘Thanks for cooking, thanks for the food. It was yum, Tito Toto.’ I just got to standardize their recipes during the pandemic, because lots of friends wanted to order.”
Smoked garlic longganisa.
What did he call his food line? Why, Tito Toto’s, of course! It’s a catchy, a bit tongue-twistin’ name that he and his friends have toyed around with in pre-pandemic times. Also, young ones, not only in his clan but also among the generation of chefs that he has had the privilege of working with, called him Tito Toto.
The core products under the Tito Toto’s brand are Boilbecue, smoked garlic longganisa, smoked sweet longganisa, TapangTapat and No-Shrink Burger.
Coined from the words boiling and barbecue, Boilbecue is pork barbecue that has already been cooked (using a mixed cooking process inspired by the sous vide technique) and vacuum-packed in 10s. Boil the pack, cut it open, and enjoy the grilled goodness of well-marinated and perfectly grilled pork barbecue. Condo dwellers who cannot grill in their units particularly love it.
Toto makes longganisa at home for his family because those available in the palengke have so much nitrites in them. For the past three years, he has also had a love affair with his offset smoker, smoking meat regularly and, more recently, smoking homemade longganisa to see if it works. Apparently, it does. Inspired by smoked sausages, Toto now makes two variants of truly Pinoy smoked longganisa — smoked garlic and smoked sweet, TapangTapat is the Erfes’ go-to ulam. With a distinct tapa flavor and character, it is made of 100 percent sirloin beef, thus the name TapangTapat. It is so versatile that it can be used with vegetables like bokchoy, ampalaya, broccoli, carrots and beans, aside from the regular breakfast fare partnered with garlic rice and fried egg.
And the curious-sounding No-Shrink Burger? Well, it shrinks, of course, but very minimally, unlike supermarket burgers that contract significantly and give out so much oil when cooked. Toto’s burger has lesser shrinkage because 100 percent beef (30 percent chuck, 30 percent short ribs and 40 percent ground round) is used and is single ground with his original recipe, so it maintains its shape and size when cooked.
All these products are made using carefully selected ingredients, contain no additives or extenders, and are produced in small batches so they are always fresh and available.
To order, send a private message via Facebook Messenger (akikaytotoerfe) or a direct message via Instagram (totoerfe).
Chef Lawrence ‘Toto’ Erfe. / Photographs courtesy of Dolly Dy-Zulueta
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