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Fresh beginning in the new normal

At a time when a lot of bars and restaurants were closing in Poblacion, chef Sau del Rosario breathed new life into the area by moving Café Fleur from Pampanga to Makati City, and bringing the food that Café Fleur became famous for to the city with Le Petit Café Fleur.



CHEF Sau del Rosario at the Café Fleur kitchen.

Count on chef Sau del Rosario to make a complete turnaround.

In this universe of celebrity or rock-star chefs, he is undeniably one of the brightest stars. But when the pandemic and the ensuing lockdowns happened last year, he was gravely affected like other chefs of his stature. After all, restaurants had to shut down operations for a month following the government’s directive temporarily disallowing dine-in service in restaurants.

Unfortunately, he was running two restaurants — Café Fleur and 25 Seeds — in his home province, Pampanga — and they were not spared. Add to that the fact that travel was also restricted, and this meant having to do without his usual customers from Metro Manila and other surrounding areas.

Initially, he took it like a grain of salt and used the time to slow down, take a rest, and think. But when the lockdown stretched from one month to two, then three, Chef Sau knew that he could no longer just sit in a corner and wait. He headed towards the kitchen, poured out the flour, cracked some eggs and started kneading. The result: Exquisite contemporary interpretations of classic pies, cakes and breads, including Vuco Fye, Heg Fye, Tsokolate Heg Fye, Huve Brioche, and Vananah Walnut Tsokolate Bread. Orders for these “pandemic creations” were overwhelming, which chef Sau did not expect but which he tried hard to serve and was able to. Since the orders kept coming in, he set up a system and a delivery schedule for customers around Pampanga and those in Metro Manila.


That was the first turnaround that chef Sau successfully made — from no business to a thriving new business right in the thick of the Covid-19 pandemic. His pies, a comfort food for many Filipinos, given his creative touch and generous proportions, turned out to be a big hit, and a convenient ordering and delivery system was the way to go at such a time. In short, he hit the perfect formula.

And he did it again when he got together with a group of talented and highly respected Pampanga-based chefs and restaurateurs to bring their signature dishes and specialties to customers in Metro Manila. Under normal circumstances, people would have to make that long drive to Pampanga to visit each of their restaurants to have a taste of their much-talked about food. Under the pandemic, they offered their famous dishes as a group for delivery, so people would just have to order from their collective menu and enjoy these in the comfort of their own homes. The group, known as Culinarya Pampanga, set up a central commissary in Quezon City, where they prepared their food upon order and dispatched these to their customers. An ingenious idea that worked wonders for both the chef-restaurateurs and their customers.


Just recently, as 2020 bid adieu to give way to the new year, chef Sau scored his third — and his biggest, most successful and more permanent — turnaround in the face of the pandemic when he opened Le Petit Café Fleur in Poblacion, Makati City. At a time when a lot of bars and restaurants were closing in Poblacion, he breathed new life into the area by moving Café Fleur from Pampanga to Poblacion and bringing the food that Café Fleur became famous for to Makati. It is much more convenient now for Metro Manila folks to have a taste of it, especially since government has lifted its restrictions on restaurants and allowed dine-in services, with proper observance of social distancing, of course.

“It’s time for me to come back to Manila. I need to pivot, and the best way is to open here and come close to my market,” explains chef Sau.

He adds: “Café Fleur is a mélange of everything — my mom’s cooking, my life in Angeles City when I was growing up, the food I grew up with, the culinary influences of my travels, my favorite places.”

Café Fleur opening team.

Thus, Café Fleur in Poblacion is part restaurant and part bakery — or bekeri as he calls it. The place occupies the ground floor of a two-story house, which was built in the 1970s and which reminds chef Sau his family home in Angeles City. He had the dining areas designed according to social distancing protocol. This means it has an al fresco-type dining area, where customers who practice strict social distancing and health and safety protocols can comfortably seat themselves and dine on a mix of international favorites, local dishes and Kapampangan items. By the entrance stands the bekeri, where local specialties, such as pan de coco and pan de regla, co-exist alongside brioche and sourdough bread, all freshly baked. Whole Vuco Fyes may also be bought here.

“People think it’s daring and bold of me to open a new restaurant during the pandemic. I call it resilience. I am a results-oriented person. I’m not the type who would sit in a corner and get depressed. I move forward. There is no room for mistakes,” says chef Sau.

A new beginning in the new normal. Game face on.

Café Fleur’s al fresco dining.