Seafood must be fresh when eaten.
But as Covid-19 rages, one is not so keen on going to the wet market where people usually find themselves elbow to elbow.
But what if somebody has seafood ready for you? Somebody like a professional chef whose ability and experience in choosing the freshest seafood is unquestionable? Someone who has developed a relationship with suppliers that allows him to obtain fresh and quality seafood at reasonable prices?
Chef Laurence “Toto” Erfe is that man.
What’s more, he will also clean the seafood and vacuum-seal it, so that when it reaches you, it’s ready to cook.
Upon request, he does the mise-en-place for you, such as the peeling and pulling of the shrimps if you plan to make ebi tempura.
He can slice up salmon and other fresh fish for a sashimi platter. If you want your seafood cooked, he can also do it for you.
Like other chefs and culinary instructors (he teaches at the Center for Asian Culinary Studies), Toto suddenly found time on his hands when the pandemic struck in the Philippines and the Luzon lockdown was imposed in March 2020 and stretched on for months.
He turned to what he did best. He sourced fresh seafood and meats, made marinated dishes such as longganisa, tapa, burger patties and barbecue, and packaged them with his own Tito Toto’s brand.
He accepted orders for delivery and sent these out conveniently via couriers.
The idea clicked, and he found himself expanding his newfound food business to fish and seafood. Initially, he offered only fresh fish and seafood in their raw but clean form, shipping them frozen for safety and quality.
Confident that his daily haul was so fresh that he could offer some of the premium items in sashimi form, he came up with custom-made sashimi platters.
Depending on customers’ preferences, Toto does purely salmon sashimi or tuna sashimi, or a combination, half of each. Or he does assorted packages with shake (salmon), maguro (tuna), tako (octopus), kajiki otoro (the fattiest part of blue marlin, which is the inside of the fish’s belly), kajiki chutoro (a meaty but at the same time fatty part of blue marlin) and uni (sea urchin). His advantage over Japanese restaurants besides the freshness factor: He goes straight to the source, so he does not have operational expenses to add on to the price. So far, customers have been truly satisfied with his sashimi platters, and new orders and reorders have kept the platters his bestsellers.
Since he’s experienced with marinated meats and selling them frozen, Toto now does the same with fish. He marinates certain types of fish, such as mahi-mahi and bangus, packages them in vacuum-sealed plastic bags and sells them frozen.
Regular fish varieties
His fresh raw fish and seafood menu has also expanded to include not just premium items such as salmon (different parts), tuna, lapu-lapu, uni (sea urchin meat), oysters, crabs, prawns, tanigue, swordfish, pompano, squid and clams, but likewise regular fish varieties including bangus, tilapia, bisugo and mussels.
Freshness spells the difference, his number one consideration. His motto: “Fresh is always best.”
“By fresh, we mean we wake up every morning to choose your seafood for you, clean and vacuum-pack it for you. Normally, it’s in your kitchen before lunchtime. Since it’s cleaned and vacuum-sealed, it goes straight to the freezer or is ready to use,” he explains.
Lately, the Tito Toto’s brand has also lent itself to bottled goods such as taba ng talangka, burong hipon and XO Sauce. All three have turned big hits among foodies.
Cooked food, dampa style
Going the full spectrum of the food industry, Toto has likewise ventured into cooked food, dampa style, as some customers have asked him to cook their seafood orders as well. He obliges to such requests, digging into his list of his own favorite seafood dishes to suggest if they have no idea what they want.
Top choices that have emerged include prawn sotanghon, crab fat crabs, squid and French beans stir-fry, Singaporean-style crabs, steamed pompano with chili garlic and black beans, swordfish fillet with fresh mushrooms, crab sotanghon, seafood paella and vongole pasta.
Since each order comes in a party tray, the seafood he uses in each dish usually weighs one kilogram, and they are a steal at P800 to P1,800.
The top favorite, prawn sotanghon, for instance, contains half a kilo of prawns, which is about 10 huge pieces, stir-fried with tobanjan, ginger and aromatics, then paired with sotanghon simmered in light broth with rice wine. It costs a reasonable P1,200.
Whether you want your fish or seafood raw, or prepped, marinated and ready to cook, or already cooked, Toto obliges.
I have tried his sashimi platter, marinated swordfish and mahi-mahi fillets and prawn sotanghon, and I have cooked suwam na mais with clams and stir-fried clams in oyster sauce with his fresh and cleaned mussels.
Message him on Instagram (@totoerfe), Facebook (facebook.com/akikaytoto.erfe) or his mobile 0922-8141761 a day in advance.