It’s not located near the toruist-y areas nor well advertised. It’s so exclusive, the chef only accepts 30 customers at a time to dine in its beautiful garden restaurant setting. But the thing is, dining at this restaurant won’t cost you an arm and a leg, unless you choose the fine dining option (by reservation only). It’s the best kind of eatery—no waiting in line, no boisterous crowd, no bad food.
Mother’s Garden restaurant is tucked in a residential area on Quezon Hill. The narrow streets and steep roads have kept this place practically unknown. According to its owner, chef Therese Jison, most of her customers are repeaters, people who have grown to love her food and the restaurant.
“I wouldn’t accept more than 30 people, we close the gate. I want to maintain the exclusivity of the place. Being crowded destroys the reason why people come to us because they know it’s a relaxed atmosphere, and you can even spend the whole day here. Sometimes I feel bad that I have to turn down people but I have to maintain the reason people come here,” she explains.
The atmosphere is indeed relaxing. The main dining area is fitted with typical iron and glass garden furniture, placed on a gravel floor. The space is surrounded by plants and animals, too, like the birds in the aviary and friendly dogs scurrying about. The rose garden is its al fresco dining area with two tables surrounded by rose plants and overlooking a view of the city. The fine dining section is located on the second floor, furnished with antique furniture originally from the owner’s family hacienda.
Since it’s situated on the side of the hill, the property goes down deep, about four floors down, divided into sections and levels like the herb garden, salad garden, citrus garden, an Igorot garden, the pottery/playground area, the animal cages, and a cottage exclusive to family and friends.
Apart from its charming setting, the food is the reason why people come back. The food here is not just delicious but actually good for you because the restaurant uses mostly organic ingredients that the chef grows herself in the garden. So expect pesticide free vegetables, hormone free meat, and GMO free fruits.
Chef Jison took up courses at the Culinary Institute of America and Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, France. She previously owned two boats, rented out by different organizations, where she also worked as executive chef. She is now settled in at Mother’s Garden with her partner Heinrich Maulbecker, the former general manager of The Manor and the Hyatt.
According to chef Jison, she put up this place to create a small oasis in a city that condones bad urban development. While some greenery on the mountains still remain untouched, most areas in the city have been lost to over development. The restaurant reminds chef Jison of their family hacienda in Negros and her father’s family’s rice farm in Nueva Ecija. Coming from a family of planters, growing an organic garden came naturally to her.
Through the help of organic agriculturist Dr. Jose Balaoing, chef Jison was able to put up a flourishing garden. She has even extended her organic practices to her gardener Roy, who converted their own farm into an organic one, assisted by chef Jison. His farm, located at the lower areas of Benguet where more produce and livestock flourish, is the main source of ingredients for the restaurant.
“The chicken don’t grow very well in Baguio that’s why we grow our chicken and ducks at lower levels. The pigs are not fat because we make them run around. We feed them with grass and vegetable leftovers,” she says. “It takes a long time to plant that is why most commercial farmers use hormones to make them grow fast. Our food takes time to grow.”
During our three-day visit, chef Jison served us unforgettable meals that are both healthy and delicious. She first welcomed us with cocktails, a glass of champagne, fresh organic strawberries with cream, sardines on arugula, pear wrapped in ham, and homemade sun dried tomatoes. At dinner, she served fresh Greek salad, incredibly rich lentil soup with homemade chorizo, organic steak with burgundy sauce served with mashed potatoes and carrots, and this were all paired with a glass of Musso, a Spanish organic red wine.
The next day the breakfast is composed of fresh fruits, strawberries and cream, a tub of kesong puti (fresh cheese) with fresh herbs, fluffy pancake, bacon, and homemade sausage. I accompanied my breakfast with turmeric tea since I refrain from drinking coffee as much as possible.
After breakfast she toured us in her garden. She has an herb garden that grows lavender that blooms (very rare in the country), fennel, dill, rosemary, basil, etc. The salad garden is where hard to grow produce thrive like celery, rhubarb, kale, radish, and different kinds of lettuce.
Raspberry also thrive in her garden as well as lemons that bear huge lemons. Chef Jison’s garden is also home to several animals including a ram (named Hansel), pot bellied pigs, miniature chicken, rabbits, an injured eagle, wild hogs, and pigs.
For lunch, we picked from the regular menu. The pasta dishes are highly recommended like the Mediterranean chicken on a bed of spaghetti in red sauce with zucchini; and also the piccata milanese, fried pork cutlets served on a bed of spaghetti neapolitana. We paired the pasta with freshly squeezed lemonade made from lemons picked from the garden.
Chef Jison says that the restaurant changes its menu based on the available ingredients of the season—cold and wet season (July to October), cold and dry season (November to February), and summer (March to June). So expect different dishes every season.
Dinner that night was extra special, the chef cooked lechon de leche in her Greek oven. The roasted organic pig was less fatty and fall-off-the-bone meat tender. She cooked it Bacolod style, using lemon grass and pandan to flavor the pig. The lechon was accompanied by red rice, pinaputok na hito, flavorful pho, and crispy Thai spring rolls. We finished the meal with leche flan served on top of a sesame seed brittle disc.
The next morning, before leaving, we had our final breakfast and one of the best meals of the trip. Organically grown daing na bangus from San Juan in La Union, homemade longganisa, scrambled egg, and garlic red rice. We ended the meal on a sweet note with cubes of fresh mango.
Chef Jison ultimately hopes that someday, more farmers would choose the organic ways and more people consume organic food. “I’m doing something I like. Even my son would come in and eat. I’m happy because he’s not going to get sick. I am teaching the next generation how important this is. The delight of the person eating it, it’s worth giving them something organic.”
Read my Manila Bulletin Lifestyle article here.
Mother’s Garden, Upper Fairview Road, Quezon Hill Proper, Baguio City / +6374 424 3702, +63917 8693623, +63921 9776027 / Facebook/mothersgardenbaguiocity