Text and photos by Henrylito D. Tacio
His complete name is Jose Rizalino de Leon Torre. But among moviegoers, he is simply Joel Torre, one of the country’s finest actors. Today’s generation knows him as Teodoro “Teddy” Arevalo/Juan Verdad in the top-rated television series, “FPJ’s Ang Probinsyano.” He was also Soliman “Sol” Olivar in “On the Wings of Love.”
He is a year older than me and was born in Bacolod, Negros Occidental. He had his baptism of acting when he appeared in Lino Brocka’s Gumising Ka, Maruja, which was filmed in Bacolod in 1978. But it wasn’t until he appeared in Peque Gallaga’s Oro, Plata, Mata in 1982 that Filipinos really came to notice him.
Among his most recent popular movies include On the Job (2013), Baler (2008), Panaghoy sa Suba (2004), Batang West Side (2001), Tanging Yaman (2000), and Jose Rizal (1998).
He has appeared in Hollywood movies like The Bourne Legacy (2012), Captive (2012), Subject: I Love You (2011), Amigo (2010), DNA (1997), Olongapo: The Great American Dream (1987).
It was while promoting his movie, the historical period movie entitled Amigo (which was directed by Oscar-winning John Sayles and won him the Best Actor award at the 17th Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival) that I came to meet him personally. This happened during the Cinema Rehiyon 11 Film Festival in Davao City.
Since then, we became friends together. He is one of the few people who congratulate me whenever I win an award. From time to time, we send text messages if and when there are special events.
Most Filipinos don’t know that he and his wife Cristy are behind the famous JT’s Manukan Grille. This Negrense restaurant serves chicken inasal, batchoy, kansi, and other dishes from Bacolod.
In the beginning, Joel and Cristy were experimenting with various ways of marinating chicken that they learned from their respective parents and aunts. What they wanted was a grilled chicken that was only tasty but also succulent and fresh-tasting at all times.
After several studies, they thought they had perfected it. And so, they launched the inasal and some other recipes in a space at one of the properties of the Vera Perezes. What started as a small stall on Ortigas Avenue Extension in Quezon City in May 2003 has now blossomed into a full-service restaurant that is flourishing in almost big cities in the country.
One time, I got a message from him that he was coming back to Davao City. “Can you attend the launching of my restaurant in Davao?” I heard of such restaurants in Manila but never have a chance of going there whenever I am in the country’s busiest city.
Since I haven’t tried the authentic chicken inasal from Bacolod yet, I answered affirmatively. I never made it to the launching, but I did come on the following day.
When talking about why he started such a restaurant, Torre replied: “We love food and we love eating.” But seriously speaking, he thought of the business as a fallback, something he could do should he not be active in show business anymore.
“If you become older, your market value goes down,” he explained, adding that looking back, he made the right decision. “I had a certain talent fee as an actor,” he said. “Now, from my business, I got more cash than from being an actor.”
According to Torre, he sees to it that all his branches live by what he calls as 4 M’s. No, you’re wrong. It doesn’t stand for “matandang mayaman madaling mamatay.” But instead, it means: “masarap, mura, malinis, masaya.”
Let’s take a closer look at each:
Masarap: Meaning delicious, a term used to describe the Ilonggo dishes from Bacolod. “Our specialty dish, inasal, is deeply marinated chicken grilled to perfection,” its website pointed out, adding that it is grilled to a crisp on the outside, tender and juicy on the inside. “We cook it with care, well done, not rare,” it said. “One bite of it brings you to the City of Smiles.”
Aside from chicken inasal, the resto also offers kansi (beef bone marrow and vegetable soup) and batchoy (noodle soup). The latter is perfect for the rainy season. Other well-known dishes include isol (chicken ass) and sate babi (The Ilonggo version of the kebab).
Mura: No, it doesn’t mean cheap but affordable. “Meals start at P150 upward,” it said. “Definitely affordable for the whole family and barkada. If you’re looking for good food with an affordable price, JT’s Manukan is definitely the place to go.”
Malinis: People love to eat in those places, not only having an excellent menu but also clean. “(It) stands by the food’s quality,” the website said. “Our food is prepared with authentic ingredients, some even shipped all the way from Bacolod. We make sure that we serve healthy and fresh dishes that are brought to our customers with utmost care and love.”
Masaya: The Tagalog term for happy. “(The resto) has been a staple place for family occasions, dinner with friends and even romantic dates,” the website pointed out. “We have the right ambiance for you to enjoy good food as well as good conversations.”
Some branches have been opened in some tourist destinations like Boracay and Siargao in Surigao del Sur. “We cater to tourists, particularly foreigners, who are eager to get the Ilonggo dining experience without having to fly all the way to Negros,” Torre said.
Once tasted, always wanted, so goes a familiar saying. Perhaps the reason why people keep coming back is because of its taste. That’s why Torre says that he keeps a close eye on all his branches. Consistency, he believes, is the key when it comes to the food business. “If you’re consistent with your timpla, then people will keep coming back,” he said.