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Baguio’s secret garden

A restaurant up in the mountains brings back the charm of the country’s summer capital


Text and Images by Angelo G. Garcia

Tucked in a residential area on Quezon Hill is a garden restaurant that makes crowded Baguio City look less, well, crowded. A charming oasis in the quickly urbanizing city in the clouds, this restaurant is a reminder that not all of Baguio has been lost to busy tourist traps and bad urban development. It’s a place where you can eat in quiet or peacefully savor a cup of coffee or walk in its organic garden while enjoying the cool breeze the city is famous for.

Mother’s Garden is a restaurant like no other, in Baguio at least. Owned and operated by chef Therese Jison, the restaurant is one of only a handful of eateries in the city that serve organic food in a very relaxing setting.

Coming from a family of planters, she grew up in Manila while visiting her paternal family in Nueva Ecija and their hacienda in Negros. Thus her love for growing things came in early. She wanted to capture her childhood in a place where she could enjoy her craft in the kitchen and a place to call home.

  • Chef Therese shows her salad garden

  • The main dining are filled with plants

  • The luscious herb garden

  • Raspberry grows abundantly in the garden

  • Radish from the salad garden

  • Huge lemon

  • Different species coexisting in one habitat

  • Mother’s Garden Salad

  • Welcome cold cuts, champagne, and fresh strawberries

  • Organic bangus with garlic red rice

  • Piccata Milanese

  • Atmosphere the fine dining interior is fitted with antique furniture from Chef Therese’s family hacienda

    In 2009, she acquired a 2,000-square-meter family property in Baguio. The land was originally bought by her mother. Chef Therese recalls  that the first time she saw the property, it was overrun by illegal settlers. After winning a couple of court battles, she finally reclaimed the land and started to do something with it. She initially built a small cottage with a garden and some animals at the sloping property. Pretty soon, she and partner Heinrich Maulbecker, former general manager of the Hyatt and The Manor, gave in to their friends’ request to put up a restaurant.

    “Baguio used to be something you remember as this nice place to go to, not too many people and really cool. It’s not like that anymore. We have to do something about the place. I’ve got a lot of advice and help. When they see that you’re sincere, and they try to give you advice, do it this way, that way. Thus the birth of Mother’s garden,” the 69-year-old chef says.

    Her philosophy in food and methods in the kitchen came from studying courses at the Culinary Institute of America and Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, France. Before settling in Baguio, she previously owned boats that served different organizations where she also served as executive chef. Chef Therese thought that country’s summer capital was the perfect place to do something more “natural.”

    “I’m practicing what my professors taught me. I do not have to make things up or correct something else, because it’s what I learned, it’s there. They didn’t say use organic, use what is available. Now that it’s organic, it tastes even better,” she explains. “Mother’s Garden is the pioneer among garden restaurants in Baguio. We serve food mostly coming from our garden and farm, which are grown organically.”

    In the property, she grows her own produce through the help of her garden consultant Dr. Jose Balaoing, who has a PhD in Organic Agriculture. The restaurant has its own herb garden that grows hard to cultivate herbs like lavender and basil, while dill, fennel, rosemary, oregano, and more flourish beautifully in a small greenhouse. The salad garden, on the other hand, grows lettuce, celery, radishes, kale, rhubarb, leeks, arugula, just to name a few. Berries and fruits also thrive in her small garden like raspberry and lemon. The garden is also home to livestock,  including pigs as well as other animals like a sheep (named Hansel), pot belly pigs, chicken, rabbits, an injured eagle, and several dogs.

    To keep up with the demand, Chef Therese opts to provide her gardener Roy funds to maintain a farm 45 minutes away from the restaurant. Located on the lower side of the mountains, the farm is the main source of ingredients for the restaurant. The farm raises more livestock like ducks and chicken, it grows a variety of vegetables too and Baguio favorite, strawberries.

    “The chickens 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. There’s a place in Pangasinan that plants non-GMO corn. The pigs love to eat corn even the stalks,” 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.”

    The restaurant’s cuisine ranges from Filipino to Southeast Asian to Italian to French. It is divided to two sections, the casual dining at the main dining floor and the fine dining section at the upper floor, which is for reservations only. Chef Therese changes the menu every season, based on what’s locally available, during cold and wet season (July to October), cold and dry season (November to February), and summer (March to June).

    Must try on the casual dining menu is the restaurant’s fresh salads including Mother’s Garden Salad which is made of freshly picked vegetables and flowers with a choice of creamy or light dressing. The pasta dishes are customer pleasers like the Mediterranean chicken, spaghetti noodles in tomato based sauce with zucchini and topped with pan-fried organic chicken fillet, and piccata milanese, fried pork tenderloin nuggets with Parmessan breading served with spaghetti Neapolitana. Other standouts are the pho or Vietnamese beef noodle soup, the Thai crispy spring rolls, lentil soup with homemade chorizo sausage.

    For the fine dining menu, diners have an option of requesting for certain dishes like the organic lechon de leche. The roasted pig is prepared Bacolod style with lemon grass and pandan leaves in the cavity and cooked in a Greek oven. Although less fatty, this is best eaten with a cup of organic red rice to lessen the guilt. Unlike casual dining food, which is prepared by the trained kitchen team, the fine dining menu is specially prepared by Chef Therese.

    What she is proud of the most is the  restaurant’s atmosphere. She accepts no more than 30 guests to dine at the restaurant, lunch or dinner. She says she wants to maintain the exclusivity of the place.

    “I wouldn’t accept more than 30 people, we close the gate, there is no way. I may sound a bit bad but I want to maintain the exclusivity of the place.The reason people come to us is because they know it has a relaxed atmosphere and you can spend the whole day here.  Sometimes I feel bad that I have to turn down some people but I have to maintain the reason people come here.,” she explains.

    According to Chef Therese, what families love about the restaurant the most is that there’s a lot more to do than just eat. Families can even avail of gardening and pottery lessons, and of course tour the gardens and animal pens. Organic gardening is her advocacy and she is happy she could teach it to others, including young hospitality students who train under her watchful roof.

    “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 it is. Seven to 21 days. The delight of the person eating it, it’s worth giving them something organic,” she ends.

    Mother’s Garden, Upper Fairview Road, Quezon Hill Proper, Baguio City / +6374 424 3702, +63917 8693623, +63921 9776027 / Facebook/mothersgardenbaguiocity

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    • Aling Kamagong

      There’s one like this setting “secret garden” restaurant in Berkeley, CA How I wish?