Michael—or Miko, as he is known by most—Aspiras is fearless, and rightfully so. He has managed to cement a place for himself in the culinary industry, all thanks to his clever concoctions, admirable sense of determination, and years of hard work. However, he will be the first to say that the rate of the growth he experienced over the past 10 years is a tad overwhelming.
His competitive spirit dates to his university days, when he was taking up a degree in Hotel, Restaurant, and Institution Management at the De La Salle-College of St Benilde. Always one to challenge himself (he was studying to be a chef in the hot kitchen and knew very little about baking), Aspiras joined a cheesecake competition in his sophomore year, and won. Inspired, he signed up for a string of dessert competitions, and ended up performing very well in all. “In retrospect, I see it as the universe’s way of telling me that I was meant to be a pastry chef,” says Aspiras.
After working on several projects with his mentor, veteran chef Sau del Rosario (“He taught me the basics of baking”), Aspiras joined the hotel industry, creating impressionable desserts for EDSA Shangri-La Hotel, Resorts World Manila, and Raffles and Fairmont Hotels. Later, he made the decision to venture out on his own, opening Scout’s Honor and the first branch of Le Petit Soufflé, both in Century City Mall. “Shifting industries was eye-opening,” he shares. “It’s much harder when you’re in charge. I’m just lucky I have partners who give me free rein to go against the norm and put these quirky dishes on the menu.”
Competing continued to play a large role in his evolution as a chef. Relying on experience and instinct, he garnered wins in contests such as the Philippine Culinary Cup, HOFEX, and the World Association of Chefs’ Societies Congress in Korea. In 2016, he was named Manila Chef of the Year at Madrid Fusión.
“Being part of Madrid Fusión will always be one of the biggest highlights of my career,” Aspiras shares. “Up to now, I still don’t have the words to describe how it felt to be up there with chef Joan Roca, one of my heroes.”
These days, Aspiras has his hands full. He is currently operating eight restaurants while preparing for upcoming openings and expansions (an updated menu for Scout’s Honor and an avant-garde donut café are in the pipeline for 2017) that cover the next two years.
His latest pastry-centric venture—one which he would call his dream project—is Workshop Bespoke Bakery, which shares a space with Le Petit Soufflé at the SM Mega Fashion Hall. While Le Petit Soufflé is a showcase of his talents in the hot kitchen, Workshop is a showcase of his best baking experiments: traditional favourites updated with creative twists.
“Here at Workshop, everything is custom-made to fit different palates,” Aspiras says. “We put on our thinking caps and create things that you wouldn’t be able to find anywhere else.”
Canelés are given a whole new dimension with an infusion of matcha filling. Almond croissants are baked with a unique blend of spices for an interesting twist. The 17 Layer chocolate layers enrobed in 70 per cent Guanaja chocolate glaze and the Basque Burnt Cheesecake, a light and fluffy take on a long-time favourite, enhanced by a scorched caramelised top, are certified crowd pleasers. And though diners’ favourites will be mainstays on the menu, everything else is subject to change, depending on Aspiras’ tastes.
The Bigger Picture
Though he has accomplished so much in a relatively short span of time, Aspiras acknowledges that there is still a lot of work to be done. If one would ask him what he hopes to accomplish in the next five years, he would confidently say he has plans for the next 20. He has been planning for the long-term since he started, and this has been working well for him so far. “The ultimate dream would be to bring my brand abroad and make everyone proud of the Filipino talent,” he adds. “I don’t ever want to set limits for myself.”
Being a pastry chef, it is vital to him that dessert becomes more approachable, especially to the Filipino palate. He feels duty-bound to educate his countrymen by helping to develop an appreciation for pastry through his creations, which, for him, remains to be an ongoing process.
“Though we are a society that loves sweet things, we’ve yet to reach the point where we are 100 per cent ready to fully embrace dessert,” he shares. “Despite changing times, we are still in the introductory period; and only a small percentage of the population truly appreciates dessert. People, up to now, say no to some of the things I’ve made. However, this only encourages me to keep going, to push boundaries by bringing a different experience to the table. I don’t like taking the easy path. Let’s shake things up a little.”