On La Chinesca’s distinctive visual branding amidst the competitiveness that’s ever-present in Manila’s food scene.
Words by Michelle V. Ayuyao
Portraits by Shaira Luna
“We nailed down La Chinesca’s concept in just one lunchtime hour,” shares Jae Pickrell, due to the fact that husband and chef Bruce Ricketts already had a clear vision of what he wanted the restaurant to serve: not classical Mexican food, but his take on the cuisine. “I’m after the feeling that I used to get when I would eat tacos in San Diego, rather than the exact taste of those tacos,” assures Ricketts.
On the visual end, Pickrell came up with a clear idea that resonated with her husband, as well as the vibe they both wanted to see in a restaurant. “Bruce and I established the story of La Chinesca right from the get-go, which was crucial in determining its design direction,” shares Pickrell, who lays down the visual foundation of their concept through prose: “We imagined a Mexican cook transplanted in Manila, who craves and cooks the food of his/her land using local ingredients, with techniques that are traditional and authentic to Mexican cuisine. S/he needed to be in a space filled with nostalgia and references to identity.” The shop channels this by means of Ricketts and Pickrell’s own personalities, which came together through close collaboration with Serious Studio…
The appeal of La Chinesca, apart of course from its food, is the way that it is utilitarian in space, without sacrificing image. “Good, effective design is a vital corollary to a good dining experience,” affirms Pickrell. Making a lasting first impression is pivotal for any business, more so those that are in the restaurant industry who contend with competitive peers. La Chinesca’s visual branding has managed to dip into personal aspects of Pickrell and Ricketts, and translate these into imagery that truly illustrates the restaurant’s culture.
Read the full case study, and learn about how individual personalities and decisiveness are advantageous in an industry that has a lack of them on The Serious Review Vol. 001: Outliers, out soon.
For now, enjoy the outtakes from our interview with the minds behind this landmark taco joint below.
Was it a conscious decision to set up shop in a modest space?
Bruce: Yes. The southern community, specifically BF Homes, has been so supportive since my Sensei days, and we felt that they would be receptive to a new concept. We knew we wanted to start small with few risks but make the brand scaleable.
La Chinesca’s food is creative yet anchored on tradition as opposed to being too progressive. Is this an idea carried out in other facets of running the place or did you decide to go another direction?
Bruce: La Chinesca’s food does not claim to be “authentic” because authenticity in cooking is such a slippery concept. What we do is interpret Mexican dishes and execute them with traditional Mexican techniques with a lot of respect for their original counterparts. While I do stamp my style on our dishes, we try not to stray too far from how they would taste and be made in Mexico. After all, comfort food rarely tends to stray from what’s familiar.
What brands related to the food industry inspire you right now, and why?
Jae: It’s so far from the bold heartiness of Mexican fare, but there’s nothing that inspires us more than Japanese cuisine, specifically its obsession with mastery of technique.
How’s the dynamic of being partners like as you continue working on La Chinesca? What has changed since?
Jae: It was a great deal of fun collaborating with my husband. We nailed down La Chinesca’s concept in just one lunchtime hour because he knew exactly what he wanted to serve, and luckily I tossed him a vision that he felt embodied the vibe of what the restaurant needed to be. Working in the kitchen together though was a different story, especially when we opened our second branch in a mall and had to deal with an insane amount of customers. We definitely struggled at the beginning, but we learned how to bank on our individual strengths and fill in the gaps in each other’s weaknesses.
What are your future plans for La Chinesca? What about for the two of you—personally and/or professionally?
Jae: We’d definitely like to build a third branch or an offshoot concept called La Chinesca Cantina, which would serve more than just tacos, small plates and tostadas. After that, we’d like to dream up a new restaurant from the stable of Bruce’s ideas.
The Serious Review Vol. 001: Outliers is out now. Get it here.