Growing up, home cook and recipe developer, Anton Miranda, relished in being surrounded by nature and being outdoors in his hometown, Balanga, Bataan. You may know him from his delicious and inventive cookies which you can find at the Old Boy Bakery's instagram page — we absolutely love the Classic Chocolate Chip! We recently sat down with Anton to discuss his (tedious) r&d process, cooking styles, morning rituals, how he got into cooking and how he keeps it all in balance.
Q&A with Anton Miranda:
Q: What was it like growing up in Balanga, Bataan?
A: Growing up in Bataan, much more rural than it is now, really influenced a lot of my hobbies, interests, even the career I’ve chosen as well as my long-term plans for the future.
Living here for most of my childhood gave me a deeper sense of appreciation for nature and the outdoors and in turn, their significance in making food. It’s the little things—weekly trips to beaches just minutes away, riding horses in my lolo’s farm, opening car windows and driving past rice fields on the way to school, most weekends spent with my dogs at the park cause we didn’t have any fancy malls or arcades like they did in Manila, etc., that’ve left their lasting imprints on me.
Q: How did your hometown influence your love for cooking?
A: The fact that this is where I first set foot in a kitchen was a huge influence. I’ve always loved eating food and seeing the place where it was made and wanting to be a part of that process as early as age four really set the tone for the rest of my foray into cooking. It eventually became my playground and I found myself staying in our home kitchen more than any part of our house.
My mom also taught me the importance of going to the public market (something I still do myself up to this date and recommend others do as well) at a young age. When you do that, you get to see how fresh ingredients can be and then you start asking yourself, “where did this come from?”, “what makes this unique?”, “what can I make with this?”, etc. It’s one thing to create a dish and another to understand the individual components of what makes a dish.
Q: What are some of your favourite Batangueno dishes?
A: 1. Itlog ng kapak (sea mullet roe) – These are the leftover roe sacs of kapak or sea mullet, after they’ve been smoked. They look like little cream-colored pellets, have a grainy texture, and taste mostly briny with a slight smokiness. Traditionally, you would just sauté them in oil with onions, garlic, and tomatoes.
2. Tamales – Unlike Mexican tamales, these are made with rice flour, coconut milk, and ground peanuts, then topped with flaked chicken meat, hard-boiled egg, and/or shrimp. Instead of corn husks, they’re wrapped in banana leaves and steamed.
3. Okoy – In Bataan, we make our okoy thick with relatively large pieces of shrimp (never with krill), with the head and shells still on. The version I grew up eating had squash and sweet potato but my favorite has to be the family recipe of my childhood friend, Sam, who is also from Bataan. Her family makes theirs with the same large shrimp, onions, and potatoes, held together with a seasoned batter tinged orange with annatto oil.
Q: Where did you train?
A: I usually gain credibility when I tell people that I went to culinary school for two and a half years for college (I dropped out midway) but really, most of what I know is just from non-stop cooking as early as age four. My parents didn’t spend much time at home and preferred eating out and I usually didn’t like the food our helpers cooked; it was usually canned or frozen processed food, so I really had to cook most of my meals and still do until now. I read a lot of books, watched a lot of shows, attended a bunch of classes as well growing up, but I feel that the best learning comes from being in the kitchen and just doing, making mistakes along the way, you’ll make plenty, and trying to get better—it never stops! When I entered culinary school, it was all about refining those skills, being more efficient, and training towards being part of a professional kitchen—something I realized I didn’t wanna be part of. I am first and foremost a home cook, not a chef.
Q: What is a dish that best represents you?
A: My recipe for fried chicken. I love American food and feel that there’s so much more to it than what people give it credit for. When you look at it from a regional perspective, you realize how diverse and interesting it is, how it’s more than just the fast food and unhealthy, overly processed junk it’s heavily associated with. Learning about it on a deeper level has also made me see how similar it is to Filipino food as well as its influences on our cuisine.
Q: We love your cookies! What inspired you to start your pastry business, Old Boy Bakery?
A: Just before quarantine started, I was already finishing up a brand of jarred/packed food inspired by my love for regional American cuisine and our local ingredients. These products would then be consigned in specialty food stores and sold in bazaars, fairs, etc. Quarantine happened, and I realized launching it right smack in the middle of this pandemic wasn’t the best idea. For three months, I was just at home mostly playing around in the kitchen but it didn’t really feel right not bringing in anything monetary to the table. At the time, there was also an influx of online home bakers selling their goods. Some of them were random friends who I never associated with baking (or even food, in general) and so I thought if these people can start selling their baked goods, maybe I had a shot at this as well? Prior to starting Old Boy Bakery, I had already perfected recipes for my Chocolate Chip, Miss Lily, Good Shepherd, and Cowboy cookies but were just giving them away to friends at the time and so I started with those and it all grew from there.
Q: Tell us about your favourite items on the menu.
A: I’m very proud of my Chocolate Chip recipe as it’s the template I use for most of my other cookie recipes but my favorite item isn’t actually on the menu yet. It’s called the “Old Boy” cookie (the brand’s namesake) and it’s inspired by some of my favorite childhood treats growing up. It’s a Horlicks flavored dough with rice krispies mixed in and stuffed with mini marshmallows so it’s basically a malted milk cookie - Rice Krispie treat hybrid. Reason I can’t release it is cause I’ve yet to find a sustainable Horlicks supplier.
Q: What is your favourite ingredient to cook with?
A: Bacon fat. Before being turned off by all its unhealthy associations, try looking at it as a component to something instead of an individual ingredient. It’s fat from a piece of pork that has been patiently cured and smoked for a lengthy period of time. Besides richness, it instantly adds savoriness and smokiness to a dish—think of it as natural MSG. I’m not saying to drench every dish in bacon fat because just a bit of it goes a long way, whether you’re frying chicken, starting the base of a stew, or braising a pot of greens. Also, if we’re talking health, pork fat actually has a lot more nutrients than vegetable oil.
Q: Do you have any morning rituals?
A: My day always has to start with a glass of water, and then iced black coffee, but water always has to come first. After that first glass of water, I’m ready for anything whether it’s heading to the gym or fixing up work for Old Boy Bakery.
Q: What’s your favourite go-to meal for a healthy lunch or dinner?
A: I count my macros and so I try to reach a certain amount of protein a day. It’s a lot and since I only eat twice a day due to intermittent fasting, I try to maximize my protein intake through those two meals. It’s usually 150-250g of chicken breast fillet/breakfast steak marinated overnight in whatever I feel like putting together/what’s available in my fridge and pantry.
Q: Who are some of the people you look up to in this industry?
A: Two chefs I look up to and whose philosophies I admire a lot are Sean Brock of Husk, McCrady’s, & Joyland, and Dan Barber of Blue Hill. They’ve managed to merge the two concepts of cooking and agriculture so well and have so much respect for the ingredients they work with which I feel is a trait anyone who cooks/bakes should have. Locally, Margarita Fores is someone who also embodies those same values and it reflects very well in the food she serves at her establishments.
Q: How have you been managing your business through lockdown? Any tips for other entrepreneurs?
A: At the moment, we are a small team of two working in my home kitchen: my head baker, Realyn, and I. In the kitchen, I’m in charge of recipe development and quality control—I taught Realyn everything and am so proud that she can put out 360 cookies in a day without me even batting an eye. At the moment, I do everything that isn’t part of kitchen work: accounting, social media management, marketing, customer service, delivery, etc.
Q: What are your top 5 favourite ingredients
A: Home-cultured buttermilk, applewood smoked bacon,
Q: What would your advice be to aspiring entrepreneurs?
I’ve always been put off by the thought of business and until now, I still don’t feel comfortable calling myself an entrepreneur. I’m just a guy who loves to make food and wants to share his creations with others, it just so happens that I started selling them. Of course, I have to deal with the boring stuff like logistics, Excel spreadsheets, costing, etc. but at the end of the day, I realize all this goes back to being that guy who loves to eat and make food. That’s why I do what I do.
Places to eat in Bataan:
Ima’s Pamangan, Wanam
My knife after a good sharpening, fish spatula, Lodge 10-inch cast iron skillet, Staub enameled cast iron Dutch oven, Microplane
Books to read:
South: Essential Recipes and New Explorations by Sean Brock,
Quality kosher/sea salt, garlic, Louisiana-style hot sauce, smoked pepper vinegar, munggo