Claude Tayag, chef and watercolor artist

Not only a chef and writer, Claude Tayag is also a painter specializing in watercolors. Photos by Claire Mercado-Obias

By Claire Mercado-Obias

Claude Tayag is best known as a chef specializing in Kapampangan cuisine. Bale Dutung, the restaurant that he runs with his wife Mary Ann, is a coveted dining destination in Angeles City. It is here where he hosted Anthony Bourdain for a Filipino cuisine episode on the show “No Reservations” back in 2009.

Claude Tayag is also a writer. He is a columnist for The Philippine Star and author of culinary-themed books namely, Food Tour: A Culinary Journal (2006), Linamnam: Eating One’s Way Around the Philippines (2012), and the most recently published, The Ultimate Filipino Adobo: Stories Through the Ages (2023). 

While he has built a name bolstering Filipino food to the world stage, Claude Tayag is first and foremost an artist. He is a watercolor painter.

Ribbon cutting ceremony to open the exhibit is led by, from left, Consul General Senen Mangalile, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the Philippines to the United Nations Antonio Lagdameo, Mary Ann Quioc-Tayag, and Claude Tayag.

He has been painting since he was a child and it didn’t hurt that his father (writer and lawyer Renato “Katoks” Tayag) had a circle of renowned artist friends — Vicente Manansala, Andres Cristobal Cruz, Romulo Galicano among them. He has developed his style over the years and has exhibited his masterpieces in Asia, Europe, and the United States.

‘Sto. Nino, The Little Prince in Red,’ 2018

For the first time, his work is on display at the lobby of the Philippine Center in New York and will run until May 12, 2023. The show “Claude Tayag Water Colors” is composed of 22 pieces demonstrating his range from portraits to still life.

At the exhibit opening, Claude recounted his journey: “Why watercolor? Just like any typical kid, if you give him a piece of paper and Crayola or Guitar watercolor set, it’s the cheapest form of babysitting. Wala pang gadgets, noon. I grew up in the 1960s and we didn’t have a television at home, we didn’t have commercial toys, and since I’m the ninth of 12 children, most of our clothes were hand-me-downs. But we never lacked activities at home. We had each other as playmates. We were our own barkada. We would play patintero sa labas, drawing-drawing sa loob. We were always preoccupied. Watercolor, it has become for me, child’s play. Until I grew up and met those artists and painters. At 12 years old, that was my eureka moment. That’s what I want to be when I grow up. And that’s the path I followed.”

‘T’boli Musician,’ 2018

Watercolor is the creative practice he nurtured even as he explored other disciplines like sculpture and furniture design. 

“What I love most about watercolor is the spontaneity. Watercolor is one of the most difficult medium to explore, to master, for that matter. These paintings represent 30 years of my love affair with watercolor, the passion, my love for it did not diminish over the decades,” he added.

Painting and cooking are a happy marriage in Claude’s life.

He said, “People started asking, which came first, the art or the food as a chef? Hindi ako chef. Hindi ako nag-aral. It came up naturally being a Kapampangan and being a Tayag (known for our hearty appetites). My approach sa pagluluto is no different from my painting. Iba lang yung medium. But instead of watercolor paints and watercolor paper or oil on canvas, [you use] ingredients. You approach it in the same way, [starting with] an empty plate. How will you compose it? How will it look pretty using ingredients and color combinations? In 1988, I was invited by the late Larry Cruz in one of his restaurants to interpret my paintings into edible art. That’s how I approached anything that I did.”

“My advice to the younger generation who aspire to be artists: Follow your heart. The art will come,” he concluded.

Let Claude Tayag’s work transport you back to the Philippines, from still life paintings of Filipino fruits, the santos in our old churches, our festivals like the Moriones and Ati-Atihan, the portraits of the T’boli, and some nostalgic landscapes. 

His nationalistic pride is infectious, whether through food or in the art he creates.

Claire Mercado-Obias is a writer, food stylist, and pastry chef based in New Jersey.

© The FilAm 2023

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