Cebu

Meet Riel Quijano, Cebu City’s ‘lightning chef’

John Sitchon
Meet Riel Quijano, Cebu City’s ‘lightning chef’

ALL NIGHT LONG. Riel Quijano spends the night working alone in a humble kitchen to serve more than 200 meals.

John Sitchon

Quijano works solo in Kusina ni Osting, serving more than 200 meals a night to graveyard shift workers and night crawlers

CEBU, Philippines – It is Cebu’s own midnight diner, known to graveyard shift workers and night crawlers as the place of “the lightning chef.”

In a small eatery along Fructuoso Ramos Street, 42-year-old Riel Quijano works solo from 6 pm to 4 am, going through four full boxes of canned goods – around 200 dishes – and serving other meals on the side.

“Kusina ni Osting” has become a humble icon since 2009, when Joji Monteron and his wife Ernelyn opened a small restaurant across Velez College and the Cebu Velez General Hospital, a tertiary facility.

They had a clear, simple focus: to provide less-than-P100 meals for residents struggling to get by. The kitchen’s name comes from Monteron’s youthful nickname on the online video game circuit.

As they went through the process of securing an extension permit, the couple decided to create a makeshift serving area that could be dismantled at the end of the work shift. 

This has also earned the establishment its nickname, “the vanishing chef’s kitchen.”

Quijano, Joji’s brother-in-law, came in 2011, leaving a job in a woodworking firm as the small eatery started getting more customers.

“I did not have much experience with cooking back then,” Quijano told Rappler in Cebuano.

The self-taught Quijano fell back on what he knew best: comfort food like pancit canton, corned tuna/beef, and eggs, cooked in the fastest way possible. 

It’s mostly sourced from processed food, but his clientele isn’t looking for gustatory adventures, just fast breaks to fortify bodies during work or sickness watch.

Welcome back cheers

Generations of students, medical workers, families of patients, and just anyone with reason to be up and about at midnight or the wee hours have become familiar through the years with Quijano’s “battlefield.”

Like other businesses, Kusina ni Osting shut its doors during the worst of the pandemic. When it reopened last March, customers cheered on social media.

Facing four burners, a masked Quijano spins right, then left, leans this way and that, as he preps four meals, cleans the cooking counter, and checks what’s happening in the spartan concrete space.

He smiles and nods at familiar faces, but it is the clanging of kitchenware that fills up the atmosphere.

Talk is subdued as tired workers concentrate on filling up their bellies and night crawlers gobble food to soak up the worst effects of alcohol.

Quijano waves away deep discussions about kitchen philosophies. 

“If I’m anything really, it’s just someone who will always make sure their meals are served fast and on time,” he told Rappler. – Rappler.com

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