Born and raised on the small island of Basco in Batanes, Philippines, Chef Brian Donato's upbringing was centered around food, family, and togetherness. Located in the northernmost part of the country, Basco's has less than 20,000 residents. In a climate consistently battered by typhoon, the population is tough and hard-working by nature. Their livelihood is centered around farming and fishing, so Brian grew up eating fresh, organic food in a very close-knit community. Each Sunday, his family would gather at the beach for a weekly picnic, where everyone was taught to help prepare a dish to share. Brian describes this event as simple, yet remarkable on each occasion - gathering together to enjoy food and nature in a beautiful setting. He was fortunate to experience and learn the trade from scratch, including fishing, cooking, preserving, raising animals, butchering, planting and harvesting. The combination of spending intimate time learning each step to ultimately sharing dishes with family during Sunday picnics, holidays, and celebrations brought Brian a great sense of happiness and inspired him to pursue cooking as a career. He attended both the Palm Nouveau School of Hospitality Management and International School for Culinary Arts and Hotel Management (ISCAHM) in Manila Philippines and has a diploma in Culinary Arts and Kitchen Management.
What is your favorite thing about Airlie?
I love the fact that Airlie supports local farms by using them as one of the main source of produce and meat. In addition, I love that we have our own organic garden and that all food served is made from scratch and organic.
Why do you love your job / cooking / creating new dishes?
I love my job /cooking, because it allows me to express my creativity and myself in any dish I make. It allows me to explore new ingredients, taste, cuisine and gives me a huge sense of satisfaction every time.
What’s your favorite book or magazine?
Professional Chef and Art Culinaire magazine. It keeps me up to date with the current culinary trends.
What’s your favorite vacation spot?
Basco, Batanes Philippines – Every time I go home I feel at peace with myself, it relaxes me knowing I’m surrounded by the people I love and it keeps me grounded to go back to where all this cooking passion started from. I also love it because it is close to nature - both the mountains and the beach are close by.
What is your favorite meal?
I don't have one favorite dish in particular, but I tend to explore more native traditional cuisine (Philippines).
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received and from whom?
"Take one step at a time and whatever you do in life and make it a true masterpiece."
- My mentor, Chef Michael Oberle
What would you do if you won $1 million in the lottery?
I would go back to school to enhance my knowledge and skills, help my family, and most definitely give a portion to charity for homeless feeding programs.
Who is your hero and why?
My Mom – I am who I am today because of her, I owe everything to her.