The first time I went to Ugu Bigyan's place was almost 15 years ago, with my photographer sister who had come to know of him when she had to shoot him for an article. She had arranged for a group of her friends to have lunch at "this potter's place which serves a really delicious Pinoy food". We went for the day, and even then, we found the 3-hour balikan trip to be enjoyable even if a bit tiring.
Imagine my surprise then to walk into the same place last week. The frontage was the same as before but the grounds are now with "materiales fuertes" structures, tastefully done and beautifully landscaped. Gone were the kubo shacks and benches, although they were already tastefully done then, they were much more rustic.
The food is still delicious, but more sosyal now. For 500 pesos per person, we had halaan soup, pako salad, tahong omelet, prawns with garlic, chunky country-style ribs, a whole fish with mango salsa and the house specialty, kulawong puso ng saging. I forgot to shoot all the other dishes, sayang.
My good friend was surprised to find out that Ugu's full name was Augusto. My other friend, the one who had been hearing about Ugu from me and my sister for many many years now, was surprised to find out he was a person!! Eegads, she thought he was a 'brand', or a name of a place! Goes to show you that my friends don't really listen to me!
Anyway, we asked the waiter where Ugu was and the waiter said Ugu was in the kitchen actually doing all the cooking! I don't know which of his skills overshadow which. He is the architect of his place, he is the chef, and of course he is first and foremost a potter. A real artiste!
When he approached our table, I introduced myself and he enthusiastically asked about my sister. I told him she had given up photography for good, packed her life and is now in Sydney, slaving away, este, cooking at a restaurant--and totally enjoying the experience. He gave me a knowing smile and told me to give her his regards, he remembers her well.
Ugu's pottery is not inexpensive but there are a few times in the year when he puts things for sale. One of them is during his birthday in--guess what month--August of course. On this date, he gives a discount equivalent to his age! This year that might be about 48%. But you have to get there really early. Boots Alcantara of Casa San Pablo told us that he woke up at 6 am for the sale, but his wife thought he was overdoing it. She asked him to wait for her so he took a leisurely breakfast and basically hung around his place (30 minutes away in Laguna) until 9 am. When they got there, the row of parked cars could've reached the next barangay! Okay, my own hyperbole there. But Boots continues to say there was a shopping frenzy, almost everything was gone, and sales had reached the 7-figure mark by the time they got there.
Good thing I have a number of Ugu pieces already and don't feel the need to shop, or to make that trek in August. But it was nice to see Ugu looking so relaxed and content in his pottery garden. He said he renovated the place three years ago when Patis Tesoro asked him to join an association of establishments that would be marketed as the "Viaje del Sol"--in an effort to bring tourism to this part of the country. It really is great marketing and I wish there were more Patis Tesoros who find fulfillment in an effort like this. During our trip, we visited 2 other Viaje del Sol member establishments and it was a wonderful experience for both adults and kids. Galeng!