“It’s like a second home. It’s a home away from home, so everyone here trusts each other.”
That’s what Jake Cuenca thinks of each time he enters Agimat Foraging Bar & Kitchen, which he co-owns with his brother and friends. Agimat is located in Makati City’s newest hip and happening place, Barangay Poblacion. It serves Filipino food and drinks using uncommon to rare ingredients sourced from various provinces of the Philippines.
The actor, model, and now restaurateur’s connection with the business all started with friendship, which he believes is the best thing about it.
“My friends invited me to join in this one, so I said, ‘How could I say no?’” he tells StarStudio.ph during a recent visit. “These are people that I trust, known before I became an actor, people who have seen me since I was a kid. So, I said I want to be a part of this [because] I wanted to join this venture with my friends.”
A new venture
After venturing into the gym business a few years ago, Jake recently put up Agimat with the food establishment consultant and mixologist Kalel Demetrio. Kalel, who joins the Kapamilya star in our photo shoot and interview, explains that their bar’s name is its central theme. The word agimat is the Filipino equivalent of ‘amulet’, and is also known by other terms like anting-anting and bertud. It comes in myriad forms that can be worn like a necklace, drawn like a tattoo, or recited like a prayer inscribed on any flat surface.
As a mixologist, Kalel says he draws inspiration from that part of Filipino folklore in creating his signature cocktails for Agimat.
“The thing about the original anting-anting concept is lahat ‘yun, makukuha mo sa paligid mo,” he points out. “Para sa akin, Agimat uses the ingredients that you can find here in the Philippines na hindi kayang makuha sa ibang bansa.”
Kalel aims for Agimat to dig down deep into the heart of Philippine provinces in search of the rarest of ingredients to use for their food and drinks. That is the reason behind the changing of their menu every three months, with a certain province highlighted per quarter.
Being “fascinated with those ingredients” motivates him to search for more.
“I go out myself, I go to the mountains, I go to the jungle, I meet up with albularyo, people, farmers,” he narrates. “So, [I do] whatever it takes para makakuha ng ingredients na iba-iba… That’s why this concept was created because I need to highlight [the ingredients]. Right now, it’s Batangas… Sa bandang January, puro Ilocos naman… as long as ma-highlight namin ‘yung buong Philippines.”
Agimat’s concept began with the mixologist’s love for native ingredients, and through his interest in travel and history, he was able to discover ingredients rarely known to the average person. As a result, he’s also made connections in the farming industry and now helps the farmers create a demand for the ingredients he uses for his drinks.
“It’s about the ingredients and the culture,” he says. “Kaya, I’m trying to educate my people and the guests, as well. I want this bar to be experiential… Gusto ko mag-usap tayo."
Agimat’s drink menu revolves around five elements: fire, earth, water, air, and life. Each element adds its own unique touch to the cocktail. Fire does its magic during the preparation of the drink, such as grilling or cooking, until turning it into liquid. Earth represents ingredients grown from the ground, like ginger or sweet potatoes. Water is used when the bartender changes the consistency of the beverage, like frozen or chilled. Air utilizes liquid nitrogen, edible dry ice, and/or smoking gun in the process. Lastly, life constitutes all that are fermented in the ingredients used.
Kalel puts across what Agimat is all about, which is relying on your surroundings to create an original product. That is why he is thankful that his business partners Jake Cuenca (and chef Niño Laus), who, he believes, are visionaries and kindred spirits in caring not just for the business, but also for the future of agriculture in the Philippines.
For Jake, Agimat is more of a home rather than a business venture.
“I think the best thing [about Agimat] is that it started with friendship.” the actor-model says. “Here, it’s a home away from home. I never stepped into that door and felt like I’m out of place. I can just be myself. When I say myself, I can be myself when I was a kid in front of my friends…I have nothing to hide from my partners here. They’ve seen me grow up, they’ve seen me become an actor, they’ve seen my journey ever since, as in the journey from day one. So, it’s a sanctuary.”
For him, his sanctuary serves the most unique products he has ever tasted. With every menu changing, he guarantees that the food and drink served here are something you’ve never tried before.
Despite his background in business, Jake does not see himself venturing into other resto-bars or gastropubs in the future for he has his sights set on other goals. For instance, going back to acting school. This decision came on the heels of his widely acclaimed theater debut last September in the Sandbox Collective and 9 Theatrical Works’ staging of British playwright Duncan Macmillan’s one-act play, Lungs. Jake has earned two nominations, for best actor in a play and best crossover artist, from the theater website Broadway World Philippines.
Jake on the stage of Lungs. Photo from Instagram (@juancarloscuenca).
Jake would like to broaden his knowledge of the art of acting, and this time, he’s chosen London, where the famed theater district of West End is found. The first time around, in 2015, he chose to study in New York, at the Lee Strasberg Theater and Film Institute.
The year 2018 couldn’t even be better for Jake. For starters, he’s pleasantly surprised that ABS-CBN had given him two shows. When Ikaw Lang Ang Iibigin ended its eight-month run last January, the actor went straight to another teleserye, The Blood Sisters, which ran from February to August. Then his current show, Los Bastardos, premiered on October 15.
“Sobrang blessed [ako] and I really pray every day and just say thank you kasi it’s so unexpected,” he says in reflection. “I don’t take it for granted. I know that they’ve given me all these things and I’m getting all these things because of the hard work that I put in.”
That is why Jake wants to give back by going back to acting school. “I need to go back to school because if they’re giving me this much [trust], then my audience deserves nothing less but another original set of performances.” he explains. “So, I said to myself na I’m really, really decided that when I finish all of these things, I’m going to go back to school. And then when I come back, then I’m going give a totally new Jake Cuenca again, a totally new set of characters different that they’ve never seen before.”
Jake doesn’t rely on an agimat or anting-anting to attract success—as he knows he’s got everything and everyone he loves in Agimat, a sanctuary that is, by far, witnessing the best that the actor could possibly be.
Scroll down for photos to see why Agimat should be your next nightout place.
Photography by Stephen Capuchino
Art Direction by Ian Reyno
Shoot Assistants: Tony Valete, Ryan dela Cruz, and Migs Broño