Balay Puti Sizzles Back to Life


The stately alabaster elegance of Balay Puti (White House) brings new energy to the quiet Calle Ledesma, a heritage lane in Silay City, Negros Occidental. Balay Puti has reopened as a restaurant, Stephen’s at Balay Puti. A brave new venture while the world still reels from the pandemic, Stephen’s at Balay Puti relishes the refurbished mansion’s immaculate white interiors as a fitting canvas for Chef Stephen Escalante’s delectable, comforting creations.

The Adela Locsin Ledesma Mansion now known as Balay Puti commands attention on Calle Ledesma, Silay City.

Originally built around 1920 as the family home of Emilio Ledesma and his wife Rosario Locsin, the house was bequeathed to their only daughter Adela who lived here, unmarried and without heirs, until her death in 2012. Since then, the property has changed hands twice, but still bought and sold well within the Ledesma-Locsin clan.

This neo-classical mansion was erected in the pre-war era when Silay families had a penchant for having their homes and commercial buildings done by European architects. Both the neighboring San Diego Pro-Cathedral and the Ledesma-Locsin mansion were designed by Italian architect Lucio Bernasconi.

The white-hot Balay Puti reopens with a fine dining restaurant.

The heritage house has recently undergone a makeover with Balay Puti as its moniker. Balay Puti is a notable benchmark for adaptive reuse, a conservation strategy introduced in the mid-70s. This concept encourages owners of heritage homes to find new functions for their properties. It caught on in the Philippines much later, a necessary rescue from shortsighted attempts at bulldozing heritage and paving paradise, if you will.

Balay Puti is refurbished with sleek design details that deliberately speak of the Negrense lifestyle. For one, the glass door at the foyer that leads to the restaurant has decals in sugarcane patterns.  The indoor wooden floors were acquired from an old house. Meanwhile, at the balcony, the designers retained the original flooring of black and white diamond Machuca tiles.

A palatial staircase and brilliant design details like the sugarcane decals on glass doors greet you at the Balay Puti foyer.

An iconic feature of Balay Puti is a palatial staircase that leads to a now non-existent second floor.  This used to be a roof deck with a garden and a laundry area, says Solo Locsin, who led the Balay Puti restoration team before the pandemic. The original occupants, Solo shares, would seal the drain so the roof deck becomes a large swimming pool. Solo collaborated with his cousin, Ar. Eduardo Locsin Ledesma, who designed the new Balay Puti with fresh and subtle Negrense sensibilities.

Save for a few paintings and the chartreuse accents of its restaurant chairs, the design aesthetic of Balay Puti matches Chef Stephen Escalante’s kitchen philosophy that favors the Japanese way of cleanliness and simplicity. Chef Stephen insists on serving food that is flavorful, fuss-free, and downright delicious, more than the affectations of say, molecular gastronomy. This conviction comes from his training at the American Hospitality Academy in California and the International School for Culinary Arts and Hotel Management in Manila. Chef Stephen has also had a breadth of experience in the kitchens of the Hotel Intercontinental, Crowne Plaza, Mandarin, and Sala, a classic European fine dining restaurant.

Al fresco dining at Stephen's at Balay Puti.

Stephen’s at Balay Puti then is positioned as a dining destination one wouldn’t mind hieing off to, because of the promise of good food and great ambiance. This combination has arguably become rare, with the mushrooming of Instagrammable spots that only serve fried forgettables on the menu.

“Ang picture malimtan mo, pero ang namit nga pagkaon, indi (You’d easily forget photos of food, but delicious food, not so),” the 36-year-old chef quips.

Prior to leasing Balay Puti to run the restaurant, Chef Stephen had found good opportunity at the height of the pandemic, with his food delivery business called “Low and Slow”.  This came as a blessing in disguise for the young gentleman whose career as a chef had been stalled when an accident brought a severe injury on his spinal cord, causing his paralysis.

But with the encouragement and guidance of two uncles, one of whom is a life coach to Nike’s Phil Knight and Apple’s Tim Cook, along with the full support of his family, Chef Stephen gained the courage and mind shift to re-launch himself.

Commanding from his wheelchair in the slick, modern kitchen set-up at Balay Puti, Chef Stephen instructs his cooks and assistants to prepare classic entrees inspired from his travels. Some of the must-tries are the steak sandwich, empanadas, tacos, Peruvian chicken, and truffle pasta. His fries and breads are home-made, and most of his ingredients are locally sourced.

Chef Stephen Escalante runs the fine dining restaurant at Balay Puti.

But as eclectic as his menu is, Chef Stephen asks the Negros Season of Culture crew: “Kabalo ka ano favorite ko nga food? (Do you know what my favorite food is?)”

“Adobo!” He then issues a litany of other favorites: uga (dried fish), pangat (taro leaves cooked in coconut milk), among other simple fare best heaped with rice.

Looking back, when Chef Stephen first scouted the white-walled property in August 2021, he felt that his dream kitchen comeback and Balay Puti are a “match made in heaven.” Even his no-nonsense favorites mirror the sensible simplicity of Balay Puti.

As his eponymous restaurant steadily gains ground, Chef Stephen has much to teach. To those who are stuck or starting, he says, “Always go to the place which scares you the most.... (then) you will not live life half-heartedly.” Take that from someone who, suffering from a bad spine, is hardly ever spineless.

Text By: Kimme Santiago
Photos and Video By: Unit A Creatives

Design and Architecture

Cultural Experience

Art and Craft