S[h]ift: A thematic convergence of food, art, design (GMA News Online)

Croc paws

(This feature was published in GMA News Online last March 30, 2014)

I’ve had my fair share of restaurant visits and museum trips, but I haven’t been to an event where art, fashion, and food converge – well, not until I attended the launch of S[h]ift Project Art Space in Moderne Culinaire Academy (MCA).

MCA is the Philippines’ newest culinary school, managed by a team of young and talented chefs. It believes that bringing together expertise in various disciplines across different platforms could draw out the talents of Filipinos.

At the recent launch, S[h]ift showed how the school supports local talents by highlighting the works of several renowned artists.

Filmmaker Alvin Yapan and Chef Sau Del Rosario teamed up to create “The Cooking Show,” which is actually a deconstructed version of a television cooking show. They mounted some flat-screen sets on one wall and displayed a different angle on each screen.

Another highlight at the event was “8 Minutes” which exhibited the installation pieces of visual artist Ling Quisumbing Ramilo, Studio XYZ and Chef Edward Mateo.

But what grabbed my attention was the interactive performance of designer Brian Tenorio, Chef Dino Dizon, and DJ Nix Pernia. The trio presented the crowd with a show called “Burning with Design” that revealed Tenorio’s shoe designs alongside the culinary creations of Chef Dizon, and background music by DJ Nix.

The menu of “Burning with Design” began with some Red Sandals, which are crispy pasta sandals topped with spicy tuna tartare and scallions. The creative minds put together an interesting display that used a fish in an aquarium to go with the fun beach theme.

Another menu item that stood out was the Shoelami, where salami with cheese detailing was used in the design of a men’s shoe upper exterior. It was placed on a bed of rolled-up deli meat and looked both stylish and delicious. Throughout the unveiling of each menu item, DJ Nix accompanied it with rhythmic music where the beats were almost sensual.

Another bold menu item was the Corseted calves – pig knuckles shaped into corset boots and stuffed with spicy pig stew. Its striking shape and color made it one of the most memorable pieces of the night.

But the most shocking piece, however,  was the crocodile paw, which the artists entitled “Anatomy of Love and Hate.” Who wouldn’t be surprised with a crocodile’s jaw biting on a fine piece of shoe? Chef Dizon deep fried the croc paws and grilled the croc ribs and used these to violently frame Tenorio’s shoe piece called “Designing the Asshole,” which uses the least commercially used part of crocodile leather. According to the description of the piece, “The shoe design is a homage to Tenorio’s fiercest but fondest memories of someone (or several).”

The last shoe display involved Chef Dizon flambéing Tenorio’s favorite shoe design, as DJ Nix complemented it with a climax of beats and rhythm. The menu item is aptly called “There is a Fire Between Us”, as it demonstrated the chef’s perspective on when is a piece of design work done. Being a shoe lover, I almost cringed when I saw the chef put footwear on fire. But I supposed that kind of drama would be appreciated by most.

It was almost anti-climactic when the chef turned to the last part of the show, “Green Eyes Turn Red”, showcasing how absinthe and camote tops will turn from a green hue to a bold red one. The chef focused on the tower of cocktail glasses and poured a liquid that changed the color of the beverage.

I am no art or culinary expert, just a mere spectator, but  S[h]ift’s first thematic collaboration of food, art, and design did not disappoint. It was truly a feast for the senses as we were all treated to a visual and tasty banquet of unique flavors with ambient music to complete the unforgettable experience.

 

 

Adventure Advocates Push Travelers Out Of Their Comfort Zones (Homegrown.ph)

(This feature was published in Homegrown.ph last March 19, 2014)

How far would you indulge the wanderlust in you? Tara Let’s Go! Asia caters to those daring for something more exciting than the usual tours.

To debunk the misconception that travel is only for the rich people or those with high-paying jobs, Giancarlo Gallegos, created events where people could find innovative ways to earn funds for travel. In the process, he introduced the concept of “Random Road Trips” to encourage people to go out of their comfort zones and try something unplanned to prepare them for their own travels.

From that endeavor, Tara Let’s Go! Asia (TLG) was born.

Thrill-seekers in charge

“TLG is a travel movement,” revealed Gallegos who is also a writer, photographer, entrepreneur and online marketing expert. “I created a community where anyone who wishes to travel can collaborate and find support.”

Gallegos is a thrill-seeker who lives by the motto, “you only live once”, as he has always been the adventurous type. Three of the members of the TLG team are people he actually invited from couchsurfing.org, seeing them as like-minded individuals who share his passion for traveling.

With Jeffrey Lui, Charlotte Johansen, and Annabee Tiangson on the team, the group began to bring together other working professionals or 9-to-5 employees by offering them the opportunity to travel from briefcase to backpacks.

For Gallegos, who started traveling at a really young age, “My goal is to bring people together, encourage and teach on how to travel. It does not matter where you go. Just go. Go out and see the world, explore possibilities, challenge your beliefs, and best of all learn from the people and cultures you meet on the road.”

Spontaneous ideas

Since the group started with their mission, they were able to reach out to over 1,000 people. “Many of our 50 random road trippers have become best of friends and travel buddies. We hope to continue building that sense of community,” shared Gallegos.

TLG organizes road trips every month and the destinations are kept confidential, but most places are nearby Metro Manila. In the past, they have visited the provinces of Rizal, Bulacan, Pangasinan, Quezon, and Quirino. Such adventures are ideal for those who are willing to do something totally spontaneous and travel with strangers.

Because TLG is not a tour company, it doesn’t really follow the standard tours that include the usual tourist spots.

Gallegos explains, “In our random road trips, we make sure we go to the places we have never been, so we can look at the place with eyes of excitement and wonder. We have been so lucky in all our road trips. Our planning is basic but we had the privilege of discovering hidden gems, meeting national artists, saving sea turtles, swimming with glowing planktons, and meeting amazing locals.”

Destination: Unknown

The group believes that you are never too old or too young to travel, and it is never too late to travel as well, so they welcome participants from different age groups and different travel experiences. The common denominator of all participants is the love for traveling.

TLG takes care of fixing the itinerary and budget planning but they do not disclose the destination to the participants. For the participants, the destination, transportation, and people they’re with are all random.

“With each of our seminars, workshops, and Random Road Trips, we put considerable thought into making sure we give our participants the most value for money. We plan about all the things we want to teach and share, about the experiences we want others to have, make sure they’re safe and well fed, and basically make them have a spontaneously good time, especially with our road trips,” explained Lui.

Lui even disclosed that sometimes they—the organizers—have to step out of their comfort zones during those random trips. But he enjoys it because he found out that he gets to discover unknown places and see things with new eyes with this kind of unplanned spontaneity. Another nice thing about it is getting to form bonds with fellow travelers.

For those who crave for a different kind of travel experience, consider joining one of the Random Road Trips of TLG. However, there are no clues on where the next destination might be. Lui can only say, “You’re just gonna have to trust us to take you on a great adventure!”

Market Australia: Clean, green food selections from The Land Down Under (GMA News Online)

Some Aussie goodies in Metro Supermarket

(This feature was published in GMA News Online last March 17, 2014)

Whenever I go to the grocery, I make sure to pass by each aisle to see if there is a new item that I am interested to try, and most of the time something does catch my eye.

As much as possible, I try to avoid the junk food section and go for healthier options instead. I noticed that others have also become more health-conscious, getting into various diets and health trends. Since I’m not a fan of diets, I would rather focus on consuming nutritious foods that are good for the body, and wouldn’t mind even paying a premium for it.

The foodie in me, therefore, is delighted to have more choices that I could incorporate while creating home-cooked meals with the launch of Market Australia, a food and beverage festival that highlights diverse, high-quality products like produce, wine, beef, lamb, and cheese form The Land Down Under.

Welcome to Market Australia

During the launch of Market Australia, Australian Ambassador to the Philippines Bill Tweddell shared some convincing points why Filipinos should give these products a try. He mentioned that the Philippines already sources a lot of products from Australia, such as dairy products, fresh fruits and vegetables, wines, plus a range of grocery items like gluten-free products, halal-certified products, snacks, confectionary, and more.

Many of these are available at Market Australia, which “aims to cater to the different needs of shoppers,” he said. Tweddell said the festival will showcase an array of foods and products, including premium and gourmet items, as well as organic and natural products that promote a healthy lifestyle.

The Ambassador promised three qualities about Australian food: clean, green and safe. “Australian food and beverages are clean because in Australia we have a pristine growing environment for our livestock and produce. A clean environment ensures that only the freshest and best quality products are produced,” he said. “Green because Australian companies utilize growing and production processes that are environmentally friendly and sustainable. Safe because Australia’s food production processes have high levels of regulatory supervision and strict quality standards. We have food safety management and traceability systems in place.”

Metro Supermarket has actually been offering Australian products for 15 years, but not on this scale.

While going around the supermarket, I gravitated towards the wine section since I’m pretty familiar with Australian wines. What I liked about them is that they are good whatever price point they may be. I’m not a connoisseur so I don’t really splurge on my vino, but the average-priced Australian wines I have tasted are actually agreeable to my palate.

Aside from wines, I also checked out the meat section, which featured Australian lamb and beef—two of the country’s most famous products. Their lamb has earned a reputation for being lean and flavorful thanks to decades of careful breeding and meticulous quality standards. Beef is a common ingredient in our kitchen, but lamb is not a staple in our house. I heard though that you could use this type of meat in local cooking as well. Perhaps I’ll try making some lamb adobo soon.

I also saw the fruits like table grapes and peaches, as well as vegetables like mushrooms and brussels sprouts, and these looked picture-perfect—like something you would see in recipe books.

The products are obviously pricier than the local ones and it would seem natural to hesitate to spend that much money, but I would simply think of it as investing in my health. After all, I only have one body and I should take care of it. Eating good and healthy food is definitely the right way to do it.

 

Lessons in life and craft from a world-class pastry chef and chocolatier (GMA News Online)

Chef Notter concentrates on his chocolate creations

(This feature was published in GMA News Online last March 14, 2014)

It’s not every day that a globally renowned chef steps onto Philippine shores, so I grabbed the opportunity to attend the demonstration of pastry making world champion, Chef Ewald Notter. The chef is known as an innovator and a master of modern-day confectionery arts; he also has a slew of awards under his belt, which includes being the first pastry professional who was inducted in the Pastry Art and Design Hall of Fame. Aside from joining competitions, teaching, and coaching, the chef has also authored several books related to his craft.

As the icing on the cake, Chef Notter recently concluded a series of hands-on classes and demonstrations on chocolate, which was organized by The Pastry Alliance of the Philippines. The organization aims to bring in acclaimed chefs to the Philippines so Filipinos get more exposure to such talent and eventually catch up progress-wise with the other countries in the region.

According to Chef Peachy Juban, the group’s founding officer, “This is our pet project. We wanted to start the series with Chef Notter because he is not only an artist, not just a competitor, but a teacher—first and last.”

In the short span of time that I watched the much-admired chef work in the kitchen, I realized a few things.

It’s not as easy as it looks

Although some people study to become chefs, it takes quite a while to master the craft of cooking—or in this case, chocolate making. The visiting chef made all those grand showpieces and elegant cocoa creations so easy to make, but it probably took him years to perfect the technique.

I saw him put together small elements like white chocolate birds and pink-colored flowers in one showpiece by meticulously sticking each component with melted chocolate, then repeating the procedure in case a certain piece didn’t stick well.

He built several chocolate showpieces that were about a foot or two tall, and that’s quite an achievement considering the local climate is not conducive to chocolate making. His other chocolate displays for that day included one with an elaborate white hat, and others with big, blooming floral attractions.

It takes a lot of discipline

While it is critical to learn the culinary basics and techniques, discipline is an essential value for any chef—and for anyone, for that matter. Having discipline shows your dedication to the craft and helps get you on top of your game.

Chef Notter is multi-awarded and recognized all across the pastry world, but even if he has that status and can afford to have a whole team assist him in the kitchen, he cleaned up after himself at the demonstration anyway.

I witnessed him temper the chocolate on the table by spreading the melted chocolate on the cool kitchen counter and moving it around with a spatula using quick yet smooth strokes. Every time he did it, he wiped the remains and kept his workstation spic-and-span. I know, every chef has to practice that, but it’s still nice to see a top chef actually do it.

Sharing knowledge is key

Aside from Chef Notter’s expertise, it is his ability to teach others that sets him apart from his peers. While doing the chocolate demonstration, the chef accommodated questions from the class and answered each query without losing focus on finishing his showpiece.

Part of being a successful chef is sharing your skills through teaching and allowing others to improve, and in turn, elevating the craft. Chef Notter is an effective teacher because he does exactly that.

After watching the demonstration, my dream of becoming a chef was reawakened (it must be the frustrated cook in me). But since it is not realistic anymore for me to change careers at this stage in my life, I will just settle for watching food shows and chefs at work and learn more about the culinary world and the values that go with it.

I heard The Pastry Alliance of the Philippines will invite more chefs this year, and there will most likely be a “bread guy” coming to town soon. Maybe I’ll be inspired to try my hand at baking then.

Vacation Options For The Busy Entrepreneur (Homegrown.ph)

(This feature was published in Homegrown.ph last March 7, 2013)

“Entrepreneurs need a break from the daily grind and their workplace from time to time. I find that it’s a great opportunity to relax, recharge, and enjoy the fruits of my labor,” says Cor Sunglao-Kho, a fashion designer specializing in bridal and formal wear and a part-time teacher at the Fashion Institute of the Philippines.

Jason Unson, who helped conceive MobileMINDS, Inc., an IT consulting company, says that getting a vacation can help boost the business. “This is as long as the vacations/breaks are well managed and timed. This means that it should not disrupt current projects and engagements.”

Indeed, entrepreneurs should make time to go on a vacation—whether it is just an overnight hotel stay or a long trip.

Unson suggests to “make vacations or leaves part of your business planning. Don’t treat it as a something you just try to squeeze in after. Otherwise, it may do more harm than good to your business. Handle it as a task that needs to be done rather than a “nice-to-have” to-do.”

Serial entrepreneur Max Gerard M. Savellano, who is in the restaurant industry and carwash/auto detailing shop, advises to “be positive and always take a break, meditate if you can, go out with your loved ones from time to time. Enjoy the fruits of your labor while you still can. It will never be enough. So, enjoy what you have now and you won’t regret it.”

The advantage of being an entrepreneur is that you have the flexibility to manage your time and workload, and thus, you can customize your vacation to suit your needs.

 

Staycations

If you need to take a break yet do not have the luxury of time, take a staycation. The goal here is to get a quick R&R and get recharged for the next workday.

This is effective for Unson, who prefers to go on staycations. “I use the time to relax and not think of work. Going out-of-town during long weekends ironically produces more stress since most vacation destinations are overcrowded in these times.”

An overnight stay at a fancy hotel or a cozy bed and breakfast within driving distance should do the trick. Avoid driving far and risking getting into traffic and adding more stress.

Savellano adds, “it’s important to get some R&R, not only because you get to relax, but it also gives you inspiration and fresh ideas.” Being in the hospitality industry, Savellano is able to see what’s out there and pick up some ideas for his restaurant, too.

 

Day trips

If you can spare a day from the office and get a change of scenery, schedule a day trip. If you are somewhere south of the metro, head to Tagaytay and breathe in some cool air. If you’re in the north, try a road trip to Subic and explore its famous attractions. Either way, getting some breather can help relax your busy mind and alleviate the pressure you feel from work.

Sunglao-Kho shares, “Taking time out from my day-to-day work routine makes me view things differently and often times gives me time to look at how my business is doing objectively.”

 

Weekend getaways

If your line of work can allow you to go on a weekend getaway, it will give your body and mind the opportunity to slow down and take it easy. A well-rested mind can be more receptive to getting those lightbulb moments where great ideas come to you.

Escape the hustle and bustle of the city and visit popular weekend destinations like Batangas (for divers), Puerto Galera (for beach goers), La Union (for surfers), and Baguio (for nature lovers).

 

Proper holidays

If you’re longing for a long vacation, typically outside of the country, plan a proper holiday. The general idea is to get away from everything and avoid being burned out from work. Sunglao-Kho shares that she and her husband really save up for major trips abroad. “I really enjoy visiting other countries because it’s interesting to see how their fashion is so different from ours. I love just sitting on a park bench and people-watching when I’m on vacation in a different land.”

According to Erwan Heussaff, entrepreneur and restaurateur, “It lets me recharge my mind and opens my eyes to foreign inspirations and culture. It’s good to feel like a small tadpole in a big pond. It helps develop perspective and respect for creativity.” Heussaff is a part owner of four restaurants—Hatch 22, Pink Panda, Niner Ichi Nana, and Hungry Hound—yet he manages to take a proper vacation from time to time, preferably one that involves sports and discovery.

The key is to plan in advance so you would have enough time to prepare and delegate tasks.  For long trips, plan it a year ahead if you have to so you don’t have to bring work with you when you travel abroad. Avoid going on a “working holiday” unless you really need to. If so, make sure to set limitations like receiving work-related phone calls at a specific time only or controlling the frequency of your online activity.

 

Artist dates

According to Julia Cameron, author of the book The Artist’s Way, “The Artist Date is a once-weekly, festive, solo expedition to explore something that interests you.”

The activity doesn’t have to involve high art; in fact, this writer simply goes to bookstores and browse through different titles. I find that the colorful book covers and interesting blurbs are a good source of inspiration for my work as a freelance writer.

The purpose of an artist date is to woo your own consciousness. It is supposed to fire up the imagination and encourage play. While those in the creative industry would typically enjoy artist dates,  anyone can (perhaps, should) give the activity a try.

Lip-smacking Vietnamese cuisine at La Petite Camille (GMA News Online)

Pomelo Salad - Goi Buoi

(This feature was published in GMA News Online last March 4, 2014)

My knowledge of Vietnamese cuisine wasn’t that impressive until I traveled to Ho Chi Minh City and was exposed to the real thing. Though I have tasted pho before, I didn’t really know much about this particular cuisine until I went food tripping in Vietnam. When I got back home, I was still on a Vietnamese food high and found myself craving for it, but there are only a handful of Vietnamese restaurants in Manila.

La Petite Camille in Greenbelt 5, Makati states that it serves authentic Vietnamese cuisine. That was enough reason for my family and I to dine there and see if the claims were true indeed.

From the clear glass windows, we could see the nice interiors, which I thought had more colonial style than Asian. The furniture was mismatched, the lighting fixtures were not uniform, and there were decals and knick-knacks on the walls. I found the design very interesting and actually elegant—far from the roadside restaurants I tried in Vietnam.

Through research, I found out that La Petite Camille was actually founded in San Francisco, California in 1993 and has been a bay area favorite ever since. It only opened in the Philippines last December 2012.

A mixture of Asian and French flavors

The restaurant menu is pretty extensive—from pho (noodle soup) to banh mi (sandwich made with French baguette) and everything in between; it has dishes for the discerning diner.

What I appreciated though was the disclaimer in the menu: “Our food contains ingredients such as MSG, nuts and other herbs and vegetables that may cause allergic reactions on certain individuals. Please ask the manager for more information and special requests.” At least they are upfront about the use of that controversial kitchen ingredient, monosodium glutamate.

To whet our appetite, we started with the Pomelo Salad, a healthy combination of fresh pomelo chunks, shredded cabbage, caramelized onions, pickled carrots and radish, and topped with crushed peanuts. It was served on a bed of lettuce leaves. I liked the light dressing that was a bit on the tangy side.

We continued our healthy eating and ordered some Fresh Vegetarian Rolls where vermicelli noodles and raw vegetables like cabbage, carrot, celery, turnip, basil and lettuce are wrapped in rice paper and served with sauce. Fans of cilantro would like this since the herb’s flavor is very apparent here.

What I enjoyed eating was the Combination Appetizer (banh hoi thap cam) that came with barbecued pork, imperial rolls, and minced prawns on a sugarcane skewer. It also had a side of lettuce, rice vermicelli, picked veggies, and fish sauce for dipping. I had fun eating it because this appetizer was very interactive. I wrapped my choice of meat inside the lettuce, added some noodles veggies, and drizzled some sauce. It was a delight to eat with my hands!

Since we felt like we were eating healthy, we ordered a couple of main courses, one of which was the Pan-fried Rice Noodles with Prawns, which was one of the restaurant’s signature dishes. When it arrived on our table, I thought that the picture on the menu looked better than the actual dish. The taste though made up for the lack of presentation. It was a good fried noodle dish but the serving seemed small—probably just good for two.

Another dish we sampled was the Black Pepper Chicken, a lightly breaded fillet seasoned with garlic and black pepper, and served with a black pepper and oyster sauce blend. The chicken was tender and easy to eat, and it went well with the peppery and salty dipping sauce. However, it’s not the type of dish that could stand alone, as it can get a bit cloying because of its oiliness. I discovered that it’s better to alternate bites of it with other vegetable-based dishes to avoid the feeling of fried-food overload.

I wanted to end my meal with some Vietnamese coffee, which, for me, is one of the best in the world. I fell in love with their coffee during my trip there and I still fantasize about it until now. Unfortunately, I didn’t have room for dessert or coffee after my satisfying meal. I would definitely go back next time and order some coffee and banh mi, then reminisce about Vietnam.

 

The Tivoli: A culinary must-visit when you want to spoil yourself (GMA News Online)

The Tivoli

 

(This feature was published in GMA News Online last March 2, 2014)

Every woman dreams of a Mr. Right who would wine and dine her and sweep her off her feet, and I am not shy to admit that I am just like any other woman in that aspect. Who wouldn’t want to feel like a princess and maybe get treated at a fine dining restaurant?

In Manila, one of the most impressive restaurants I have been to is The Tivoli at Mandarin Oriental. The hotel’s signature restaurant features fine contemporary European cuisine, and Executive Sous Chef Remi Vercelli, who has been with the restaurant since 2011, has introduced a number of new a la carte and degustation menus that any epicure would be happy to indulge in.

European-inspired treats

One look at the posh restaurant would inspire any diner to dress up and match the elegant setting of the place. The most noticeable feature is the splendid floral arrangement in the middle of the room. In the daytime, guests would have a nice view of the garden through the restaurant’s draped windows. At night, the mirrored walls would reflect the dramatic lighting emanated by the sconces. There are also a couple of semi-private dining alcoves available for intimate groups.

The servers at the restaurant immediately assist you as you take your seat by draping the napkin on your lap and serving you bread and butter as they take your order. If that doesn’t impress you, I don’t know what will.

The knowledgeable maître d’ appeared at our table to present the dishes of the day. He also shared his recommendations for our three-course degustation menu. As a palate teaser, they served us tuna nicoise salad to prepare our taste buds for the barrage of flavors. It looked like there was a manicured garden on my plate and I was hesitant to take a bite and destroy its impressive presentation. I eventually succumbed to my culinary desires and ate every morsel on my plate—from the perfectly seared tuna slices to the quail eggs and micro greens. My palate was ready for more.

Even if the restaurant is known for its lobster bisque, I opted for the smoked salmon cannelloni as my first course. I had a glass of sauvignon blanc to accompany my appetizer, as suggested by the maître d’. Instead of cylindrical pasta, the restaurant’s version used salmon meat to wrap the creamy salmon filling. It was served with some salmon caviar and a side of grapefruit-fennel salad. My plate had only one piece of cannelloni but it was such a hefty serving that I thought I wouldn’t be able to go through the whole menu.

To cleanse our palate, we were given some caramelized apple sorbet while they prepared the main course. The sorbet was light and a little sweet; it felt cool on my mouth. It helped remove the fishy aftertaste and also made me look forward to the next course.

My choice of main dish for that night was veal cheeks confit, which was actually similar to beef bourguignon. It came with some sautéed pumpkin gnocchi, fresh mushrooms, and pancetta. As I savored every delectable bite of the tender veal, I thought that the serving size was ample enough for someone with a big appetite. The mushrooms gave the dish more umami, while the gnocchi made it even more filling. I was expecting a smaller serving since it was only a degustation menu but this was a pleasant surprise.

Those who prefer to go a la carte may also order these dishes separately. Other notable food finds are the Tivoli signature salad with lobster, scallop and pan-fried duck liver; braised lamb shank, and of course, the prime rib and steak. Diners should bear in mind that the restaurant changes its menu from time to time.

After the main course, I thought I wouldn’t have room for dessert anymore but I just couldn’t stop myself from sampling some warm gingerbread cake with poached spice pears and butterscotch custard. It smelled like Christmas! I especially liked the contrast of the warm and moist cake with the cold and creamy ice cream. The dessert wasn’t cloying at all—it was a wonderful way to end a decadent dinner.

It would have been nice if my husband and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary there, but I suppose there would be other special occasions where we could have a date night at The Tivoli and spoil ourselves silly even just for one night.

Top spots for first-rate Filipino food in the metro (GMA News Online)

Romulo Cafe's grilled squid

(This feature was published in GMA News Online last February 23, 2014)

A couple of years ago, Andrew Zimmern, host of the popular US television show “Bizarre Foods,” declared, “I predict, two years from now, Filipino food will be what we will have been talking about for six months… I think that’s going to be the next big thing.”

Since then, Filipino cuisine has been getting its share of the limelight with features on various international television shows and other media. Finally, it is getting the attention it deserves.

For first-time visitors to the Philippines or for those with balikbayan relatives or foreign friends, here are a few must-visit restaurants where you can get a good taste of the local cuisine.

Adarna Food and Culture

Adarna Food and Culture is not your ordinary Filipino restaurant; it is an experience that reflects the values and advocacies of owners Elizabeth Angsioco and Chef Giney Villar. The establishment displays all things Filipino, including the warm wooden furnishings and cultural memorabilia, which diners could take a look at while enjoying their meal. For the restaurant owners, it is important to “preserve and promote an appreciation for our history and culture by serving historical, regional, and heirloom Filipino cuisine.”

It has been almost eight years since the restaurant started dishing up specialties such as Sulu Piassok, Adobong Batangas with Tablea, Chicken Relleno circa 1940 served with Salsa Monja, Morcon ala Regina 1913, Bunuelos, Feliz Chocolate Cake, and Langka Kesong Puti Fry with Mango Sauce.

According to Chef Giney, “Aside from the authentic cuisine that is done in the traditional way, the place is a mini-museum of sorts. Guests will enjoy our guided ‘tour’ of the restaurant with its modest but varied collections of Filipiniana ranging from showbiz memorabilia, household implements, photos, books, monies and art pieces. We even have a mock sari-sari store and garden where guests can relax al fresco. It’s a slice of Philippine life.”

119 Kalayaan Ave., Diliman, Quezon City. Call (63 2) 926-8712 or email [email protected]

Romulo Café

Those who are familiar with the local political scene might recognize the surname of the family that owns Romulo Café. The grandchildren of the late Carlos P. Romulo, an important figure in international diplomacy, decided to pay tribute to their grandfather by displaying photographs of him throughout the restaurant. These pictures blend well with the predominant black and white theme of the establishment seen in its walls, furnishings, and even table settings. It serves as a good backdrop for the traditional and colorful Filipino food in the menu.

In fact, some of the dishes are the family’s heirloom recipes. A couple of must-tries are Tito Greg’s Kare-Kare and Lola Virginia’s Chicken Relleno. These are also plenty of options for non-meat eaters like Lola Felisa’s Crispy All-Vegetable Canton, plus other salads and vegetable dishes.

Indeed, the restaurant continues to honor the Romulo family by offering delicious comfort food in a comfortable yet very tasteful setting.

32 Scout Tuason Street corner Scout Lazcano, Quezon City. Call (63 2) 332-7273
148 Jupiter St corner Comet St., Bel-Air, Makati City. Call (63 2) 478-6406

XO 46 Bistro Filipino

They say “first impressions last” and XO 46 Bistro Filipino will definitely make a mark on any diner, as it gives its customers a taste of Filipino hospitality by welcoming them with cornick and a plate of complimentary puto served with mantequilla and a side of Filipino literature on a scroll—in the form of bugtong or riddle. If that is not impressive enough, the interiors of the restaurant would wow guests because of the interesting native furnishings and intricate woodcarvings.

But the most impressive thing about the place is the food, which highlights specialty dishes from various regions in the country. Some of the must-tries are Dumaguete Express (mixed seafood with spicy coconut cream sauce), Cebu Lechon Belly (herb roasted pork belly), and XO 46 Bistro Filipino Kare Kareng Crispy Tadyang.

The servings though are good for a couple of persons only (if the diners have big appetites) so make sure to order enough for large groups. At the end of the meal, the servers give diners free pieces of ChocNut—perfect for those with sweet tooth.

Aside from main courses, the establishment also offers Filipino and Spanish tapas and a nice selection of wines. It is a good place to have dinner and unwind a little.

G/F Le Grand Condominium, 130 Valero St., Salcedo Village, Makati City. Call (63 2) 553-6632.

Bono Tei: Succulent sushi in the South (GMA News Online)

Ebi fry

(This feature was published in GMA News Online last February 20, 2014)

There are times when I hanker for sushi or ramen but cannot instantly satisfy my cravings because living in the suburbs is not conducive to food tripping.

So, I was thrilled to discover a new Japanese restaurant in Parañaque called Bono Tei. Its exterior caught our eye with its distinctly minimalist design, highlighted by rows of bamboo plants—the whole thing was simple and clean, without unnecessary adornments.

Flavors inspired by the Land of the Rising Sun

It took us a minute or two to browse through the extensive menu with offerings  ranging from donburi to yakitori, and even bento sets. To whet our appetites, we ordered some prettily plated tuna sashimi with a slice of lemon, a dollop of wasabi, and some veggies. The fish was plump and fresh—way better than the gaunt, anemic sashimi from more commercial establishments.

We also got a serving of gyoza—pan-fried Japanese pot stickers that come with a light dipping soy sauce. I think our order was a bit overdone—some of the dumpling wrappers were a bit charred on the outside but the filling was still meaty and delicious. We ate it anyway, even if it looked like it had seen better days.

One must-try appetizer is the California maki. Bono Tei’s version of this classic sushi roll doesn’t scrimp on the ingredients. I noticed the rice was well-coated with orange fish roe and the cucumber in the filling was fresh and crunchy. It was quite a challenge to eat a piece in one bite due to its serving size.

The restaurant doesn’t specialize in just one dish, not like the current food trends where an establishment may be known for a specific dish like ramen or katsu. My husband wanted to try the tonkotsu ramen, while I chose the gyudon (steamed rice topped with stewed beef and raw egg). I had to quickly break the yolk and mix it while the dish was still hot. It was a bit ordinary for my taste, I so requested for some chili pepper, which made a lot of difference. Meanwhile, my husband downed the ramen in a few minutes. It wasn’t the best in the metro, but it’s not bad  considering the price.

On another instance, I had the opportunity to eat lunch there and avail of the restaurant’s tempura and gyoza promo, where you get a free order for any order. I sampled the shrimp tempura but wasn’t impressed with the size of the shrimp or its presentation. The ebi fry was more appetizing because of the golden brown color of the panko breadcrumbs. Both are best eaten with chahan (Japanese fried rice) for a more substantial meal.

For those who can’t get enough of fried food, I recommend the beef korokke—a mashed potato and ground beef mixture molded like hockey pucks and breaded with panko. It was crispy on the outside and soft on the inside—I loved it. It was served with some special sauce that was on the sweet side. I practically finished the two big pieces and regretted it afterward when I felt my stomach bloating. Good thing the restaurant offers complimentary hot tea to aid with the digestion.

Chef Richard Toix offers delicate plating artistry, Michelin-starred cooking (GMA News Online)

(This feature was published in GMA News Online last February 16, 2014)

Most children dream of becoming a doctor, lawyer, or even an astronaut when they grow up, but Richard Toix was not like most kids; he knew that he wanted to be a chef someday.

He discovered his love for food at an early age, and during his teenage years he secretly applied to a culinary school without his parents’ permission. His tenacity to enter the culinary world to hone his cooking skills has led him to what he is today—a Michelin-starred chef.

A pinch of passion and a dash of determination

Toix, who recently spoke to Manila journalists on Skype, is a native of Perpignan in France. He got his culinary education at Lycée Hotelier, then moved to London to do more training with the Roux brothers at their three-Michelin-star restaurant. He returned to France when he was around 30 and worked for various restaurants before opening his own establishment.

It was in 1993 when he and his wife, Laure, launched their first restaurant, Le Champ de Foire in Lencloitre. They opened another restaurant concept in 2007, Passions et Gourmandises, which offers traditional French cuisine presented in a modern way.

Barely a year after the Toixes opened Passions et Gourmandises, the restaurant was awarded a Michelin star, an honor for any chef.

Chef Richard said that he likes to work with the season, to ensure the freshness of the ingredients he uses. He also makes sure to support local suppliers, as sustainability in cooking is also important to him. In his restaurant, the menu changes every month and the degustation menu changes every day, depending on the availability of produce and other ingredients in the local market.

With over 20 years of culinary experience, Toix has mastered the art of food fusion, which diners may perceive in his artistic plating presentations. In 2010, he collaborated with Zhou Tiehai, a Chinese contemporary artist, to fuse painting with traditional French pastries as part of a grand exhibition.

Even after decades of being in the culinary world, Chef Richard says that he continues to wake up with a smile on his face, as his passion for cooking has not wavered.

A week in Manila

Manila’s gourmands will have the opportunity to sample his world-class cuisine when he visits the Philippines to cook at The Tivoli from February 24 to March 2. Food connoisseurs may either partake of the business lunch or the six-course degustation menu.

His menu includes potato black truffle croustillant with brown butter, lapu-lapu filet, crabmeat avocado cannelloni and shellfish vinaigrette, and lamb loin in seaweed crust, lemon pâte and garnish.

His culinary creations might be too pretty to eat; make sure to feast with your eyes first to fully appreciate the artistry of Chef Richard Toix.