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Bringing Ilocano food, delicacies to Metro Manila at affordable prices

Fashion designer-turned-chef Danny de la Cuesta poses in front of Comida Ilocandia, the newest restaurant along Timog Avenue in Quezon City.

MANILA, Philippines - The doors of Comida Ilocandia opened as tropical storm “Gener” entered the country, but foodies, business associates, and close friends of fashion designer-turned-chef Danny de la Cuesta and his four partners were undaunted and pushed through with the occasion.

This is because Chef Danny and his partners believe that their mission of bringing Ilocano food and delicacies to Metro Manila is far more important than the weather so they could satisfy those who love the rich taste of slow- cooked traditional Ilocano meals and even first-timers who eventually get hitched to this gastronomic experience.

Though one can find here and there genuine Ilocano bagnet or pinakbet, there is no consistency in the supply, price and quality of these food items. However, at Comida, anybody can order bagnet, adobo seco, crispy dinuguan, tinuno (barbecued ribs) and higado, in-house or to go dishes for one or in bulk.

Chef Danny, a gracious host, explains to diners the nuances of Ilocano dishes. Bagnet from Ilocos Sur are Chinese-inspired like lechon macao while in Ilocos Norte, bagnet has Mexican influence and is called chicharones.

To make these dishes more affordable at P98 per microwaveable box, Chef Danny made sure to prepare and serve value meal sizes also (consisting of any of these meat dishes plus rice and Ilocano-pickled vegetables).

At Comida, there are also traditional Ilocano specialty drinks like Champola, guava or guyabano coolers, and horchata (rice milk), along with innovations on rice coffee (dark roast) or rice tea (lighter roast) brews.

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“Since we started, we have been selling bagnet and our bottled pickled vegetables (inartem) so fast, our commissary is hard-pressed catching up with the orders,” Chef Danny said.

A true-blue marketer, Chef Danny explains to his guests that what makes his Ilocano cuisine a cut above the rest is because it is cooked based on universal cooking and tastiness standards. “For one, we prepare our meats in slabs after brining, marinating and braising them a day at a time. There is no rush to cooking the meats. At all times, our adobo is cooked slowly in very low fire for more than eight hours until they are very tender. After that we rest them for a day or two. Constantly, we use natural flavors of sukang Iloko, molasses, lots of garlic, peppercorns, laurel, oregano, pimiento and others.”

“Since adobo is cooked in slabs, we only slice and refry a small portion per meal then we freeze the rest. Only sufficient slices are served per meal. The longer the meat is kept, the better it tastes,” Chef Danny says.

The process of cooking bagnet slabs is also as tedious as the adobo and so with the higado and the crispy dinuguan. “We do not resort to short cuts,” Chef Danny says.

Ilocanos, he says, prepare their meat in slabs because during every meal, each family member partakes a considerable slice of the meat while the bigger slab is displayed on the table for the members to visually feast on while chewing the rice on the plates. This way the meat lasts for other meals, and this is very true in Ilocos Norte, he adds.

Why the meat is made to last long is because of the frequent and prolonged visits of storms in the Ilocos region, making life hard for families, he says.

Chef Danny, who spent 44 years in fashion designing and selling his brand of ready-to-wear clothes and made-to-order gowns before extending into business development and culinary arts, partnered with childhood friends, classmates and associates such that each investor is responsible for a specific aspect of the business. He takes control of conceptual and product planning, and business and market development.

His venture from fashion designing (where he had 72 employees under him) to cookery was upon the advice of his doctor after a heart attack in the United States. He joined a national competition of San Miguel. A short culinary course in Le Cordon Bleu in London that came part of the prize extended to nine months of learning more skills. Upon returning from London, he was consulted for food brands, mostly for recipe development, cooking demos and mentoring. 

Then he ventured into business development with brands that are now commercially viable. At Comida and its sister-enterprise, Spaoay, he has 25 people under him.

Spaoay, an Ilocos-themed wellness spa which opened simultaneously with Comida, offers time-honored therapies from the Ilocos region. 

Spaoay’s traditional Ilocano treatment for massage and facials makes use of herbs — tea tree, mint and coffee. Its body wraps, scrubs, and baths draw on mountain clays, sea salts, and balsamic vinegar. These treatments not only smell delicious, they are also beneficial to the body. 

Visit Spaoay and indulge in wellness rituals where only professionally trained and TESDA-accredited hands perform wellness therapies that have a distinguished past. It is located along Timog Avenue in Quezon City.

For reservations, call (02) 994-7596, (02) 709-9041 or 0918-9256603. For better appreciation, view these blogsites — spaoay.blogspot.com and comidailocandia.blogspot.com.

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