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A taste of Côte d’Azur and Buenos Aires in Manila

William Mahi, Mauro Colagreco and Franck Salati

The first time I saw Mauro Colagreco was at the 2015 World’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards ceremony in London last June. He was clowning around with Massimo Bottura at the after party, as their restaurants Mirazur and Osteria Francescana had just been proclaimed the 11th and second best restaurants in the world, respectively. Being around chefs of such caliber, I tend to become shy, and instead of congratulating them in person, I wished them my best, silently — in my head.

Two weeks ago, I was able to congratulate Colagreco in person — in Manila. (And he was sooooo nice.) The Argentinean-Italian chef was in the country for a Four Hands dinner with the only chef in the Philippines strapped with Michelin stars, William Mahi of the Tasting Room at Crown Towers, City of Dreams Manila — bringing his two-Michelin star Mirazur to us, along with Franck Salati, executive chef of Unico by Mauro Colagreco in Shanghai.

Mauro Colagreco: Modern French cuisine

Colagreco’s signature modern French cuisine with Argentinean and Italian influences, inspired by the mountains, sea and the seasonal garden, at his Côte d’Azur restaurant, was honed after years of working with the best chefs in France. After training at Gato Dumas hotel school in his native Buenos Aires, he: 1) learned to work in a team (at the late Bernard Loiseau’s Seaulieu in Burgundy); 2) developed his own sense of creativity, attention to detail and imagination (at Alain Passard’s L’Arpege in Paris); 3) honed refinement and rigor (at Alain Ducasse’s Plaza Athenée in Paris); and 4) defined his personal style as a chef (at Guy Martin’s Grand Véfour in Paris). Today, Mirazur holds four toques from Gault & Millau, and Colagreco has been appointed Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres by the French Minister and Culture, Grand Chef by Relais & Châteaux, and Ambassador of Gastronomy for Argentina.

My personal favorite was the starter, which revolved around one of the most important crops in South America — corn. Corn was turned into espuma, powder, polenta, chips, cancha (corn nuts), and topped with farofa (toasted cassava), an egg and gorgeous, freshly shaved truffles. “Corn is the basis of South American food culture,” shared Colagreco. “In this dish, I used different kinds of corn to make people appreciate the importance of biodiversity. For us it’s very important to show how to use those products that are in the line of extinction.” It felt like his “Argentinean take” on William Mahi’s signature 52-degree egg — an evident synergy between the two chefs.

For his mains, Colagreco adjusted his signature dishes to what was available to him in the Philippines. “In Mirazur, we are by the Italian border with France, and I try to use the best, fresh products I can find in the area. When I cook overseas, I always try to bring something of my dishes at Mirazur, and adapt to where I am. This is the case with the veal dish with the bagna cauda sauce. In Mirazur as I am in front of the sea, I choose to use this sauce with calamari. Here in Manila, I found a great veal and I thought it would go very well with this sauce.”

The perfectly pink veal that was crisp, moist and tender was another crowd favorite. Pagre fish, a popular Mediterranean fish (commonly known as red porgy or common sea bream), was cooked with the skin so crisp, and served with béarnaise sauce, cuttlefish ink-infused eggplant puree and a single, charred leek.

Going back to his Argentinean roots, Naranjo En Flor is an ode to the country’s popular flower, the orange blossom, which was also named as a version of tango. A gentle tap of the spoon on the cristalline gave way to a silky mousseline, saffron cream with almond espuma and orange sorbet.

William Mahi: Putting the ‘fine’ back into dining

I’ve always been a fan of William Mahi’s cuisine. As I’ve previously written in my column in The Philippine STAR, he puts the “fine” back into dining. For the event, the easygoing chef who’s sometimes mischievous but extremely meticulous in the kitchen shares that he had to taste Mauro’s dishes first before coming up with his dishes to complement his. He is known for his works that look like art on a plate and this time, he had a perfectly pink wild salmon trout as the centerpiece, flanked by oyster, oyster leaves, black garlic puree and emulsified sea urchin — beautiful flavors of the sea.

“What has inspired me is the fact that I can mix nature and food,” he shares. “The amuse bouche, for example, when I thought of Nice where Mauro has his restaurant, I thought of the sea. So in order to mix, match and remind our guests that we are both sea lovers, I decided to play with beach rocks and smoke, which reminds me of the waves breaking on the shore, and the sound of the rock when the water is going back into the sea.

“For the palate cleanser, I wanted something refreshing for Mauro’s dessert based on orange and saffron — a magnificent dessert which is like poetry so I had to make sure all palates were cleared. So I made passion-fruit lollipops that look like mushrooms… isn’t it mushroom season in Europe?”

Four hands: a way to share

“I love four-hands dinners because it is a way to share with a chef friend and a new experience for clients,” says Colagreco. “We also have lots of fun and we always learn with each other. Cooking with William has been a great experience; he has a very fine and innovative cuisine.”

Says Mahi, “To have been able to work with Mauro is such a great pleasure — he is calm and knows what he does and why he does it; he is not stressed, nor he does show it. He is a very humble and very nice guy.” He adds, “Cooking with someone else is always the opportunity to share moments of friendship and techniques. We have different worlds and interpretations but to come up with menus and incorporate five different cultures — which is a mix of both of us (Colageco is Italian-Argentinean, with a restaurant in France; Mahi is French, with a restaurant in the Philippines) — is something that you can’t have everywhere and I was happy to give that to Philippines.”

 

 

 

 

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The Tasting Room is located on the ground floor of Crown Towers, City of Dreams Manila, Aseana cor. Macapagal Avenues, Entertainment City, Parañaque. It is open daily from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. For reservations, call 800-8080.

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You can reach me at inbetweendeadlines@gmail.com, on my blog www.cheryltiu.com, on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cheryltiu or on Instagram at www.instagram.com/chertiu. Photos by CHERYL TIU

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