Good looks on the menu
Maridol Rañoa-Bismark (The Philippine Star) - September 18, 2008 - 12:00am

Rob Pengson may not admit it, but his heartthrob looks have kept his show — Chef to Go (Sundays at 7 p.m. on Q-11) on top of the ratings game for the past several months. Statistics don’t lie. Q-11’s findings show Chef to Go is the most-watched program among ABC females and that it ranked third in household ratings in July.

Tell him about the female factor and Rob responds with an uncomfortable silence. Ask him what makes his show click (Chef to Go is now on its second year) and he loosens up.

It’s all work, he opens up. Each episode revolves around a theme. This Sunday, Sept. 21 and on Sept. 28, it’s Filipino cuisine with a twist. The show, which airs from Alabang Town Center, sees guests Marc Nelson and Paula Taylor helping themselves to generous servings of guinataang halo-halo, Rob’s take on the all-time Pinoy dessert.

“The trick,” he reveals, “is turning something ordinary into something extraordinary.”

Thus, he puts a dash of pinipig here, a sprinkling of ube there, some milk and others and voila! The common halo-halo tastes differently from the one you buy in your friendly neighborhood restaurant or in the school cafeteria.

Rob’s take on the favorite dessert is not saccharine sweet; but yummy just the same. You can’t tell why.

Only Rob knows. But all he’s willing to say is, “I make sure my ingredients are readily available in groceries.”

Indeed, why make things hard for the already harassed housewife saddled with rising prices these days? Why burden her with hard-to-find ingredients?

Turning two years old in a dog-eat-dog world also means minding your social responsibility. Rob does his share by thinking green as much as he can.

“The emphasis is on nutrients,” he insists. Thus, he wants his environment-friendly grocery bag to carry only the freshest ingredients and more vegetables.

“I’d rather not use plastic bags,” he explains.

So don’t be surprised if you see chef Rob toting the same (eco-friendly) bag when he enters and leaves his favorite store. It’s his small way of showing his love for Mother Earth.

Rob is also as down-to-earth in his kitchen at home. It’s not as complex as some people would expect from the “culinary kung fu master.” The kitchen Rob shares with his wife, is, as he puts it, “a simple one.”

You don’t see high-tech gadgets, no fancy gizmos, just the basic tools of the trade.

After all, the Pengsons are sometimes too tired to try kitchen experiments. His wife, Sunshine Puey, a chef herself, is busy with their expanding culinary school (the couple just opened a new branch in Alabang Zapote).

“Our agreement is, when I cook, she washes the dishes and vice-versa,” says Rob.

Obviously, this is one couple as hands-on at home as they are in their business.

It helps that Rob’s mom looks at her son’s cooking with a discriminating eye.

“Mom is my worst critic,” says Rob. “She tells me how to please. She tells me when I should not have added salt, for instance.”

Far from resenting it, Rob welcomes the comments. He knows that just like all parents, she wants her son to shine. And he can do so if she calls a spade a spade.

Meanwhile, Rob will continue doing his homework. He will not refuse anything offered to him on the table, because a good chef always keeps himself abreast on the latest culinary treats. The richer his food know-how, the more he can share with his students and televiewers.

It’s not only his job, it’s also chef Rob’s source of joy. And it shows on his program, and on his guests’ faces, week in and week out. Do we hear someone burp?

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