A taste of the Cotswolds in Tagaytay

Edu Jarque (The Philippine Star) - March 23, 2014 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - A stellar line-up of six chefs — seven actually — of different backgrounds, different gastronomic persuasions and a different manner of plating their pièce de résistance, will whip up a never-to-be-seen-before Gala Banquet Dinner to mark the 75th year, on Oct. 11, of the storied Taal Vista Hotel in Tagaytay.

The black-tie affair may still be some eight months away, but as of today, the hotel is pulling all the stops to celebrate the property’s diamond anniversary, with not just a grand bash, but one that will be remembered for a long time.

On a recent balmy morning, some members of media, motored to town by the ridge, to experience the dishes of the kitchen wizards — Sau del Rosario, Babes Austria, Fernando Aracama, Bruce Lim and the husband and wife tandem of Jackie and Rolando Laudico — who will prepare for the much-awaited milestone.

For the gala evening, the magic circle, will be joined by Taal Vista Hotel’s very own incomparable Executive Chef Edwin Santos. 

In the 1930s, Commonwealth President Manuel L. Quezon envisioned that Tagaytay with its cool and bracing air, could be an excellent tourist destination. He suggested that the pioneering Manila Hotel build a lodge with a golf course tapping the government for the land purchase. Thus, Taal Vista Lodge was established. It opened its doors to the public on Oct. 7, 1939. Quezon and members of his cabinet subsequently held many historical meetings in the property. There he likewise found a respite from the burdens of his office.

In the ’60s, Taal Vista Lodge was privatized. Then shortly before the ’90s, SM Investments Corporation acquired the holding, which then became known as Taal Vista Hotel. At present, Tagaytay remains one of the country’s must-visit holiday sites.

At midday, everyone was transported to a scene straight out of North England’s garden region, the Cotswolds. A gentle sun peeked from an azure sky and a soft, cool breeze wafted by — a made-to-order spring day. A huge white tent was set up on The Ridge, which offers the best view of Taal Lake and Volcano, bar none. Underneath it, chairs draped in white stood in a row facing a long table covered with a starched linen tablecloth that gave it that very chic countryside touch. Opaque vases in various shapes and sizes held fresh flowers in a rainbow of hues picked from the hotel’s very own garden of exquisite blooms. The Leggiero Strings and Chamber Orchestra rendered well-loved timeless melodies, as diners relished a light and palate-pleasing lunch, as attentive waiters in gala dress brought in each item on the menu, one by one.

The sweet Sunday interlude of fine food was rolled out in a very invigorating and convivial atmosphere — a preview of what awaits guests in the months leading to the diamond occasion.

The sumptuous spread was a showcase of each chef’s regional origin or choice, but had very cosmopolitan nuances reflecting both the hotel’s iconic stature as well as their culinary apprenticeship in the various posts they have held in some of the toniest hotels and restaurants here and overseas.

In their order of appearance, lunch consisted of the following courses:

Chef Sau’s Lapu-Lapu-Rillette Kapampangan. He prepared this dish using the French technique, but he noted it is actually a regular entree at their family’s fiesta table. He encased the steamed lapu-lapu with mayonnaise in a small rectangular piece lined with thin cucumber slices, then topped the concoction with almost transparent paper-thin radish slices, whose fine borders were enticingly dyed red.

Chef Babes’ Crunchy Cheesy Triangle. This was rice paper filled with fresh water wild fern, prawn, water buffalo cheese served with a creamy salted egg dip. Imagine the symphony of flavors and textures as you take a spoonful of the dish and savor the lingering taste of the salted egg. She had her own version of Ensaladang Tagalog which was actually a mélange of shredded fresh green mango, smoked fish, salted water buffalo cheese in phyllo dough.

Chef Fern’s Sinanglay en Papillote. Described as baked parrot fish fillet wrapped in parchment paper flavored with kamias, tomatoes and coconut milk sauce. This shows a hint of his persuasions and signature way with what comes out of his kitchen. Kamias, which is not so often used these days, gets pride of place in the plating and gives it that piquant taste.

Chef Bruce’s Pork Napoleon. A layered number, it was made of slivers of pork adobo on a bed of laing with kamote gnocchi on the side and crab fat or aligue sauce. It was simply a sinful combination. 

Chefs Jackie’s and Rolando’s offering for dessert was Suman Rice Cake with Fresh Ripe Mangoes and Latik Sauce could have been artery-bursting as this traditional sticky rice cake is very heavy fare but trust this couple — now famous for their deconstruction of favorite Pinoy fare — to give it their light but elegant touch. The square delicacy with coconut cream panna cotta was topped with sliced fresh ripe mangoes imbuing it with just the right balance of sweetness and tartness.

Chef Sau is a true-blue Kapampangan but received his culinary training in France. He has enough man hours in hotel restaurants in Singapore, Shanghai and Paris, as well as several major cities in the Philippines, thus giving him that ease and confidence to blend the elements of his beloved cuisine with that of other global culinary traditions.

Chef Babes is the former executive chef of Malacañang Palace, the pre-eminent culinary kitchen of the country, as well as Taal Vista Hotel. Trained at the Culinary Institute of America, she is a passionate mentor who teaches an avid younger generation the intricacies of Asian and international cuisine.

Chef Fernando traces his roots to Bacolod City. He has a degree in Hotel and Restaurant Administration from the University of the Philippines and took up further studies in Culinary Arts in Vermont, USA. He is best remembered for the avant-garde restaurants he set up and his much-sought-after dessert, homemade ice cream with crushed Chocnut, a very popular but common peanut and chocolate candy that he elevated to extraordinary level.

Chef Bruce obtained his diploma from the Cordon Bleu in London and has worked with various hotels and restaurants abroad before opening the hugely popular Chef’s Table in Bonifacio Global City. He is best known for his show, The Boss, on the Asian Food Channel.

The culinary tandem of Chefs Jackie and Rolando are noted for their innovative takes on Filipino cuisine — Rolando’s mastery of local desserts and Jackie’s expertise. After obtaining a degree from the Culinary Institute of America, Rolando worked in much-touted restaurants in Paris, New York and Sydney. When he returned to Manila, he collaborated with his then fiancée Jackie Juarez, a pastry chef, to form their own successful professional catering company.

As part of the lavish preparations for the hotel’s Diamond Jubilee, the chefs will cook their delectable masterpieces from July 26 to Oct. 12 at the hotel’s Café Veranda. The schedule is as follows: July 26 and 26, Aug. 2 and 3 — Chefs Jackie and Rolando Laudico; Aug. 9 and 10, 16 and 17 — Chef Bruce Lim; Aug. 23 and 24, 30 and 31 – Chef Fernando Aracama; Sept. 6 and 7, 13 and 14 — Chef Edwin Santos; Sept. 20 and 21, 27 and 28 — Chef Sau del Rosario; and Oct. 4 and 5, 11 and 12 — Chef Babes Austria.

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