Irene Martel-Francisco & Maritel Nievera share their recipes for success
- Wilson Lee Flores () - November 27, 2002 - 12:00am
Why are there still so many people eating out in Metro Manila restaurants despite the government’s inability to curb the budget deficit, to revive the ailing economy and to solve many other national problems? One of the mysteries of our indomitable jueteng republic is the surprising resilience of the Filipino people’s innate cheerfulness, fiesta spirit and the capacity to enjoy the good life, which defiantly refuse to be vanquished by the shenanigans of our many mentally-retarded politicians.
VIPs And Their Favorite Kapampangan Foods
Cabalen is today the country’s biggest restaurant chain of authentic Kapampangan cuisine. It is popular with people from all walks of life due to its unique combination of high quality and affordable prices. Who are the celebrities who enjoy its wide array of Filipino foods, and what are their favorites? Are there any unique patterns to their lifestyles, character or personality quirks which are reflected in their eating habits or choice of favorite dishes?

Among the Cabalen patrons are present and past occupants of Malacañang Palace – President Gloria M. Arroyo and her predecessor ex-President Joseph Estrada. Kapampangan GMA’s favorites are aligue sugpo, adobo camaro (crickets) and ensaladang paco (fern salad). Does President GMA know how to cook, since Kapampangans are well-known for being talented cooks? Cabalen founder Maria Estela "Maritel" Nievera smiles and responds: "Dapat."

GMA loves the dishes of her home province as prepared by Cabalen that the restaurant chain was invited to cater past Malacañang functions such as her Generals’ Night last year. One of the most memorable functions catered by Cabalen was the elegant yet simple wedding reception of GMA’s son Mikey Arroyo and Angela Montenegro at the backyard of the Catholic Church of Lubao, Pampanga. First Gentleman Mike Arroyo’s favorites in Cabalen are bopis, buko lumpia and the Cabalen salads. When asked about the the favorites of Erap, Maritel replies: "Marami, sobra – but most especially our sisig."

Philippine STAR
surveyed the country’s possible presidentiables for their favorite Cabalen dishes.

Opposition Senator Panfilo "Ping" Lacson said he strictly maintains his 34-inch waistline, but he could not resist eating Cabalen’s sinampalukan na manok, sinigang sugpo soup, kare-kare and the delicious different vegetable dishes. Senator Loren Legarda’s favorites are bopis and inihaw na hito with buro, while Tony Leviste of the Philippine Leisure and Retirement Authority prefers the healthier dishes. Presidential aspirant from Bicol ex-Education Secretary Raul Roco’s favorites are gatang monggo, palitaw na latik and camote.

Megastar Sharon Cuneta-Pangilinan’s favorites are kare-kare and bistig tiyan ng bangus. Sexy actress Ara Mina also loves the bistig tiyan ng bangus. Young actress Claudine Barretto’s favorites are dinuguan and lechon paksiw. Tourism Secretary Richard "Dick" Gordon of Wow Philippines says "Wow!" to favorite dishes asadong dila, morcon rice and kare-kare. Like ex-President Erap Estrada, former presidential daughter Kris Aquino loves sisig. Butz Aquino was recently seen ordering take-out of camaro (crickets). Executive Secretary Bert Romulo’s recent Malacañang birthday dinner was catered by Cabalen, and his favorites are the healthier foods such as the vegetable dishes.

Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) President Simon Roces Paterno and his romantic dates usually feast on his favorites of inihaw na hito na sinawsaw sa mustasa and other delectable fish dishes. National Security Adviser Roy Golez loves the tahong soup and Cabalen chicharon. Manila’s dynamic Mayor Lito Atienza loves pritong hito and ginisang patola. Former Miss International Melanie Marquez loves all the Cabalen foods but still manages to maintain her trim physique. TV personality Boots Anson Roa loves beef kaldereta.
Newest Cabalen At Exciting HP Village Square
One of the most exciting new developments in Manila’s urban renewal trend is the innovative HP Village Square lifestyle and entertainment complex within the city’s pioneer Harrison Plaza mall located at the corner of Mabini and Vito Cruz Streets across Bangko Sentral and beside tycoon Lucio Tan’s Century Park Sheraton Hotel. HP Village Square is envisioned to be the capital city’s new alternative to the Malate nightlife strip, with the advantages of its enclosed security, abundant parking spaces and well-planned development. Its designer, young Architect Kenny Quintal, is also the same designer of Megaworld taipan Andrew Tan’s phenomenally successful entertainment restaurant strip of Eastwood City.

A clear signal of this new project’s success is the popularity of the new 170-seater Cabalen Restaurant, which is owned by Harrison Plaza heiress Irene Martel Francisco as a franchisee of Cabalen. The prime movers behind HP Village Square are Irene and her 40-year-old brother Robert Puyat Martel. Philippine STAR recently had a luncheon interview with new business partners Maritel and Irene while feasting on the delicious buffet of diverse Kapampangan dishes. Coincidentally, both lady entrepreneurs Maritel and Irene are in their early 40s. Also joining the lunch was Contract Design Furniture president and Anvil Executive Club chairman Bernard "Bernie" Go, who recently purchased the Club Synergy Amusement Center inside Harrison Plaza from original owners Ivan Ramos and his mother Virgie Ramos.
What Secret Recipes For Delicious Success?
What are the secrets behind the success of the country’s largest authentic Kapampangan restaurant chain? Already celebrating its 15th anniversary this year, Cabalen (Kapampangan word for kababayan or "provincemate") under entrepreneur Maritel Nievera has already expanded to 10 branches, including two franchises owned by Irene Martel Francisco in HP Village Square and another one in the Sta. Lucia Mall owned by real estate tycoon Exy Robles‚ sisters Mila and Tonette.

Unlike other unscrupulous local restaurants who go into franchising without professionalism, good management or marketing promotions, Cabalen first built up its reputation and perfected its operations management before accepting two franchisees. A "secret weapon" of Cabalen in its franchising expansion is Maritel’s 27-year-old son and the chain’s business development manager Ian Tiongson. Irene said, "I went to Maritel three years ago to inquire about a Cabalen franchise. I love her buffets with 50 dishes. And there’s a cycle they change regularly, so the buffet foods are never boring. There’s value for money in Cabalen, and Maritel provides thorough training to us her franchisees."

Maritel Nievera’s father is Ilocano and she is a cousin of singer Bert Nievera and the aunt of Martin Nievera. Her mother is from the Ochoa family of Chinese mestizos and good cooks from Angeles City, Pampanga. She said that since Spanish colonial times, there were many Chinese mestizo families in Guagua and Bacolor towns, and Irene Francisco’s mother is from the Puyat family of Chinese mestizos with roots in Guagua. Before establishing Cabalen, Maritel operated her first restaurant business named "Bahay Pasalubong" in San Fernando, Pampanga. Later, the lady entrepreneur opened a successful chain of Pampanga Tocino centers which sold the popular native delicacies. Her third restaurant venture was "Ituro Mo, Iluto Ko" Restaurant also in San Fernando. She also co-owns Oody’s at Greenbelt 3, plus Mangan and Ebun, two modern Pinoy restos.

Maritel said, "Women in the Philippines are generally more organized than the men, especially the women entrepreneurs. Look at Irene, I do not look at her as a franchisee, but as a business partner. You have to admire Irene, she is from the successful Puyat and Martel families, she could afford not to work, but look at how enterprising and hardworking she is. She was born with a silver spoon, but she works hard like her cardiologist husband Dr. Randy Francisco. In my case, I wanted to make it on my own. I am committed to high quality foods for my restaurant business. There should be strict personalized supervision and attention to details. Kapampangan women are really very hardworking, because many of the Kapampangan men are known for being lazy, philandering men (laughs)...For one to do well in a business or profession, it’s important that you really enjoy your work. Secrets of our success? First is hard work, second is the vision, and third is consistency."

Irene Martel Francisco is owner of the newest Cabalen restaurant franchise and she also has her own restaurant called Ten Noodles at Harrison Plaza and Glorietta. She is the president of HP Village Square and boss of the Philippine Tatler Magazine. It was Irene who handed to President Gloria M. Arroyo the dark glasses which she wore for the world-famous, the controversial Men in Black half-hour photo shoot in Malacañang showing the President and her cabinet men.

Irene told Philippine STAR: "Why do I work despite our family’s many businesses? It’s due to my father’s influence, also my hardworking husband’s example. Being supposedly well-off, that’s really nothing, it’s only an advantage but it doesn’t really validate you as a person. You have to strive for your own success and your own self-esteem."

The favorite Cabalen dishes of the dynamic duo of Maritel and Irene? Maritel said, "Burong mustasa or pickled mustard Kapampangan version. But actually, all the Cabalen foods are my favorites, because all the dishes are approved by me personally. I make sure the quality and tastes are excellent." Irene added, "I love the kare-kare, laing, bagoong rice, grilled items, inihaw na baboy and all the unhealthy foods (laughs). But my husband Dr. Francisco, being a physician, he prefers only the healthier foods."

What are the top five Filipino regional cuisines? Maritel and Irene spent a few moments discussing their choices, and then replied: "Kapampangan, Ilonggo, Bicolano which is hot and spicy, Davao/Mindanao, and Ilocano. Kapampangan and Ilonggo are somewhat similar. Filipino foods should be a major tourist attraction, we should be proud of our Philippine cuisines."
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Thanks to the unusual amount of messages in response to the "Falling in Love Again and Again" column, which shows that many people are romantics. Please send comments, suggestions, jokes and even your delicious interesting food recipes to or or P.O. Box 14277, Ortigas Center, Pasig City.

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