Food and Leisure

Seasoned chefs in Heat

- Mary Ann Quioc Tayag -

MANILA, Philippines - I don’t like him,” said one of my hubby’s friends. “He has the nerve to call himself a chef and even named his restaurant after himself.” 

“But that is because he is a chef,” I said.

“So? Does Claude refer to himself as Chef Claude?”

“No, because Claude is not a chef but a kusinero. He did not go to a culinary school eh,” I explained further but she was not convinced at all that a diploma makes a chef.

Anyone can don an apron and call himself or herself a cook. But when or how does a cook earn the title of chef? In the ‘70s to the early ‘80s, if you remember, Filipinos in five-star hotel kitchens were called cooks or kusineros and only the white kitchen bosses wore toques and were addressed as “chef.” This was not discrimination at all, because our talented kusineros (Filipino cooks) who were happy with their hairnets felt the toque and title meant having diplomas in culinary schools abroad and not by simply learning the skills while tied to their mother’s aprons. And only now in the 21st century have culinary schools sprouted everywhere in our country like mushrooms; so we also now have our own distinguished Pinoy chefs. Given a few more years, they will outnumber our nurses. And now that we have a chef in every Pinoy family, one may ask, is it indeed in the diploma or is it in the taste of the pudding?

Last week, Claude and I had lunch with Glenda Barretto, Myrna Segismundo, Jill Sandique, Micky Fenix and Karina Bolasco. A quick glance at our table, and one would think it was a meeting for the book Kulinarya: A Guidebook to Philippine Cuisine. Indeed, Glenda, Myrna and Claude are three of Kulinarya’s co-authors (the other three are Gaita Fores, Jessie Sinsioco and Conrad Calalang), while Micky is the editor, Jill is a consultant, and Karina is putting out the book through Anvil Publishing.

Since they are all foodies and food writers, the conversation was naturally as mouth-watering as the actual eating. As we arrived I saw Glenda passing a bowl of fresh uni (yes, a bowl) to Myrna after scooping a big spoon of it onto her plate. I had to swallow my saliva for uni is one of my favorites and admittedly I had never seen so generous a serving before. But I must line my stomach with other food before I can take anything raw. Thank God there was still so much left after Myrna got one big spoonful as well. Claude headed first for Glenda’s paella-stuffed lechon while I got a slice of Myrna’s boneless cochinillo roulade and white rice. The first and the last time I tried this signature dish of Myrna was at the Shangri-La Mactan food festival. The poor piglet is de-boned and its meat rolled with the skin facing out before roasting. Thus the skin is equally distributed and it remains crackling crispy to the end. Even the Cebuanos, who take so much pride in their lechon, were very impressed.

Batangueña Karina, who often eats out and misses home cooking, had her plate full of Myrna’s orange-y Batangas pork adobo, which was flavored with atchuete and, of course, is best eaten with our Pinoy favorite, white rice. The oil separates from the meat of pork ribs, reminding me of my grandmother’s adobo. Micky must have been feeling British that lunch because she started with the hotel’s prime rib with Yorkshire pudding. I went back for the beef caldereta, with its meat so tender and the taste was a lot more intense than usual, resembling a Spanish stew. It was very hard to resist the sinigang na baboy, soured by fresh sampaloc, as it smelled so good simmering hot on the buffet table. After five fresh imbao (large clams) from the bed of ice I was ready for my uni on steaming hot rice mixed with wasabi and soy sauce. It was heavenly. Lastly, I just couldn’t resist getting a spoonful of the anchovies and blue cheese spread on salted crackers to satisfy my yearning for salty food. It was deadly superb.

On the other hand Jill, the pastry expert, was not really eating but simply picked and analyzing every dish. She entertained us with her stories of their recent European trip which worked out very well for us all — she did all the talking while we did all the eating. But as we all finished eating (and she had not finished talking), she got up and served us her light and sweet canonigo, the most popular and quickest to disappear from the hotel’s buffet table. Many mistakenly believe canonigo to be of Spanish origin. It is an Italian dessert made of whipped egg white and creamed egg yolk and caramelized sugar. Its taste is similar to Brazo de Mercedes but fluffier and sweeter with the latter’s egg yolk cream filling.

Glenda, Myrna and Jill are three icons in our country food scene. Glenda Barretto owns Via Mare Seafood Specialty and is the author of ASEAN Seafood Cookbook Philippine Edition, Flavors of the Philippines and Via Mare: A Seafood Cookbook. She is the country’s most sought-after caterer and our “Philippine food ambassador,” as she has represented our cuisine in many food exhibitions abroad and catered for foreign dignitaries. Myrna Segismundo is the director of Restaurant 9501 of ABS-CBN. She is the organizer of the annual National Food Showdown, indeed a stiff competition among culinary students from all over the country and professional chefs as well. 

Jill Sandique is a food consultant and television show host. Best known for her pastries and cakes, particularly Pistachio Sans Rival, Concorde, Pavlova and Apple Pie under the Delize brand, and for her tips and recipes on her TV show, Kusinabilidad.

All three are very successful, known, admired and appreciated for their talent and passion for Filipino food. All three are addressed as “chef” (and I have not heard anyone refute that). Only one of the three went to a culinary school and the other two do not have diplomas to give them the title of chef. (And I am not telling who.) But for a taste of their pudding, go have lunch or dinner at “Kulinarya: A Filipino Food Festival” at Heat, EDSA Shangri-La, Manila’s all-day dining restaurant, that will end today, June 24. For restaurant reservations, call 633-8888 local 2741.

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