Food and Leisure

Filipino chefs shine at Taal Vista Hotel

Joy Angelica Subido, Joy Angelica Subido, Karla Alindahao - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - The buffet called “Culinary Gems: A Festival of Filipino Food Flavors” in Taal Vista Hotel’s Café Veranda is timely when local chefs are pulling out all the stops so that the rest of the world can recognize and appreciate the richness and variety of our local cuisine. By enlisting the talents and expertise of country’s most bold and forward-thinking Filipino chefs, the landmark hotel in Tagaytay City gives diners an opportunity to be reintroduced to the almost-forgotten flavors of their childhoods. Alternatively, restaurant patrons may be encouraged to discover and appreciate unfamiliar specialties from other regions in the Philippines.  

“As professional chefs, it is our role to improve on the usual Filipino specialties from home kitchens without touching the tradition and heritage of the cuisine,” says restaurateur and popular Master Chef judge Fernando Aracama. “By using the best ingredients and improving on technique or cooking methods, the goal should be to come up with a cleaner, perhaps healthier dish without compromising original flavors.” 

From the buffet spread at Café Veranda, it was also apparent that presentation is pivotal. We had to amble by the different buffet stations many times before deciding where to start because chef Aracama’s beautifully plated dishes that reflect his Negrense roots were equally tempting.

Our first choice had to be an appetizer of malunggay dip on pan tostado because of its attractive blue ternate (Kordofan pea) flower-petal garnish. From then on, we methodically grazed through tasting portions of a refreshing ensalada (eggplant, pako, jackfruit, puso ng saging,pomelo coconut salad, ampalaya salad with tomato vinaigrette and danggit flakes, ginataang langka triangles, tilapia pate and shallot confit tartlets, and others.

Done with the appetizers, we had a comforting bowl of pancit molo before moving on to the hot dishes of chicken inasal, KBL (kadyos, baboy and langka), sigarilyas gising-gising-style, ginataan labong at saluyot, inihaw na posit na may kamatis at sibuyas, and beef adobo sa tuba boldly flavored just as we like it. There was also an outstanding sinanglay na isda en papillote that was steamed with an alibangbang (butterfly tree) leaf to give the fish a light and pleasant sourness.

The star of the buffet would have to be the porchetta Negrense, however. Beautifully seasoned with assorted herbs and spices, plus cooked to perfection with golden, crisp skin, it was immensely satisfying so that we had second (and then third) servings. By then, we thought ourselves too satiated to even attempt dessert. But we heroically managed to try the buko panna cotta and a Choc-Nut ice cream for a soothing finish.

Certainly, the Culinary Gems spread promotes renewed appreciation of the Philippines’ variety of ingredients and richness of culinary tradition.

But what will it take for this caliber of cooking to reach the grassroots level? And if Filipino food can be like this, why has it been unable to gain a steady foothold on the global stage?

“I do not know of any professional chefs in the grassroots areas who offer this,” admits chef Aracama, citing economic realities and other issues necessary for businesses to thrive. “But we have many indigenous ingredients and it would be a good idea to explore how these can be used. Sourcing good quality products and encouraging farmers to create a sustainable supply might also be a good place to start.”    

More than the food, I realized that the real culinary gems in Taal Vista Hotel’s Culinary Gems buffet are the featured chefs themselves because they are willing to work towards improving the lives of the most disadvantaged Filipinos. 

“I’ve joined groups in Negros twice where we go to the countryside to show support for organic farmers by teaching the community to cook. But the reality is that many people attend these events because they want to watch a show,” chef Aracama rues. Nevertheless, he tirelessly works at increasing food awareness so that the needy, in particular, will recognize readily available ingredients around them and put them to imaginative and beneficial use.

“Food is not just about flavor,” chef Aracama believes. “It is a social, economic, even political issue. In a time of pagpag when people are digging up trash to feed their family, it will be a major turnaround to teach people that what grows around them is nutritious.”

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Featured at “Culinary Gems : A Festival of Filipino Flavors” buffet in Taal Vista Hotel, Tagaytay City, are chef Fernando Aracama on Sept. 13 and 14; chef Sau del Rosario on Sept. 20, 21, 27 and 28; chef Babes Austria on Oct. 4,5, 11 and 12; Taal Vista executive chef Edwin Santos on Oct.18, 19, 25 and 26; chef Bruce Lim on Nov. 1, 2, 8 and 9; and chefs Rolando and Jackie Laudico on Nov. 15, 16, 22 and 23. For reservations and inquiries, call 917-8225 or 0917-809-1254, or visit the website at www.taalvistahotel.com.

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