Food and Leisure

Holy cow! Holy Carabao is at the pen

COME FRY WITH ME - Johanna Garcia - The Philippine Star
Holy cow! Holy Carabao is at the pen
Old Manila chef de cuisine Allan Briones with Holy Carabao co-founders Hindy Weber-Tantoco and Melanie Teng-Go

Good news, fellow city slickers. From May 15 to June 2, Old Manila will be offering a six-course degustation dinner prepared with Holy Carabao’s organic vegetables and dairy and responsibly sourced sustainable meat and seafood. The event aims to promote biodiversity, sustainability and the ethical sourcing of food, but don’t let those lofty goals fool you. This is some seriously good eating.

“Ultimately, the food has to be delicious,” said Old Manila chef de cuisine Allan Briones. “As a chef, you want to show respect for your quality ingredients and all the hard work that went into growing them, so that their natural deliciousness shines. And then you want to create a thoroughly enjoyable dining experience around those ingredients that makes your customers happy.”

Roasted vegetable tartlet with tomato, carabao milk cheese, beetroot gastrique and basil cream.

Holy Carabao co-founders Hindy Weber Tantoco and Melanie Teng-Go are equally passionate about sustainability. Tantoco said, “Patronize organic products, not just for the health aspect, but also considering the big picture. Our produce is a little more expensive not only because of the quality, but also because we pay our farmers living wages and full benefits. It’s the cheap food that you should question. It’s that cheap for a reason. Someone down the line is getting hurt.”

Trained under three-Michelin-star chef Marco Pierre White in London and Abu Dhabi, 38-year-old Briones is Old Manila’s very first Filipino chef and brings more than 15 years of culinary experience to the Old Manila table.  Having spent most of his working life abroad, he had never heard of Holy Carabao before but jumped at the chance to collaborate with them and visit their farm.  “It’s not at all what I expected,” he said. “It’s such a pretty farm. I remember thinking, I could live here.”

“It was a little intimidating having him at the farm at first,” Hindy recalls. “We were afraid to serve him our salad and our salad dressing.”

“Except on the way home, all my team and I could talk about was how good that salad was!” said Briones. “That’s the problem with being a chef. No one ever wants to cook for me. That’s why when people ask me now what my favorite meal is, I say, ‘Cup noodles.’ Add water, eat, go to bed. Done.”

Buko Davao milk chocolate, coconut, pineapple, cocoa soil and Muscovado sponge

I’m glad I’m not a chef. It’s too nerve-wracking,” Tantoco said. However, both Hindy and Melanie are accomplished home cooks. “I have growing boys, so I like making hearty meals, especially Korean,” Go said. Tantoco favors Filipino and Italian dishes, as well as homemade pickled foodstuffs and cheese.

Other than the initial jitters over serving their salad to a chef of Allan’s caliber, Tantoco and Go enjoyed having the Old Manila team at their farm. “Usually, chefs develop their menu and then ask us what we can provide. It was wonderful to have a chef come and see what was available and then develop a menu around that. That’s the very essence of the farm-to-table movement,” Tantoco said.

Comic moments also ensued during the photo shoot. “We kept trying to get Allan to smile, and he was having such a difficult time!” Tantoco recalls.

Grilled Berkshire pork tenderloin with squash ravioli, bacon, mustard seed, pickled yakon and tarragon butter.

“I’m an introvert,” Briones said with a shrug. “I don’t really enjoy talking to people, and I don’t smile. When I try, I get self-conscious because I feel like it looks unnatural. But now, Garch (Mariano Garchitorena, The Peninsula Manila’s director of public relations) says talking to people about the food and smiling, it’s part of the job, so I’m learning.”

Well, in my view, a man who can create food this delicious can pout all day if he wants to.

We started our meal with poached Canadian lobster served with banana heart, crab roe, cassava crisp and kaffir lime. The lobster was sweet and succulent, its delicate flavors enhanced by the freshness of the vegetables it was served with.

Roasted chicken consommé with white heritage corn flan, green papaya, kangkong and crackling

“The Peninsula was the first hotel chain in the world to stop serving sharks’ fin dishes,” Garchitorena said. “Now all our produce is either organic or sustainably sourced. Our fish is wild-caught, not farmed, and our meat is humanely raised and grass-fed. It’s a struggle sometimes to find the right suppliers, but it’s a commitment that we’ve made and intend to keep.”

Other highlights of the meal included a flan made from sweet heritage corn and served with a roasted chicken consommé, halibut served with a puffed Adlai crisp that tasted like a delicious, nutritious kropek, Berkshire pork tenderloin prepared sous-vide and then finished on the grill with squash ravioli, bacon, mustard seed and pickled yakon in a tarragon butter, and for dessert, a small “coconut” crafted from Davao chocolate filled with coconut and pineapple custards and served on cocoa “soil.”

When asked what she hoped people would take away from the experience, Hindy said, “Yes, it’s about the taste and flavors of Filipino ingredients. But more importantly, it’s also about the health of the soil and the planet. That’s what we teach in our workshops. Healthy soil and a healthy planet lead to a healthy you.”

Smoked halibut filet with long beans, oyster mushroom, radish, heirloom puffed adlai and roasted cashew

According to Allan, he may still make changes to the menu depending on the produce available. “One rule my team and I live by is that if it doesn’t taste good, it doesn’t come out of the kitchen. You never know what new sweet vegetables may sprout from the soil and come up on your plate. After all, it’s our job not just to feed our customers but to make them feel good about what they eat and their overall dining experience.”

Go ahead and smile for real, chef Allan. Mission accomplished.

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“Farm to Table: Old Manila and Holy Carabao Farm’s Organic Eats Collaborative Dinners” will be held from May 15 to June 2 in The Peninsula Manila’s signature restaurant, Old Manila. P3,850++ rate  is  inclusive of VAT and subject to 10 percent service charge and applicable local tax. 

* * *

For questions, comments and suggestions, email me at [email protected], visit my website www.realgirltoykitchen.com or follow me on FB (Real Girl Toy Kitchen)/IG: realgirltoykitchen.



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