Foodie family: Nelia Silverio with son Michael Dee and daughter Isabelle Dee and her specialties from Belle’s Fave, like the Caviar Cake (center), Carrot Walnut with Cream Cheese cake loaf and White Choco Cranberry Macadamia cookies (right).
Mother knows best in the Silverio-Dee household
CULTURE VULTURE - Therese Jamora-Garceau (The Philippine Star) - July 23, 2020 - 12:00am

Nelia Silverio passed on her passion for food and cooking to kids Michael and Isabelle Dee, and they’ve each opened their own food-delivery businesses, Macho Cochinillo

and Belle’s Fave, respectively.

Pork tender: Michael infuses his cochinillo with Thai flavors and serves it with Cilantro Rice and two kinds of sauce.

Mother knows best?

That’s certainly the case in the Silverio-Dee family, where mom Nelia Silverio taught her kids Michael, Mark and Isabelle everything she knows about food.

“I just love to eat and if there is something that tastes really good, I try to figure out how it was cooked, so that started me with experimenting and creating,” Nelia says.

She learned how to cook simple dishes from her mother before taking cooking lessons. “It was my life — nonstop cooking lessons and learning,” Nelia recalls. “Even when I am abroad I always have time to take cooking lessons. I just love it.”

Nelia’s husband Bernard Dee is a chef and the family had a food court called Ilonggo Grille at Guadalupe and Tongue Thai in Quad 2, which was transformed into Glorietta 2.

Nelia also opened a restaurant called Guava in Serendra back in the day, and it was a pioneer in terms of serving Filipino cuisine. “Honestly, I think that I was the first one who started making Filipino dishes with a twist, and this was the concept of Guava,” Nelia says.

Her son Michael Dee, 35, recalls, “It was one of the first restaurants to open in Serendra during BGC’s early days.”

Daughter Isabelle, who’s Nelia’s youngest child at 28, remembers, “The restaurant's specialty was dishes using guava fruit, like sinigang na baboy sa bayabas, BBQ spareribs with guava glaze, and the most popular was the dessert of guinatan halo-halo with guava cream.”

“My family loves food and eating,” says Isabelle, who spends a lot of time with her mom. “Especially when traveling, we love experiencing and exploring new restaurants and unique dishes. When my mother would cook, she would prepare like there is always a party or guests! Even if it's a simple dinner, it will always be executed like there's a big party or a very important guest, even if it would be only us.”

Adds Michael, “During our Sunday lunches growing up, we would have all types of cuisines at home. My parents would be the ones to cook. Our trips to Hong Kong, Bangkok, Taipei and the USA exposed us to all kinds of delicacies, not knowing that it would be useful today.”

Isabelle inherited her mom's baking recipes. “My mom loves using luxe ingredients and ‘fusionizing’ the cakes she makes.”

Michael, meanwhile, grew up loving his mom’s recipes for cochinillo, its accompanying sauces and cilantro rice so much he started making and selling it from their home back in 2011 while working a day job at a bank.

“Fast forward to 2020, at the height of ECQ, when I lost my current job, I decided to revive the side hustle and turn it into a full-time business,” he relates.

Inspired by his two-month-old son Matthew, whose nickname is Macho, Michael named his cochinillo delivery service Macho Cochinillo, Fresh Oven Roasted. “The concept is Thai-infused flavors in every cochinillo, wherein the skin stays crispy and locks in all the juicy, tender pork meat that you’ll ever taste,” he says. “Our mind-blowing sauces — Suppah Thai Sauce and Mean Green Boss Sauce — will enlighten your taste buds. Lastly, the perfect complement is our Cilantro Rice, freshly cooked daily.”

He uses only fresh, premium ingredients in his marinades and sauces, and it shows. The meat of the suckling pig is fragrant, permeated by herbs like lemongrass and cilantro, and this Thai twist is perfect — not only to cut through any fattiness but also setting Michael’s Macho cochinillo apart from the rest of the herd.

“We offer servings for all occasions and are the only ones that offer ‘Half Roast’ and ‘Sampler Kits’ for cochinillo,” he adds.

Belle jars: Belle’s Fave bestselling spreads and dips include Tuna Mushroom, Holiday Cheese, Two Cheese, Hummus, Tuna-nesca, and Mushroom Paté.

Belle’s fave

During lockdown Nelia’s only daughter Isabelle found that “spending so much time at home can unlock hidden talents and passion. I have always had a passion for food, but cooking/baking is what I discovered during this period.”

She started Belle's Fave with a menu based on the family’s favorite home recipes. “I started it because my friends would crave the caviar cake that I usually have during my birthday celebrations at home.”

Nelia says she’s been making that caviar cake for 20 years now: “It was not even called a cake (back then).”

Their current iteration, Belle’s Fave Caviar Cake, is breathtaking when you open the box. Available in four-, six-, eight-, and nine-inch sizes, it looks like something you would serve royalty, with sparkling gold leaf dotting the center of a generous, inky layer of black lumpfish caviar, and green parsley leaves prettily adorning the sides. “We added a secret blend of herbs,” Isabelle says about the dreamy cake, which comes with two halves of a lemon wrapped in mesh ready for squeezing, and bags of Melba toast.

“Eventually I added other home-favorite recipes to share,” Isabelle says, like her bestselling jars of spreads and sauces. The 200g sweet-savory Holiday Cheese Jar is so popular “I had to make a bigger size (300g) because my clients love them so much!”

Also available are hummus, Tuna Mushroom, Tuna-nesca (which would go great with pasta), and my personal favorites, her Mushroom Paté (a creamy blend of shiitake and white button mushrooms that tastes like porcini), Just Pesto (fresh, bright, and excellent as a dip or pasta sauce), and Two Cheeses (an addictive duo of white and cheddar cheese with pimento).

Belle’s Fave also offers desserts like her popular Banana Choco Walnut with Cream Cheese Cake Loaf: “Even if there are so many out on the market, (customers) would reorder and crave for it!”

‘Never scrimp on quality’

Both Isabelle and Michael say the most valuable lesson they learned from mom Nelia in the kitchen was to never scrimp on quality, authentic ingredients.

“My mom's food presentation has to be grandiose!” Isabelle declares. “Growing up with my parents, I remember that food needs to be beautiful. Everything needs to have drama — a feast for your eyes first before your tummy.”

Affirms Nelia, “I don’t scrimp on ingredients and presentation, and I don’t like the taste to suffer. It is very important to really use quality ingredients.”

At present the Silverio-Dee matriarch is waiting for the family’s events place, The Southlake in Talisay, to be operational. “This is where my son Mark — who by the way is also in food delivery of diet meals — will handle the catering for our clients,” Nelia says. “I stay out of the kitchen now because it is always busy with my daughter Isabelle and son Michael both experimenting and cooking.”

I ask if she would ever want to open a restaurant again and she says, “If I were much younger I would do it again, but right now the restaurant scene is so different. The millennials are amazing! So I guess I will leave that to my kids.”

* * *

To order from Belle’s Fave, contact 0917-527-2243. For more info, go to IG: @bellesfave, FB: Belle's Favorites, or email belle.fave.ph@gmail.com.

To order Macho Cochinillo contact 0977-846-8886, visit IG: @machocochinillo and FB: Macho Cochinillo.

* * *

Follow the author on Instagram @theresejamoragarceau or Facebook: Therese Jamora-Garceau.

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