Two women
FROM THE STANDS - Domini M. Torrevillas (The Philippine Star) - March 26, 2019 - 12:00am

My column today is about two women – one living in Buenavista, Agusan del Norte, and the other in Gingoog City – whose stories will inspire those aspiring to become chefs or restaurateurs. 

The journey from Manila to Bancasi airport in Butuan City takes nearly six hours – from the ride to Terminal 3, to the wait at the departure area, to the actual plane flight, and to the baggage collection. That sure makes passengers hungry. My companion and I are now heading west to Gingoog City, and 15 minutes later, we are in the town of Buenavista, raring to have an early lunch in Masyll’s Food Haus, along the national highway.

From our previous frequent stops at Masyll’s, we became friends with the owner, Rosyll Ebarle Mahinay, whose story enthralls us. Hers is a familiar story of a young woman’s determination to go into the food business and make customers enjoy the fruits of her labor.

Rosyll, 49, is a restaurateur by choice, resisting parental desire for her to be in the medical field, like her three sisters (one a medical doctor, another a dentist, the third an optometrist. The fifth in the family, a male, is a geodetic engineer.) “Since I was small I liked cooking and baking pastries. I raised chickens and sold eggs in school.” She enjoyed going with her mother, a school teacher, to her rice field.  She knew what she wanted – to be in the restaurant business, over the objection of her father, who was working in Saudi Arabia and earning considerably to be able to send his children to expensive schools in Manila.

Rosyll went ahead, taking up the hotel and restaurant management course at Trinity College in Manila. During her six-month student training at Westin Hotel in Singapore, she learned the intricacies of cooking; after graduation she returned home to Buenavista, married Antonio Mahinay, a civil engineer from Placer, Masbate, and started baking cakes at home which she sold at her sisters’ clinics.

She then opened her food house – a simple wooden structure – on the family lot beside a gas station – along the highway. Her menu is simple Filipino dishes like tinolang manok, paksiw na isda, pork sisig, humba, fried chicken and chop suey.  

But Masyll’s Food Haus is known for its duck dishes – adobong pato, apritadang pato, patotim, balut adobo, and, by special order, roasted duck. 

The ducks and native chickens are raised in Masyll’s and her husband Mariano’s own five-hectare rice farm, using only organic fertilizer, without pesticides and injections. The pork dishes, as well as the litson and pork ham that people order during Christmas are made from her piggery in the backyard a few meters away from the resto. 

Rosyll makes her own guava jelly, pineapple jam, fish sauce (which she says only her restaurant makes), and guinamos (small fish fermented in salt for months). The balut, red eggs and penoy come from ducks raised in the farm.

The resto’s name is a contraction of Mariano’s and Rosyll’s names. Mar works as an electrician in an international ship. When he is on leave from work, he helps look after the farm and checks on what’s good for the resto.  

Rosyll is proud of her roasted duck, which is baked for four hours, and flavored with oyster and hot chili sauces.

The chef made us take home a roasted duck she had baked when she learned we were stopping by on our way home. That night, our dinner was real yummy, with Masyll’s Food Haus duck as the centerpiece, along with a bottle of Cabernet.  

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In Gingoog City Adelfa’s Eatery is a wonder at lunchtime. People are shoulder-to-shoulder pressed before the array of dishes (viands, if you may) displayed on shelves at the open corner of the carinderia that they take away. Either they have no time to cook, are tired of cooking, or want an extra dish or two for the menu at home or have lunch in the office. Others take their pick and eat inside the eatery.

Most popular is the balbakua – sold out once the caldero bearing the soup is put out – is like the bulalo except that it’s made of cow’s shank simmered for hours for succulent tenderness. Then there is the second best seller pork paklay, then pork adobo, pancit guisado, menudo, breaded pork chops, chicken drumsticks, ground pork, sweet and sour bola bola, and RM (a mix of finely chopped beef meat and cartilage christened as “Remember Me.”), among others.

The woman running this small negos-yo is Lalaine Cesar Cahandab, 54, an accounting graduate of San Carlos University in Cebu City. Lalaine’s mother, Adelfa Cesar, used to manage a sari-sari store on the ground floor of her house at the corner of Gono and Mendoza streets. “Business was good when the city’s public market was located at the town center. People who bought fresh foods and went shopping in the business establishments wound up buying condiments and chichiria here. When the market was transferred a few kilometers away, shoppers went that way too.” Lalaine’s mother retained her store, and gave a small space to her daughter who started selling viands and barbecue. To Lalaine’s surprise, people liked her cooking and kept coming back. Soon her mother gave up her space so Lalaine can set up a dining room with 14 small tables, while she ran a tiniest sari-sari store next door. “Just so she will have something to do,” says Lalaine.

But behind Lalaine’s success is her husband, Antonio Cahandab of Placer, Masbate, a marine engineering graduate in Cebu Central Colleges, now University of Cebu. They got married after graduation and moved to Gingoog. Antonio decided being a seaman was not his destiny; besides, their firstborn was a special child who needed his parents’ special attention. Antonio turned out to be a good cook. He cooks the main dishes at the back of the house, while Lalaine does the simpler recipes like fried fish, lumpia, bola bola and ginataan, and is the cashier, and in charge of marketing. 

When you’re on a budget, the place to go is Adelfa. We had balbakua, sautéed mongo, RM, a cup of good white rice and two soft drinks for only P420. Most of the dishes cost P45 per serving. 

Her customers are housewives, office secretaries, teachers, visiting businessmen, salesmen, students, and church pastors. Do the city officials come to the store? Lalaine smiled. “They send their maids to buy food here.”

Adelfa’s is able to have a good supply of fresh meats and keep prices down by developing trustworthy suppliers.

A big help is that her daughter Thea, 25, a registered nurse, decided to quit working in a hospital in Cebu to help in her parents’ food business. She serves customers and makes desserts, like maja blanca and frozen delights. Lalaine says Thea will be opening her own store across the street – to compete with Adelfa’s? – “No, she will be selling snacks and chichiria.” Watch how Thea will evolve into another successful entrepreneur like her mother.

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