SM founder Henry Sy Sr.
Her father’s dream come true
PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez (The Philippine Star) - October 11, 2019 - 12:00am

Over two decades ago, the late SM founder Henry Sy Sr. was seriously envisioning a brighter future for then Taal Vista Lodge, that iconic hotel on the ridge with a ringside view of Taal Lake. The hotel held a special place in his heart because he used to visit Taal Vista Lodge and just sit on the ridge and look ahead at the horizon.

According to his daughter Elizabeth, she happened to be in his office one day and he summoned her to his desk and asked her to handle the total makeover of the Taal Vista Lodge, the “Grand Dame” by the ridge.

“Well, I am not really for the banking or retail side of the business, so  why not?” she thought to herself before she gamely took on the responsibility. Elizabeth likes the hotel business because she feels it adds to the Filipinos’ happiness quota.

Hence, Christmas Tree lighting projects always get her nod. She was recently asked by one of the hotels under the SM group that was undergoing renovation if it could spend less on Christmas lighting and trimmings as revenues were affected by the renovation.

Elizabeth gave them a flat “No.” She believes people always look forward to Christmas lights and giant Christmas trees.

Maybe that’s why Elizabeth always has a twinkle in her eye — she knows her line of work lights up faces and brightens up lives.

***

Taal Vista Hotel, for one, is a wellspring of many happy memories. Who doesn’t have childhood memories of picnics on the grass and horseback riding in Tagaytay, then having lunch or merienda at Taal Vista?

No visit with balikbayans to Tagaytay was complete without a photo by a ledge in Taal Vista, with the breathtaking Taal Lake and Volcano as nature’s own “photo wall.”

During our 25th wedding anniversary in November 2010, we spent our first magical night as a silver couple in one of Taal Vista Hotel’s ridge-view rooms.

So when I was invited by Taal Vista Hotel to partake in the celebration of its 80th birthday, themed “As time goes by,” I just couldn’t miss it. The hotel is in my reservoir of happy memories.

The hotel’s management promised the luncheon celebration would be like dining “with the flavors of history,” from the Commonwealth era to the 21st century, “one bite at a time.”

And deliver on the promise it did with a seven-course lunch at the hotel’s Taza Restaurant delightfully curated by Clang Garcia and interpreted by chef Jayme Natividad.

The first bites of history came from hors d’oeuvres of shrimp with desiccated coconut and adobong dilaw sa pan de bulilit. These emanated from the ‘30s to ‘40s when an American businessman set up a desiccated coconut plant in San Pablo, Laguna, where coconut plantations reigned. Then there were also slices of chicken relleno, a symbol of the celebratory atmosphere after the war.

Inspired by the ‘60s, the beginning of Nora Daza’s continuing influence on Filipino kitchens, lumpiang sariwa rolls in a fresh coconut shell were served as appetizer.

Representing the ‘70s era in the Philippines was cocido, plated to world-class standards as introduced in the decade by Glenda Barretto.

In the 1980s, Myrna Segismundo, according to a guide to the themed lunch, was the culinary icon. The gourmet specialty store Santi’s was also born, offering quality gourmet products from around the world. Poached seabass in saffron foam was served.

Hibiscus tarragon was then served to represent the ‘90s, a time when Amy Besa and Romy Dorotan introduced endemic regional crops in their Manhattan kitchen.

The main course was Bukidnon wagyu strip steak with Amadeo coffee port sauce, representing the new millennium and the rise of global consciousness on environmental sustainability for food. According to our guide leaflet, artist Claude Tayag  shifted gears into the kitchen during this decade.

Dessert was blue pea coconut cheesecake, influenced by the “progressive gastronomy” of Madrid Fusion Manila that first rocked the local culinary landscape in 2015.

Good wines accompanied every dish, while music from a particular era matched the dish it inspired. For instance, strains of Somewhere Over the Rainbow from the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz wafted in the air at the beginning of the thoughtfully curated lunch. You see, it was in 1939 that Taal Vista’s story began.

***

The Grand Dame by the ridge in Tagaytay was the vision of then newly elected Commonwealth President Manuel L. Quezon, who expressed his desire to develop Tagaytay into a tourist destination. It had the cool climes and the spectacular view so appealing to visitors — but it lacked comfortable lodging. Quezon thus ordered the Manila Hotel to build a lodge and golf course along the ridge overlooking the lake. Three years later, on Oct. 7, 1939, the Taal Vista Lodge opened its doors.

Since then, the ownership of Taal Vista Lodge has changed hands. In 1988, when the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) put the hotel on the block, Sy made a substantial offer and acquired it through SM Investments Corp. (SMIC).

To meet the growing need for hotel rooms in Tagaytay, SMIC decided to close down Taal Vista Lodge in 1999 for renovation and expansion. Sy requested Elizabeth to oversee the work and appointed her president of SM Hotels and Conventions Corp. On March 27, 2003, the lodge reopened as Taal Vista Hotel with a new wing to accommodate more conference facilities and amenities for business and leisure activities.

Today, the 80-year-old Grand Dame of Tagaytay remains a proud symbol of the history and heritage of Tagaytay and the continuing promise of its future.

It is a promise kept by a loving daughter to her revered father. *

(You may e-mail me at joanneraeramirez@yahoo.com. Follow me on Instagram @joanneraeramirez.)

 

DREAM COME TRUE
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