A legacy passed on

- Lydia Castillo (The Philippine Star) - November 18, 2012 - 12:00am

A respected chef and restaurant owner who has ruled the industry for decades has generously passed on his “secrets” and life story – from being a migrant from Avila, Spain, to developing a Filipino heart and rising to become a culinary icon in his adopted country.

This man is Anastacio de Alba –  “Colas” to his friends – who, thankfully, is passing on his legacy not only to his son Miguel, but to all of us who have, through the years, benefited from his culinary genius. In “The Alba Cookbook” Señor Alba and his son unselfishly share their once-secret recipes.

The 80-plus Colas recounts the journey he made from his native land to this country. He was a dishwasher in a boy’s dormitory where he keenly observed the cook who, after noticing the young man’s interest in cooking, made him an apprentice. He then applied to work in Chipen, where, by a stroke of fate, he met a prominent Filipino gentleman who was so impressed with his steak, he offered to fly Alba to Manila – and thus began the Alba cooking saga.

Who among the alta sociedad, dining-out and partying Filipinos, government officials and diplomats have not heard of and taken a meal at THE Casino Español where the Señor introduced paella? We were lucky that our work then afforded us the chance to participate in some of their events. We got “educated”on Spanish cuisine as the chef conquered Manila.

What is now Alba is a result of some wise moves the man undertook. After a few years with Casino Español, Señor Alba went on his own and established his restaurants, the first being El Español on Romero Salas street in Ermita, until the current Alba restaurant evolved.

The Señor has a mixed grouping of friends, among them the vendors at Quinta market where he would buy most of his needs. It was here that the name Colas originated. When he would come, they would shout “hayan na si Kulas,” which, the Spanish-speaking man would pronounce “Colas.” The name stuck.

It was not all cooking that Alba did. He once dabbled in Teatro Filipino and was a member of the Trio Los Amigos. He also writes poems. He hobnobbed with the powers-that-be, one of whom helped him acquire Filipino citizenship.

Colas, with a heart for the Filipinos – he assists charitable agencies – has become a kababayan (countryman).

We are very glad that, with the Alba Cookbook, we can now do an authentic version of a favorite of ours, salpicado de solomillo, tenderloin steak in lots of garlic.

If you buy the cookbook now, you might still get the offer of a free lunch at Alba, either in Makati or Alabang, where the cochinillo is forever crispy and the sangria will whet your appetite to indulge.

We would call “Linamnam,” the culinary book of husband and wife tandem, Claude and Mary Anne Tayag, an epic. For it is a massive narrative, written in an easy-to-read style, on the what, who, where and how of Filipino cuisine. They must have taken years to compile all the materials that went into the writing and production of this book. It must also have entailed a lot of daring, zeal and patience to travel to all the areas they covered.

They must have photographic memories of the various dishes they featured, because photos are sometimes not as vivid as one’s memory. Then they must have remembered each different taste and texture. They must love Filipino food so much.

Anyway, this account on the book is rather late. We have placed it among our collection and paid serious attention to its contents only about a fortnight ago.

We were so pleasantly surprised at its format, the details of each trip, and the narrative treatment of the recipes. Any good cook would be able to duplicate them, even without measurements and procedure.

The authors traveled from the Ilocos region to Mindanao, actually searching for indigenous culinary treasures. Local names are used with their equivalent in English.

But then, what is “linamnam”? The word is used when one is super satisfied. It is a feeling, of taste and texture. It is, per Claude and Mary Ann, “beyond tasty, savory, delicious. It is the 5th taste which the Japanese call umami.”

Get the book and discover the Philippines’ linamnam.

Have a good Sunday!


 E-mail comments and questions to ldcastillo327@yahoo.com.ph.

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