Freeman Cebu Lifestyle

Hail The New Chef!

Dr. Nestor Alonso ll - The Freeman

CEBU, Philippines - He has no formal culinary schooling, but he has the passion, talent and endless gusto for the pursuit of culinary knowledge. He is Dionisio de los Reyes, the new Executive Sous Chef at the Quest Hotel & Conference Center Cebu culinary department (Archbishop Reyes Avenue, Cebu City, phone: 4025999; email: [email protected]).

Chef Toto hails from Negros and comes  from the school of hard knocks. 

He had an uncle who taught him the basics of cooking; and with the help of cookbooks and food videos, he has fine-tuned his kitchen skills. He has worked in various hotels and restaurants, specializing in Filipino and Spanish cuisine, which is suited for Quest and its restaurant, Puso Bistro & Bar.

PR Manager Mia Mae Sy invited a select group of media practitioners to the Chef's Table. Lunch started with an Appetizer called "Region 7," a Ceviche of Tangigue, Green mango, Cucumber, Shallots & Guso Seaweed dressed with native "pinakurat" vinegar. Ceviche is the "kinilaw" in the coastal regions of South and Central America, but it uses citrus fruits like lemon or lime instead of vinegar to "cook" the fresh raw salt-water fish. The acids in vinegar or citrus will denature the protein strands of the fish and this is the reason why "kinilaw" or ceviche is best consumed prepared fresh because the acids can also "overcook" the proteins. "Sukang pinakurat" is a special variety of spicy vinegar invented in Iligan City.

Soup was "Punaw and Corn Soup," simmered in Ginger broth and Moringa leaves. If those leaves look like "malunggay" leaves, you are correct because moringa is the English word for this plant derived from its scientific name, "Moringa oleifera." I have always loved the salt-water shellfishes and in the past they were indeed abundant. But over-harvesting has diminished the supply and pollution of the beach or sea had reduced my interest in eating these once delicious treats.

"Lechon Ceasar Salad" was then served, crisp Romaine lettuce heart doused in a garlicky Caesar salad dressing topped with lechon bits, dried mango and grated queso de bola. This is a reinvention of the Caesar's salad which was created by Caesar Cardini, an Italian who migrated to San Diego in 1924, and substituting bacon bits with lechon and parmesan cheese with queso de bola. My media colleagues including your favorite food reviewer declared later that this was the best dish served at the Chef's Table.

"Pork Chop Roll" was the main course. It was stuffed with herbs, grilled and served with "kasubha" and mushroom risotto. "Kasubha" or safflower imparts a yellow orange hue to food and has been a substitute for the more expensive saffron. It is also used in animal feed (1 teaspoon per 1000 kilos of feed) to provide yellow pigmentation to egg yolk. Unfortunately, a new poultry laborer mistakenly added 10 teaspoons and what were supposed to be yellow/orange egg yolks now became red egg yolks, only to be thrown away.

Dessert was "Chocolate Temptation," chocolate with Baileys' cream and pistachio, and this whole luncheon exercise left me wondering whether you really need to go to culinary school to excel in the arts of cooking. All the dishes I tried that day were well executed in the presentation and all tasted delicious. I only knew that Chef Toto had no formal culinary education when I read his résumé.

Perhaps, we should be reminded, excuse me, in what Alfred North Whitehead said in his book "Aims of Education": "Your learning is useless to you till you have lost your textbooks, burnt your lecture notes and forgotten the minutiae which you have learnt by heart for the examinations." (FREEMAN)

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