Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Five Highlights of My Madrid Fusion Manila Experience

Department of Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez addressing the delegates and guests

Madrid Fusion Manila was my kind of wonderland. After all, I subscribe without reservation to Julia Child’s statement that “People who love to eat are always the best people” and MFM was filled with such people. I loved allowing my senses to lead me to familiar, comforting flavors as well as novel
pairings that would fire synapses in my brain. I came away with great pride for Philippine cuisine and a deep sense of what could be. 

Here are the highlights of my Madrid Fusion Manila experience:

1. The Conference Talks of Chef Margarita Fores and Chef Andoni Luis Aduriz, which were both inspiring and inspired.

 Chef Gaita onstage

Her masterful crab meat with crab fat and uni

Cow udder transformed

Chef Andoni Luis Aduriz’s talk was a fitting follow-up to Gaita’s. This chef doesn’t simply exalt his
ingredients; he incarnates them into something new and exquisite. He is an absolute culinary rock star.

Appropriately, his topic was “Open Creativity.” He challenged the audience’s perception of reality by engaging their senses and demonstrating how some of the most prized items are produced from the most unlikely sources.

The culinary world refers to him with various exalted titles. To me, he is the Loki of the kitchen, the recent incarnation of a trickster in gastronomy. In mythology, a trickster is a god “who exhibits a great degree of intellect or secret knowledge and uses it to play tricks or otherwise disobey normal rules and conventional behavior.” I think that Wikipedia description was written just for him. The audience witnessed an example of his transcendent preparations when he presented a video of the ice shreds that he serves at Mugaritz, ranked no. 6 best restaurant in the world. What he does is as much
science as art, and the world of food is better for it.

2. The Trade Exhibit area was the first thing I hit on the first day. Somehow, the glutton in me often gains the upper hand over the gourmand. My pulse quickened at the sight of the beautiful legs of jamon Iberico displayed with pride at a couple of booths, but I fell in love with the one brought in by Terry’s Selection with its dark red meat marbled with veins of fat. Terry’s even brought in a Filipino master carver from Spain to serve guests.

The excitement was evident at every corner, even more so at the center where all the food tastings and seminars were happening. I attended a seminar on Philippine cheeses and was happily reacquainted with the Malagos cheeses of Olive Puentespina, who walked us through the cheese-making process at their Davao farm. I loved her creamy Blush cheese and punchy chevre.

I also signed up for the cheese tasting of Terry’s Selection but I had to step out of the venue so my brother took my slot. He and my best friend, Chef Bernardita Gotis of W Hotel in San Francisco, set aside samples for me to try when I got back. The red wine cheese was a standout, the saltiness of the hard cheese surprisingly complementing the full bodied red wine flavor. Ingenious. 

I also immensely enjoyed the convivial fiesta atmosphere at the Albay and Calabarzon booths.

Albay gave an haute cuisine treatment to local specialties, with wine pairings to boot! The menu was
designed by Chef Gene and Gino Gonzales of Café Ysabel and Center of Asian Culinary Studies. The pili-smoked roasted beef belly with kurakding mushrooms and caramelized onion demiglace was one of the clear winners in the entire exhibit. You will want to bring it home.

The Calabarzon booth was packed with people but my friend Clang Garcia, publisher of Colors magazine and proprietor of Jeepney Tours, introduced us to Director Rebecca Labit of the DOT who welcomed us so warmly and gave us a succession of plates of regional specialties to sample. All attention was on Balaw-Balaw’s minaluto, an assortment of grilled meat, poultry and seafood served in a winnowing basket that is also filled with rice prepared in a variety of ways–with bagoong (a local condiment made of fermented fish or krill) and with annatto and turmeric, to mention a few.

Plowing all that food into my system was slowly pulling me into siesta mode but I immediately perked up at the sight of the organic lechon from Costales Farms. It had crisp, golden brown skin with just a thin sliver of fat and a clean-tasting meat.

3. I was able to sample the lunch at the delegates’ area and the lunch at the media room and I must say the latter got the better part of the deal. I mean, much better. The best thing I tasted at the delegates’ lunch was the sans rival from Sans Rival Cakes and Pastries in Dumaguete. It was chewy, nutty, velvety and divine. And at the Media Lunch? Let’s see. Where do I begin?

    I was only able to sample the media lunch during the third day. I didn’t bother to use my access to the media lounge the first two days because I had wrongly assumed that they would be serving the same food. I heard that the food served on the second day was the best but, if I didn’t taste it, it never happened, right?

    Chef Ricketts’s adlai with pig’s blood and offal

    Chef Bruce and I

    The air in the media room was electric as a number of chefs personally prepared their tasting portions at their respective stations. Those that had to be assembled in the kitchens were carried to the room in trays.

    Chef Lau’s tuna kinilaw

    Chef Lau’s curacha salad

    The featured chefs more than willingly explained their food to anyone who bothered to ask. Consistently the most approachable and down-to-earth, Chef Laudico of Bistro Filipino was in his element, serving his tuna kinilaw while explaining to us how to enjoy his curacha salad with grilled pineapple. I went for seconds of Chef Bruce Ricketts’s dirty rice, which makes use of adlai, our local version of Arborio, mottled with pig’s blood and mixed with bits of offal. It tasted very much like dinuguan but had an interesting, nutty texture. I am aware of all the buzz around Mecha Uma and
    around Chef Ricketts’s wizardry in the kitchen so I found it refreshing to see this young chef so pleasant and grounded. 

    With the ever amiable Chef Gaita Fores at the media lounge

    4. Press dinner at El Cirkulo. It was a last-minute decision to detour to Makati to attend Chef Jay Gamboa’s dinner at El Cirkulo for the MFM press. I was glad I went because it turned out to be a stellar meal with great company.

      Judd and I shared a table with Chef Carlo Miguel of 71 Gramercy and his wife Ria, Cito of The Country Club in Canlubang, three journalists from Spain and some foodie guests from Belarus.

      I had been eating the entire day so I had to pace myself with the chorizo, jamon and queso Manchego.

      I wanted more of the sisig but I reined in my appetite to make room for the cochinillo asado, which Chef Gamboa carried on a tray in his arms to the dining room to show off to every table like a proud father to this beautiful swine with golden skin lacquered in oil. I was told never to marry a pig but I wouldn’t have minded this one (after all, it is consumable).  Right behind the chef was a waitstaff carrying another prized offering, roasted lamb with garlic and rosemary. Chef Gamboa’s flavors at his restaurants are always spot-on and he didn’t fail us that night.

      The cochinillo had a luscious depth of flavor goosed up from the roasting and a skin that was delightfully crackly.

      The lamb was so well prepared it had lost its off-putting gaminess but retained its flavor.

      I couldn’t resist the paella Montaña with its perfectly al dente rice, earthy Portabella mushrooms, crunchy asparagus, sweet roasted garlic cloves and drizzle of truffle oil.

      I would have stopped there had Cito not mentioned that the guinumis was topnotch. And he was right. It provided the exclamation point to an unforgettable meal.

      Saturday, April 11, 2015

      How to choose a vacation rental or an AirBNB home

      Since I booked my first vacation rental in Honolulu six or so years ago, I’ve become a fan of this type of accommodation. Online, I chanced upon a dreamy place in Waikiki that had plantation-style architecture and a partial view of the beach, and at $150 a night, it was a steal. I was a bit disconcerted upon arrival when I saw that work was being done in the hallway but when I stepped inside the unit, I was relieved to find the studio as I had imagined it to be—perhaps even
      better, because the owners were thoughtful enough to leave a basket of Hawaii-made goodies on the table and stock up the cabinets with helpful guidebooks and DVDs of movies shot in Hawaii (50 First Dates!). When I opened the closet, there were foldable beach chairs, snorkeling gear, beach towels and toys—things you’ll most likely need if you were to spend a family holiday in Hawaii with kids in tow.

      Since then, I made it a point to check out apartment rentals whenever I have an extended trip (i.e. longer than five days). Hotel rooms are worth the splurge for short stays where I can’t be bothered to carry my own luggage or I expect to spend days in bed in blissful languor sustained by room service and in-room massage. Otherwise, rentals are a practical choice, and some are so lovely you’d wish you lived in them.

      Good rentals are not easy to find. I remember spending hours of research on the computer before finding something worth shortlisting. This was years before AirBNB came into the scene and changed everything.

      I used AirBNB for the first time last September when I went to France and Italy for a vacation. As a first-time user, I didn’t know if I was getting the real deal but I found the registration process reassuring. You can’t fake your identity because you have to submit an official identification, which is
      authenticated by a software.

      Of course I still had to scour thousands of listings, especially in Paris, which is a big city. But there were filter tools that made the process more manageable. In Paris, for instance, I knew I wanted to stay at the Left Bank, in the area of St Germain de Pres. So I applied the filter and used the map to
      check out every listing in the area. I also filtered the price and number of rooms to cut the list down further.

      Model and blogger Kim Jones stayed at the above AirBNB rental in Paris. Isn’t it a dream?


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