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Mission Manila accomplished

12:10 AM April 17, 2016

Why look overseas when we have treasures right here?

I made phone call after phone call the week before Madrid Fusion Manila, inquiring about the dinners during the congress, desperately looking for Filipino representation.

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Dinner with the Stars kicked off with the brilliant Spanish chef Dani Garcia (see last week’s First Class for the lowdown); followed by Korean chef Jung Sik Yim with City of Dreams’ French chef William Mahi at The Tasting Room (visit Margauxlicious.com for this lovely exchange).

Then post-event dinners included a by-invite-only affair featuring Bangkok-based Aussie David Thompson; a “six-hands” promo at Vask showcasing a Japanese, a Peruvian, a Mexican and Jungsik (Korean) again with our Spanish import, the very sweet Chele Gonzalez; and, finally, Bali-based Canadian-born Chef Kevin Cherkas at Sage at the Makati Shangri-La. All foreign chefs.

FEATURED STORIES

The country’s best and most promising Filipino chefs were excellently showcased during the “Regional Lunches”—a midday fiesta of Philippine food at the SMX supervised by the committed Agriculture Undersecretary Berna Romulo Puyat and curated by food editors Angelo Comsti, Nina Daza Puyat, JJ Yulo and Alicia Colby Sy.

And overall, Madrid Fusion Manila congress was a great success—props to the Department of Tourism led by Sec. Mon Jimenez and Tourism Director Verna Buensuceso, Icex, La Camara, Mielle Esteban of Arum Estrategies de Internacionalización and Paceos (The Philippine Association of Convention/Exhibition Organizers and Suppliers Inc.)

Mission: Manila

But in the evenings, there was no Filipino chef featured. Not one.

So Mission: Manila was born. A project to promote Philippine cuisine and Filipino chefs created out of the sheer desire to ensure that in the frenzy of taking selfies with international “rock star” chefs or the fever leading to the trap of promoting them instead of our own, we remember that we have Hall of Fame-worthy culinary talent right here in Manila (or Pampanga or Dumaguete or Iloilo or in most of our 7,100 islands) as well.

Now it’s true that when you have a purpose, the world conspires for you to fulfill it.

Because Raffles and Fairmont Makati quickly joined in on the mission and through their efficient team led by Monique Toda, director of communications, a Mission: Manila dinner was put together in just five days!

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The project kicked off with the quintessential Filipino chef: artist, gourmet and author Claude Tayag.

I met Tayag almost 10 years ago when I visited his private dining space Bale Dutung (House of Wood) in Pampanga to try his Five-Way Lechon. I was instantly both impressed and inspired, not only by the fact that the house was built with his own hands (what a craftsman!) but also by what true gourmets Claude & wife Maryann are. Case in point: a shelf of jugs filled with vinegar that they ferment themselves, complete with notes on how long the vinegar has been in the jug!

Later, he and his “darleng” (his term of endearment for wife Maryann) authored Linamnam, which lists “what to eat where” from north to south in the Philippines.

This was after he converted the culinary rock star Anthony Bourdain to become a lechon-lover.

“I’m not a chef, though,” Tayag likes to emphasize. “I’m just a cook. Take out the word ‘chef’ from the menu. I’m just a kusinero,” he insisted.

And so the dinner was entitled El Kusinero … because Tayag is “not a chef.”

What is Filipino food

After cocktails from Destileria Limtuaco featuring Manille Dalandan liqueur, generously sponsored by Olivia Limpe-Aw, Tayag began dinner with a quick intro to Philippine cuisine.

“When people ask me what Philippine cuisine is about, I first tell them what it is not,” he explained. “It is not spicy like Indian food, not hot like Thai; it’s about the play of sweet, sour, salty and bitter. It is like a balancing act of the four tastes (plus) what they call umami, and what we call linamnam.”

And so began the most impressive 10-course meal of Filipino food I have ever enjoyed in my 12 years of food writing.

10 courses, 100% Filipino

Tayag started it cool with local watermelon instead of greens for a salad. Committed to using all local ingredients, he matched the fresh sweetness of the watermelon with the subtle saltiness of carabao cheese; added crunch with Bicol pili nuts; and added a hint of sour with a vinaigrette using honey and calamansi (Philippine lime).

This was followed by a reinterpretation of the Philippine bar chow sisig (a sizzling platter of parts of a pig’s head).

Tayag offered slithers of jowl to be appreciated simply with cucumber strings and a mango and dalandan dressing. It was not oily at all, unlike the sisig we know.

“I don’t like Filipino food,” Raffles & Makati managing director David Batchelor unapologetically shared. “But this dinner I enjoyed.” Perhaps because the salad could have well been from a Mercato Centrale in Italy and the “sisig” starter from Lyon. Best of all, each dish was perfectly paired by connoisseurs Rey Lee and Alex Ong with wines from artisan cellars.

Philippine seafood

But Tayag shined most with his play on Philippine seafood.

Highlighting that the Philippines has very good sea urchin (Lobster House Manila delivers sea urchin/uni from Sorsogon to your doorstep; visit their Instagram page), Tayag made “uni mochi,” i.e., balls of sea urchin resting on Tausug rice balls.

Displaying his knowledge of regional flavors north to south, he broke the urchin’s “umay” with the Ilokano dip of KBL (kamatis/tomatoes, bagoong/shrimp paste or sometimes fish sauce, lasona/sliced onions) and Visayan guso or seaweed.

He paid tribute to the Philippine freshwater prawn “ulang” by pairing it with a guava sauce that literally took our breath away (because the smell of guava or bayabas does that!)

He went back to his Pampango roots with the humble tilapia, making a chicharon out of the skin then putting this atop fermented rice with shrimp on mustard leaves, a stylized version of binukadkad na plapla with burong hipon.

And he put the Philippine crab on a pedestal, or rather, on a rice medallion (bringhe) slathered with crab fat (taba ng talangka).

Culinary creativity

Tayag also had his stylized versions of adobo, kinilaw, and molé. But most memorable was his dessert: an ode to the Pinoy breakfast “tosilog” (cured pork, garlic fried rice and egg). While we all thought he was serving tocino del cielo when we read tocino on the menu, Tayag actually served a slice of cured pork, but coated with a Nana Meng Tsokolate dip. This rested on top of a ball of hardened egg yolk placed on top of a meringue.

I hope guests went home realizing that we are not far behind at all in terms of culinary talent and that, hey, yes, while not on the World’s Best list (neither is the brilliant 2 Michelin-star Dani Garcia), we do have world class chefs right on our shores.

Guest Vladimir Bunoan of ABS-CBN Online posted, “I am so enjoying this dinner. Not just because of the creative food but the explanation and history behind each dish. So worth it.”

Mission accomplished!

More on Mission: Manila at margauxsalcedo.com. Search #missionmanila on Instagram for more on the El Kusinero dinner. Follow the author @margauxsalcedo on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram.

Raffles & Fairmont Makati, host of Madrid Fusion Manila lead speaker Chef Joan Roca of El Celler de Can Roca, #1 in the list of World’s 50 Best Restaurants, is located at 1 Raffles Drive, Makati. After working with them for this dinner, I can attest to their excellent service and outstanding efficiency. I would book any corporate event here any day! Call  5559888.

Artisan Cellar Door is home to a wide range of excellent wines. You can also stage private wine pairing dinners here. G/F, Narita Bldg, 2276 Don Chino Roces Ext. (Pasong Tamo), Makati. Call landline  8800619.

Destileria Limtuaco & Co., premium distillers of whiskey, brandy, rum, gin, etc., produces Manille Liqueur. Visit Limtuaco.com  and cmcestore.convoymktg.com for contact details, updates and inquiries.

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TAGS: Claud Tayag, dining, Filipino cuisine, Filipino food, food, Madrid Fusion Manila, Mission: Manila
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