Help for the victims of Ondoy

The personal chef has been bombarded with images on news reports of the plight of victims of the recent storm that ravaged Northern Luzon in the Philippines. As of last report, there have been more than 900 fatalities, around 40 missing and around 35,000 displaced evacuees. These evacuees, which include children and the infirmed, are in much needed food, potable water and toiletries. Funny how this is all going on while Mikey decides to go shopping for liquor. Tsk tsk. With some form of sensitivity, I decided not to upload any photos as the damage caused by the storm is bad enough.

Donations are welcome at this blog to help the victims caught in this devastating storm. It will be used for much needed supplies and possible assistance in rebuilding the communities in the affected areas. You can email me your pledges or, for international donations, use of the secure Paypal account. You may be anonymous or leave your name for proper acknowledgement. Either way, no matter how small, even a prayer, will be much appreciated by families and communities who have so little left.

Thank you.

P.S. The Paypal Button will only be available for the duration of the calamity.

Penne dish that should be on the map!

Last Wednesday was my 37th birthday. Not much to celebrate about, but at least it is another year that opportunity and serendipity may grace my doorstep. The year started out right. Because Rossana was slaving away at the kitchen making the perfect meal for the family. She is really a great cook! I can't imagine why she is not in the same profession as I am. On second thought, if that were the case, then we would have nothing to talk about.

So I decided to spread the good word that she made this amazing baked pasta dish that just blows my mind. I do not know how she did it, but good she didn't divulge the recipe as I would be tempted to play around with it and spread the joy of it to the world. All I can say is the following:

  • If it were on a restaurant menu, it would be described as 'Penne pasta topped with creamy bechamel sauce with fresh herb and spices with lovely piquante cheese and served with moist garlic bread'

  • I would gladly pay good money for this dish

  • The penne pasta was at the perfect al dente level

  • The tomato based sauce is rich and vibrant, with an rabies inducing aroma that wafted throughout the house

  • The ground beef was lean and had a great texture

  • The cheese after baking was really gooey on the inside, but crisp and toasty on the outside

  • Garlic bread was made with a crunchy on the outside soft as clouds on the inside baguette, moist throughout with the pungent taste of garlic

  • Seasonings and herbs, unbeknownst to me, were complimentary to the dish

  • This dish should be in a cookbook

  • This dish should be published on the web

  • Jamie Oliver got nothing on this dish over Rossana

Okay, okay. It's getting nauseatinig waxing poetic about something like this. But you have to ask Rossana to make you some so you have an idea on what I mean.



Smoked Bacon and Green Pea Soup

At the Peninsula Hotel in Manila, I was under the employ of two great chefs: Chef Jan Gundlach and Chef David Xenia. They brought me in out of the cold to work for their signature restaurant 'Old Manila', a venue for great French Cuisine. The one thing these chefs taught me and stuck in my thick skull is 'Taste your food, taste your cooking throughout. Never trust a skinny chef'. Well, that holds true up to this day. And it is sage advice that any aspiring chef should take to heart. Not that you have to be obese, but at least know how your cooking progresses.
Chef David taught me a very simple soup recipe that seems to get raves from patrons. And it is so versatile that substitutions are encouraged. The following recipe captures that magic.
Green Pea and Smoked Bacon Soup

300g Green peas, fresh or frozen
80g Chopped white onion
20g chopped shallots
50g chopped celery stalk
5g fresh rosemary, chopped
100g unsalted butter
80g smoked bacon strips
1 L Chicken Stock
salt and pepper
75ml creme fraiche

  1. Chop fine 20g bacon strips finely.
  2. In a stock pot, melt half of the butter over medium heat. Add bacon and stir for about 1-2 minutes.
  3. Add in onions, shallots and celery stalk. Stir to cook until transparent. Do not allow to color.
  4. Add 3/4 of the green peas, and cook for 2-3 minutes.
  5. Pour in stock. Bring to boil, then lower heat to simmer for 8 minutes. Add rosemary.
  6. Remove from heat. Let cool for 5 minutes. Pass soup through a blender, and puree.
  7. Pass through a fine strainer into a new stock pot.
  8. Bring back to a simmer. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  9. In the meantime, line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Lay strips in tight circular formation individually as flat as possible.
  10. Place another foil on top and press flat. Add a cast iron pan or any other oven-proof heavy object on top to stay flat. Pop in hot oven for about 10 minutes.
  11. Remove from oven and let cool. Peel off now crisp cricular strips.
  12. In another sautee pan, sautee remaining green peas and shallots for 2 minutes.
  13. Mound sauteed peas in soup plates. Prop one crisp bacon upright ineach bowl.
  14. Add butter and cream to the soup. Stir to distibute evenly. I use  a handblender to add a little foam. Taste, tast, taste.
  15. Carefully ladle soup into bowl. Serve immediately.
Substitutions: you can use, instead of peas, some pumpkin, carrots, mushroom, root veggies and tomato.


My favorite kitchen tools

Throughout my professional life I have come across several kitchen implements that help me in one way or another create the perfect dish. I have narrowed them down to the ones I use most often. It is really an accomplishment to actually be able to identify what works best for me. Perhaps this would help you dear readers to minimize the crap you lug around or have cluttering your home.

Chef's Knife - A good 10" knife that does most of the processinig for me. I have a preference for carbon steel knives as they are easier to maintain. Wooden handles are fine, but they tend to crack or warp. As a versatile tool, they can chop up large chunks of meat or perform delicate vegetable cuttings with the tip.

Mortar and pestle - this tool may be primitive compared to the food processers of today, but they maintain the freshness and integrity of the ingredient. Pounding and grinding manually will be bring out the subtle aromas and essences as you progress.

Microplane - also known as a rasp grater, this tool is versatile and comfortable to use. I first saw this used in the movie Ratatouille by the female chef Colette. It is really convenient and safer than the run-of-the-mill grater

Digital Pocket Thermometer - My TruTemp thermometer gives me accurate readings whenever I roast a Rib eye for carving or doing sous vide. Gives an instant read on the current temperature, and fits snugly in my pocket

Bamboo Chopping board - made from an easy renewable resource, the material dries quickly, is scratch resistant and very convenient to use. Bamboo chopping boards are aesthetically pleasing as well.

Wire Whisk - This helps me make velvety sauces, great pancake batter and stiff eggwhites for meringues. I prefer the stainless steel varieties as they are easier to clean and lasts longer. Their tensile strength can easily transmit to my hands so I can be as delicate as needed or as vigorous as required.

KitchenAid Stand Mixer - the things that this contraption can do! Mix batters and doughs, mince meat, fold, stir. The possibilities are endless. A must have for all kitchens.

Stainless Food Tongs - with a rubberized grip, making it easy to turn over meats on the pan or grilling. Easy to clean.

Cast Iron Pan - when handled well and properly seasoned, makes mincemeat of all those teflon coated pans available in the market. Heat is distributed through the pan evenly. Non stick, easy to clean, and very durable. You can even pop this into the oven to get that steak cooked to the desired doneness.

Table top Pasta Maker - I can make great fresh pasta with this machine. And with certain attachements, can hand-crank out even raviolis.

Stainless Steel Mixing bowls - A must for marinating, mixing and baking. The material allows for easy cleaning.

Stainless Chinois - this versatile strainer can make my stocks clear, my sauces smooth.

Measuring Spoons and Cups - a must for precise measurement, especially for baking.

Digital weighing scale - Portion sizes can easily be controlled, and with instant reading, reduces work time.

Silicone spatula - on stick and flexible, I really have no fear of ruining this.

Squeeze bottles - for pouring flavoured oil, prepared sauces and seasonings easily without the mess of a bottle cap or spilling.

Much as I would like to say these are the essentials, there are a lot of other tools that would go on my personal wish list. A robocoupe with all the attachements; Creuset Dutch oven; convection oven; induction stove. What are your essential kitchen tools? What are most useless?


The sorry state in hunger

We are not really one of the 1st world countries. Our services in general are not the best in the world. But we try our best. At least some of us do. What gets me is the state of our population when it comes to food. Though we have an agricultural society and we are 7,100 islands surrounded by seas full with bounty, we are still in a state wherein malnutrition and poverty not only go hand in hand, but are married and sharing the same bedspace. According to recent studies, 32%of preschool children are underweight, with a serious Vitamin A deficiency. Iron deficiency affects 57% of all infants, 51% pregnant women and 46% of lactating women. This has been caused primarily due to poverty, a factor of which is the unequal distribution of food. 44% of the total population lived on a meager USD2.00 a day. It is estimated that 30 million Filipinos are unable to buy food to meet basic daily nutritional requirements. The realities of this can be found in several articles, one of which  can be found here. The author, Clarence Anderson, goes on to say


"...there is a fundamental disconnect between Filipino élites and the poor. The political leadership in the Philippines has always been drawn from those élites, and those politicians have traditionally played the role of patrons and benefactors, relying on the pork barrel and personal/family funds (often acquired through corruption) to essentially buy votes. The core principle of democracy - that representatives should be drawn from those they represent and advocate for the true interests of their constituents - has not been operative."


So far there has been the Republic Act 8976 - Philippine Food Fortification Act of 2000, and it has been approved in 2007. But what can be said about it? We are more concerned about Sex Video Scandals and considering reelecting a convicted felon inito the highest seat in the country. It is a sorry state that our political leaders are observed to be obtuse when it comes to poverty. To wit


"...and the politically-driven nature of Philippine government sector programs almost ensures that the emphasis will continue to be on quick fixes or interventions that provide high visibility and political payoffs.'


This drives the point home that we have to take it upon ourselves to alleviate poverty, and in turn improve the general nutritional level of the very constituents that vote these people into power and into the coffers that are funded by our own taxes. Pork barrels are used primarily for the development of their areas, but how much of it actually goes into the development and progress? Rolling stores as devised by PGMA has been installed to alleviate hunger, but it rarely reaches rural areas where most of the individuals under the poverty line reside. Some private companies have partnered with the government to help in the fight. The Department of Agriculture recently partnered with AgriNurture to provide PhP10 Viands. but only in Metro Manila. What the...???


Some of the budget has been allocated into several programs and legislations. However, we have yet to see any significant progress. And there is a deficit on how the coffers are handled by the palace. According to one publication


"Dr. Rosario Manasan of the Philippine Institute for Development Studies estimated a funding gap of around P90 billion that makes the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for poverty reduction highly unlikely by the target year of 2015. "

With inflation and umployment rising, the gap seems to be getting wider and wider. Case in point, one travel site has advised expats that for food and groceries


"...you should budget between P25,000 to P40,000 per month. " People here barely make one fourth of that in take home pay. It goes on saying "...yes the cost of living in the Philippines is cheap but if you run out of money, the Philippines is not where you want to be."


As election year approaches, the politicos are running around keeping up appearances, pledging allegience to different parties. Yet they travel aroound the Archipelago in SUVs and hundreds of body goards through rural towns. They fly to different countries partaking in USD20,000.00 dinners, sponsored or not. How much money was contributed to alleviate the nutritional problems in their home country?

Or better yet, what are we doing ourselves? We pass by the railroad tracks everyday watching street urchins watch in hunger the day pass by. Or the bloated children begging underneath MRT stations. Some would feel sorry for the future generation. The more callous would dismiss them as simply being lazy. In either case, we go through Metro Manila thinking this is ok. It is not ok. What if they were your children?


With this line of thinking, what can we do? Since we could not rely on the beaurocratic red tape, we have to take the matter into our own hands. Sure, if whatever we do as the private sector succeeds, the government will definitely try to get a piece of the pie. If they don't get anything out of it, our elected officials and appointees will try everything to get it stopped. So here are a few suggestions:


Put up a real soup kitchen - privately funded, this would help the impoverished. Give them food, enough energy to have a better life. Contribute. Volunteer to dish out much needed nourishment at local schools, hospitals and charity organizations

Buy locally - this would put money into the farmers. They toil under the hot sun year in year out to feed the rest of us. And our soil is fertile and the climiate is perfect for crop production. If left to its own devices, the country is self sustainable. Why the hell then are we importing such staples as rice and sugar from other countries???

Devise a canned goods drive - donate canned goods and centrally locate the distribution. Give it to a reputable charity organization. Or better yet, deliver the goods yourself to an impoverished area. Give it to the church.

Redirect your resources - instead of the daily java fix at Starbucks, use the PhP500 to buy canned goods and donate it to one poor family. That could probably last them 2 weeks.

Visit the websites of hunger-relief organizations to learn what they do and how you can help.

Ask your favorite restaurant to donate non-perishable food

Donate your Grocery Frequent Shopper Points for the feeding of the hungry

Host a food drive with your favorite chefs and foodies

You can help feed the hungry by sending a letter to your Congressional representative and asking him or her to honor their commitment.

Join your neighbors, your co-workers, your faith community, your friends, and your family members to raise food and funds for those who desperately need them 

Teach people how to fish - help impoverished areas grow their own community vegetable gardens. teach them how to to care and grow these gardens. Teach them the kind of cooking that can be done. So they would not have to subsist on mediocre food. They will appreciate thet fact that what they feed on is what they grew themselves.

Manila has got talent - and put it too good use! Stage a talent show. Raise funds to feed the hungry. Charge tickets a minimal amount. Proceeds can then be used to purchase much needed food supplies.

Businesses and individuals can raise awareness about the problem of Philippine hunger through campaigns, events, advertising, public relations 

Sponsor a Walk-A-Thon against hunger.

Compile a newsletter, book, or brochure of healthy recipes using reasonably priced, easilyobtained food items. Publish and distribute these to other schools, community organizations, community services agencies and charity organizations to reach those who receive community food support.

Become a well-informed hunger advocate using information on hunger, poverty, and food insecurity in the newspaper, on the Internet, and in books, to then help inform others about the issues

Educate yourself about political candidates’ positions on hunger and poverty.

Plant a garden at home, in your community or at your school and share your produce with the needy in your area.

Create a video about hunger in our community and post it on YouTube

Encourage corporate environments to offer "dress down" opportunites in exchange for donated canned goods that would add to the food drive

Do not vote for corrupt politicians. What happens to a country where taxes that were intended to improve the lives of the people go to the pockets of the government officials instead? Corrupt politicians would spend their pork barrel funds in jewelries and luxurious travel instead of providing scholarship to deserving students or support projects that will boost livelihood among unemployed individuals.

Open up a business - this would open up employment opportunities that would otherwise not be found.
Sell unneeded items on eBay or Craigslist and donate the proceeds to battle poverty

Become a mentor to a disadvantaged young person in your community.


What else can be done to fight poverty and hunger in the Philippines? What can you contribute? Do you have another suggestion? Please leave a comment if you have a great idea, a violent reaction, a constructive criticism. At least let people know that you are not merely standing on the sidlines being complacent.


37 Things to do before I die


I woke up this morning to my 37th year on this earth. I don’t know if you would call it a mid-life crisis, but I came to thinking. What have I accomplished? What else needs to be done? I still try to live life to the fullest, to seize the day, to take control of my fate. And I have done quite a bit.  Yet, Serendipity has left the best for last. So here are the 37 things, in no particular order, that I would like to do before I go six feet under…

  1. Be at the helm of my own successful Italian restaurant
  2. Spend a whole afternoon having sushi in downtown Kyoto
  3. Get my mug on the cover of leading Food and Beverage Magazines
  4. Finally get ‘Souped Up’ and ‘Hoagies’ up and running
  5. Have ‘Nyotaimori’ for lunch
  6. Consume a 10-course meal at The French Laundry
  7. Down a whole Bottle of Chateau Petrus 1993
  8. Work for Jamie Oliver for one week
  9. Meet Eric Ripert and spend a day with him cooking
  10. Bake the perfect Soufflé
  11. Put up a REAL soup kitchen somewhere in Malate
  12. To dine at Trotters, Chicago
  13. Grill steak in the African Savannah
  14. Gossip with Napolitano women in the afternoon while making conchiglie on the side streets
  15. Have the perfect espresso on the cobblestones of Rome
  16. Fish for Alaskan Crab
  17. Grow my own herb garden
  18. Go restaurant hopping in New York
  19. Spend a week crashing at a Vegetarian’s apartment
  20. Create the best thing after sliced bread
  21. Write and Publish an award-winning cookbook
  22. Be given the opportunity to reject an offer to cook on TV
  23. Build a great kitchen at home with all the bells and whistles
  24. Expose the government on their neglect on Philippine nutrition and poverty
  25. Throw pies at those pretentious chefs that appear on TV
  26. Teach an out-of-school youth and drug addict how to cook
  27. Spend an afternoon having Tequila and burritos in Mexicali
  28. Have a nice seafood dinner with my family on the sands of Boracay.
  29. Earn even just one Michelin Star
  30. Fly back to Zurich to live and cook
  31. To be the invisible driving force behind the restaurant industry
  32. To be Nigella’s favorite pen pal
  33. Have a few beers with Japanese business men while wolfing down yakitori in the alleyways of Tokyo
  34. Enjoy a cognac while overlooking the Hong Kong Skyline at night
  35. To actually emulate that Chivas Regal Ad in the Arctic
  36. Making pot roast in my own ‘off-the-grid’ home
  37. To make the culinary world a better place for everyone

Should I chronicle when will these things be done? Yeah, maybe I should…


Insights for culinary students

You got your chef's whites, the checked pants, the bag of new Solingen Knives, and the new Mario Batali Crocs Bistro. You have decided long before this point in time that you would become a chef, that you will cook, create and satisfy a need. Whatever your motivation, ask yourself this: Am I cut out for this?
A lot of culinary schools have sprouted around the metro because suddenly there is an influx of Gordon Ramsay wannabes who want to make their mark in the culinary world. Some of these students probably jumped on the bandwagon because it is suddenly the 'in' thing to be a chef. Some because they could not get into any other course. Then there are those who really have the passion to become a chef. In whatever form, the following insights have been gathered over the years from my professional experience and from other chefs in the industry. Please take these to heart, as they will give you a glimpse of what it is like behind the doors of a professional kitchen.
  • If you want to cook professionally, you have to really, really want it! Above all else, you have to really want it!
  • You will have to give up having a 'normal' life with 'normal' working hours. The hours are long. Holidays and weekends do not belong to you.
  • Develop an obsession for attention to detail. 
  • You only need one kind of knife - a 10 inch chef's knife. It is versatile enough for any kind of food preparation. My personal favorite is the Victorinox Knife if got during my days at Les Roches. And it has been in service for me since 1995, and it is still in excellent condition. 
  • Get comfortable shoes. Shoes that were designed for ktichen use. Not for construction. Not for the pitch. For the kitchen. Because you will be standing for 16 hours straight at any given time. The shoes from Santis are good. And from my experience they are heavy and cumbersome. The leather absorbs kitchen moisture, eventually deteriorating the linings. I have a preference for the Crocs Bistro. They are light, extremely non-slip, and very comfortable.
  • Have always a scribe notebook and click pen ready. Inspiration hits us at the the most opportune time. Jot down cooking notes, recipes and other good tidbits in this handy pocket notebook. It feels good in the hands, and pretty much very friendly for writing. This is a good alternative to the popular moleskin journals.
  • Spend all your waking hours reading food articles, trade magazines, recipe books, lifestyle sections of local papers. Steer away from Culinary reality TV shows.
  • Be diligent in your collection of cookbooks. Go for cookbooks that are rated high on Amazon.com, those that would help you professionally. There are a couple that could get you started: Professional Cooking by Wayne Gisslen; LaRousse Gastronomique;  La repertoire de la Cuisine; and Escoffier. These would form the foundations for your culinary career. they may be a bit pricey, but the investment will be well worth it.
  • Have a heart of steel. This industry is not for the faint hearted, the delicate, the prissy, the high maintenance individual.
  • Everybody starts at the bottom. And in this industry, no matter what class, religion, sex, social standing, or family you belong to, you DO start at the bottom. You WILL be at the mercy of the cooks above you.
  • Get into apprenticeship as soon as possible. Any culinary school in the world will tell you that experience is the best teacher. You will never know how dangerous a knife is until you cut yourself. You will never know how to gut a fish until you do it yourself. Get a mentor. Search out a chef. Work for free if need be. Just get the experience. Earn your battle scars. 5 years is a good start in thsi industry.
  • The title of Chef is earned. Not because you went to culinary school, but because you earned it.
  • Be humble. There is always something new to learn while cooking professionally. There will always be somebody better than you. If you strut your cocky feathers in the kitchen, there will always be somebody to cut you down. Never take rejection personally.  
  • 'Passion' is such an overused term. Don't use it. If you have the trait, you don't need to be pretentious enough to mention it.
  • Being a professional chef is not glamorous. At least not all the time. And only after several years. Imagine standing in a tight hot kitchen space cranking out thousands of identical dishes consistently at the highest standards for long hours. That's professional cooking. 
  • Always be curious. Always be inquisitive. Never stop learning.

This is the list that I can think of at the moment. I will add to the list as soon as they come through my grubby hands. Do you have any to add to the list? It will benefit all them kids getting into the industry jaded enough to think that they will all end up with monogrammed chef's jackets. Feel free to add to this.


Top 10 Kitchen Safety Tips

Though the kitchen is the heart of the home, it also where many accidents potentially can occur. Be it at home or professional kitchen, most denizens of the culinary center follow certain guidelines to prevent mishaps. I have gathered these safety tips over the course of my career, whether by acquisition or by ovservation, all in all, it added to my personal experience and preserved my precious fingers.

Keep it sharp - Ironically, sharp knives are safer to use in the kitchen than dull knives. The inferior knives would require more exertion and may slip

Wash hands thoroughly - it would be a good idea to wash hands in warm water with good soap to get rid of microbes and dirt. We use our hands in handling most of the food products and equipment. We wouldn't to be transferring harmful bacteria when cooking

Color coded chopping boards - Using different boards for different food products lessens the chance of cross contamination. Blue for seafood, red for meats, green for veggies, and white for the rest. If having too many boards is cumbersome or too expensive, make sure to wash boards in between food products.

Clean as you go - wipe up spills as soon as they occur. Throw away trash. A messy kitchen prep table is a sign of a messy mind. And that could be dangerous. Keep flors clean and uncluttered.

Chemicals - store harzardous chemicals such as cleansers and away from food storage and preparation areas, preferably. Follow directions when handling these chemicals.

Burn prevention - have potholders on hand at all times. Assume all pan handles are hot. Pay attention to open flames and keep under control while cooking. It is advisable to have smoke alarms in the kitchen. Have burn ointment at the ready in case something happens.

Roll up your sleeves - wear comfortable clothing that is not loose. They should be huggin your body so as not to catch any handles form the stove or knkowck down bottles from the prep table when reaching for something. Wear non slip shoes, preferably close toed.
Light up! - Have adequate lighting on all work surfaces. If you feel that you could define the colors, then it is too dark. Bright light allows you to work efficiently as everything is in sight. plus while cooking you will be able to see the quality of the product accurately.

Safe Temps - Follow directions when preparing meats, poultry, eggs and seafood. Internal temperatures safe for consumption are as follows:
beef, lamb and veal ~145F (63C)
pork and ground beef ~160F (71C)
whole poultry and thighs ~180F (82C)
poultry breasts ~170F (77C)
ground chicken or ground turkey ~165F (74C).
eggs ~160F (71C)
seafood ~145F (63C)

Know your equipment - Read and understand how to operate your appliances. Keep their cords neatly away from the edges of counters, tables, etc. to prevent them from being pull over the edge.

What are your safety tips?


I want to cook with a celebrity

As you go through life as I have, it is really no wonder you develop certain desires to do something with someone. In whatever industry, through some portent or omen, one reads about great people and wonder what it would be like working alongside them. Mentors are found this way. That is if you play your cards right and find yourself exchanging gossip over a pot of bouillabaisse. Throughout my career  I followed these people and what they do, piquing my interest on what could be. Some recent, some fanatical, others just out of curiosity.

Jamie Oliver – Top of  the list! The Naked Chef who was plucked  out at random while in the stewards of The River Cafe. A brilliant chef who has made a name for himself, both literally and figuratively. Now he has several books, a great TV series. And with a flair of altruism has put up the Fifteen Foundation. I would love to cook Italian with him, particularly spend hours and a few beers over a roasting porchetta.

Nigella Lawson – Another British Chef whose claim to fame is being the Domestic Goddess. Watching her sashay around her beautiful minimalist kitchen, its is no wonder some people have labeled the interaction as a sort of gastronomic orgy, food porn at its finest. Her pantry is a world in its own.

Madonna – Yes, that icon of the  80’s who has transformed herself quite nicely into the cougar that she is now. Even though we would be munching on her raw food diet, it would be interesting what she gobbles down to keep herself fit.

Kris Aquin0 – Daughter of the late Corazon Aquino, to some the  queen of tactless, an aspiring actress, game show host and mother. I would really like to fatten her up. Show her how sensuous food is. How life is not as serious as it she thinks. I would like to cut her down and plant her feet on the ground and say ‘Hey! Come here, get your hands dirty and give this risotto a stir.’

Gordon Ramsay – the volatile chef has the idealism that I always look for when I walk into a professional kitchen. His food is as straightforward as is methods, with no obvious signs of pretentiousness. And Rossana thinks he’s hot.


Anthony Bourdain – the bad boy behind Kitchen Confidential. I would like to ask him to teach me what he knows. I would like to pick his brain with a fine toothed fork. We should have a beer together and talk about oysters and really analyze why anyone would eat rotten shark.

Sandra Bullock – an eternal fantasy for me. We could be making pasta together. Then ask her how she ended up with the descendant of Jesse James. I would also like to learn her favorite recipes.


The perfect Chicken Tinola

IM-0025 A rich chicken soup just hits the spot when you are feeling a little bit down with the weather.

1 whole chicken, cut into choice pieces

400g green papaya, peeled and cut into 4 inch pieces

60g whole ginger, peeled and pounded

1/2 tbsp vegetable oil

50g red onion, chopped

50g crushed garlic

1 C fresh chili leaves



  1. In a stock pot, heat oil over medium heat.
  2. Fry garlic, onion and ginger in oil until tender, but no coloration.
  3. Add chicken skin side down one by one, the biggest pieces first. Cook on all sides, mix well.
  4. Add water to cover chicken. Bring to boil, then lower heat to simmer. Skim off the scum that floats to the top.
  5. Ad papaya chunks and let simmer for about 10 minutes or until tender
  6. Season to taste with patis. Just before serving, add the chili leaves.
  7. Serve hot
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Top reasons I would cook for the Philippine President


I have had the opportunity to cook for the President once. It was on the occasion of the opening ceremonies for a hospital down south. She was the guest of honor, and I was tasked to prepare for the presidential entourage. Here are the reasons I would do it again, despite the hassle of PSG dictating how you should pour the soup.

1) As a native of Pampanga, she is a natural foodie, so appreciation for the good things in the culinary life is generously given

2) Her poison checkers need to put on a little more weight

3) She could use the South Beach Diet

4) Though she has a personal chef in the Palace, she rarely gets to eat a leisurely lunch

5) Would love to learn of her travels around the world and the food the different heads-of-state has offered her

cooking.jpg 6) Would like to see what the Palace Kitchen is like. What ingredients do they have stocked? What equipment are used? Is it modern? Or still dedicated to the Filipino culture?

7) She would kill and be overthrown to have my corned beef sinigang (Beef in tamarind broth).

8) I am cheaper and offer the same high cuisine as the dinner she had in New York


10 things that make a great dining experience

We dine out for several reasons: to be merry, for convenience, to live, to drown our sorrows, to revel in celebration, for intimacy, for togetherness, for solitude, for comfort. It does not matter where you satisfy the emotional or physical hunger, be it at somewhere as simple as the neighborhood fast-food joint, or that posh French restaurant in that great hotel you stayed in during the summer. As long as the you got what you want, the way you want it, at the price you want it for. The repast is an everyday occurrence, highly unavoidable. To veer away from the mundane and boring, we look for something more each time we are away from home. What makes a great dining experience?

Good food and beverage – Goes without saying. Whether chosen from a small menu at the local canteen, or lavished upon your table side by a gueridon-wielding professional server, as long as you can taste the flavor and feel the unique texture, something that is different from the status quo, that adds to the experience. Why else would you repeatedly go back to Manong Henry’s adobo or Starbucks’ French Roast?

Great company – I know. I know. I mentioned solitude. Think out of the dining box for a millisecond here. While you read that great magazine in the warm cafe on a rainy Tuesday afternoon, the wait staff were there to greet you, to serve you, to assist you in every way p0ssible. Then have the professionalism to give you some privacy. On the other end of the spectrum, real friends. REAL friends. Close relatives. Your favorite cousin. Your son back from European boarding school. Anybody who touched your life, no matter how small or insignificant.

A comfortable chair – The right height. Not too soft, not too hard. Goldilocks' fantasy. Something you could sink your derriere into smoothly. That would allow a bit of freedom to slouch or to jerk around in when reacting to that lame joke your date just blurted out.

Knowledgeable and efficient staff – Either the wait staff or the cooks. Hell, even the friendly utility man who keeps the bathrooms impeccably clean. They add to the ambience, the image, the validation that you done good. A server who just knew what kind of chocolate decadence to indulge you with. The manager who made sure you were looked after. The cook who knew how al dente you wanted your risotto to be. The staff are so versed that you need not bother navigating the menu, because their enthusiastic description encouraged you to pick right, not pick the most profitable for the restaurant. The correct lobster fork discreetly placed moments before the dish arrives.

Clean bathrooms – Fresh paper towels. Well stocked hand detergent and sanitizer bottles. Running water. Clean tiled surfaces. Good appointments of creature comfort. For all intents and purposes, the WC is the definition on how serious the establishment regards hygiene and sanitation, and ultimately, your comfort and satisfaction.

Ambience – good music that wafts through the dining room to isolate you from the outside world. Or equally effective the lack of music to lessen distraction from that plate of crostini. The right temperature setting of the room, when you don’t need to wrap yourself in bulky pullovers or dress down to your unmentionables (Although sometimes the latter adds to the excitement of the meal). Decor that fits your mood perfectly. YOUR mood. Why else would pay P12o for a regular cup of coffee?

Moolah for grub – or to put it another way, value for money. Getting your money’s worth. It’s a rare and great feeling to have enjoyed shelling out your hard earned cash for an enjoyable meal. And this transcends all social classes! A mere street vendor gets his money’s worth when that steaming bowl of noodle soup satisfies his family’s hunger. Or the high powered executive getting the rare Chateuneuf du Pape because he just wanted to experience the velvet luxury before he dies. Or even the student enjoying the slice of Yellow Cab shrimp and garlic pizza in the company of her riotous classmates.

A place for everything, and everything in its place – The right cutlery to carve my steak. The right serviette to wipe the Big Mac Special Sauce from my kid’s cheeks. The right condiments, within easy reach. The well designed menu for easy navigation. The right sized mirror in the bathroom. The well maintained privacy locks in the cubicles. Unobtrusive center table decor. The coffee cup that keeps the java from freezing over. Anything that makes the place seem just right. Because everything one would need is there.

Attitude – the reason why you dine out in the first place. Whatever mood or inclination you are in, you had a reason why you are there. Why you decided to leave the comforts of home to partake in the repasts of total strangers, serving up food from behind closed doors. The mindset that propelled you to order the fugu, throwing care and your children’s inheritance into the wind. A great attitude, and generally your outlook in life, dictates, by power of attraction, what comes to you in the end. Ultimately contributing to a great dining experience.

The extra mile – the unexpected, pleasant surprises, the proverbial je ne sais quoi. Whether exerted by the staff or by serendipity. The mint upon presentation of the bill. The warm and sincere ‘thank you’. Unexpected presentation. Unique sea salt from Sicily that adds just the right sweetness to that salad. Long lost friends walking in to find you there. The knowing wink of an understanding server. Complimentary refill when you spill your drink. A high chair for the tot. Coloring books and crayons for the hyperactive rug rats. An extra dinner jacket kept in the cloak room just in case you ruin yours. Super glue at hand in case you break your stilettos. The extra glub of rich pungent garlic sauce just because you asked for it to smother the shawarma.

Mind you, I never mentioned anything that would make a restaurant great. Wherever you decide to eat out, it is because it was your decision. And your desire for the adventure of new discoveries, or the comfort of familiarity. This article lists what I believe would contribute to what a great dining experience should be. What would your list include? Think about it. Really reflect while you sit back and enjoy that perfect cappuccino. ‘What is it that makes a great dining experience for me?’.


How fresh are your eggs?

We love our eggs. Fried, boiled, poached, scrambled and even  played around with in molecular gastronomy. A great source of protein, eggs are woven into a myriad of menus and cooking styles so much that is a regular staple in our grocery list. Can you tell if your eggs are fresh? Short of plucking it straight from the chicken farm the moment it is laid, for convenience sake we rely on public markets and grocery stores to deliver fresh eggs. I have a theory when buying eggs. Never buy them on Mondays. Chances are those eggs have been sitting there on the shelves over the weekend. Add the delivery time and packaging, they could have been there neatly packed on store shelves since Friday.

I have recently discovered a way to tell if eggs already purchased are good. Place the egg at the bottom of the glass full of water.

  • If egg lies at the bottom on its side, it’s fresh.
  • If egg sinks, but with one end up, it’s getting old but still edible.
  • If egg floats, it is important to get fresh ones.

The logic here is that egg shells are porous. Over time the egg absorbs air through the shells and gets trapped within the egg.

You can tell if an egg is fresh after cracking open the shell if the yolk is a bright yellow and firm. The egg white is not as fluid as a stale one.

The one thing you have to remember that not only stale eggs are inedible, but they may contain harmful bacteria such as salmonella. Store your fresh eggs by washing them thoroughly with clean water. Take notice of any form of debris or cracks in the shell. Inspect each egg for shell discoloration or stains. Organic eggs are consistently clean and safe, as no chemicals or additives are used on the chicken to produce those eggs. And they taste better. Organic eggs can be bought at local grocery stores. And they are always on offer at the Salcedo Weekend Market. Purchase the eggs and transport them using recycled egg cartons. Wash tem thoroughly.  Then place them in the fridge until the need to use them. Eggs ideally should be used within three to four days from purchase.

Know anywhere else you can get your hands on organic eggs? Any tips on storing them? Please, let me know. I would like to impart the knowledge to all my readers.


Really soft cupcakes kids can make

Maxine bugged me about making cupcakes at home. After having tasted good ones and seeing some hawked at our local church gathering, I promised her that we would shop for the ingredients. Two weeks of daily pestering and begging and cajoling prompted me to search for a good base recipe. Then with a little imagination and a spot of creativity, I asked Maxine to join me in going shopping for the ingredients at the nearby SM Supermarket. To many people grocery shopping is a chore, but with Maxine it is a game of I Spy. I Spy something green and curly. She points at the broccoli. I Spy something long and thin. Spaghetti!

So one rainy Saturday afternoon we were pouring over two bowls of batter and mixing and stirring and getting every possible surface covered with flour and baking powder. A normal exercise of half an hour stretched into two hours of blissful bonding before placing 16 pristine cups of delicious dough into the oven.

25 minutes later the smell of cheddar cheese and warm cooking made the tiny dining room a little more comfy. 6 hours later we were left with four cupcakes. And she plans to bring a couple to school the next day.

  • 1 3/4 C All Purpose Flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 C white sugar
  • 2 large eggs whole
  • 1/2 tsp orange extract
  • 8 oz condensed milk
  • 1 C Cheddar cheese, shredded
  1. Preheat oven to 350F
  2. Sift together flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl
  3. In another bowl, beat sugar and eggs until creamy white. Stir in extract.
  4. While stirring, pour in a third of the flour mixture into the bowl . (This is where an extra pair of little hands come in handy. In this case, Maxine wanted to do the stirring) Pour in half of the condensed milk. Mix well until just. Pour in another third of the flour mix, then the rest of the condensed milk. Finish off with the rest of the flour mixture
  5. Stir in half of the shredded cheese. I prefer long strands as it tends not to melt as fast and allows a little bit of crunchy texture when the cupcakes are done.
  6. Mix until the batter is smooth. Do not over mix so the gluten will not tire. Pour into 16 cupcake moulds.
  7. Top each liberally with the rest of the shredded cheddar cheese.
  8. Bake for about 20-25 minutes or until golden and a pin inserted comes out clean.

Kids and Pots and Pans! Oh My!

It is a given that kids are picky when it comes to food. They would not touch anything that has not appeared in Cartoon Network. Different strategies may be employed, and some of them do work. Every parent knows what what goes on with their kids, at least have an idea of what ticks in their heads. Most effective way for kids to a kids culinary heart? Get them involved in the cooking. And here are the reasons why:

  1. They get to try new foods – they will always be fascinated with things that are new, and curiosity usually leads to discoveries. They will discover where certain ingredients come from and be more aware of the culture from that place.  As they get more accustomed and familiar with the colorful world of ingredients, they tend to eat more fruits and vegetables.
  2. Do the math – recipes call for amounts of the ingredients needed. And the cups and tablespoons that come with it. Is it really Junior’s fault for wanting to double the cupcake recipe?
  3. Reading – kids nowadays are smarter than when we were their age. So reading a recipe seems pretty rote for them. Since there are no pictures, it would be a challenge for them to keep interested. How about the power of association. Sugar? Which is that on the kitchen table?
  4. Chemistry – They learn what yeast does, how it farts to inflate a loaf of bread. They learn that adding sugar actually sweetens the sauce, and makes cake dough finger licking good.
  5. Bonding – gathered around the table, kids will feel great being a part of the bigger picture: their family. And fussing around the prep table with flour coated hands adds to the bonding experience. And the tedious kneading allows story telling.
  6. Life Skill – they will eventually leave the nest. And on those depressing lonely first nights in the big city they would love some home cooking instead of stale pizza.  And starting kids early builds self esteem, after having proudly produced a perfectly baked tart.

Cooking is really a passionate activity. Why not share it with the very people you are very passionate about? How would you encourage kids to try new foods? Know a good technique that would get them interested in peas? Any nightmares when it comes to having little Curly Sue try out new pasta dishes?