A pleasant petit dejeuner of a surprise

Anything that seems to be out of the ordinary these days just adds to noise that we consider normal. SSDD as one well known author puts it. To any destination a journey must be taken, and the first step is what gets us going. Waking up to the day will either strike fear into your heart or jumpstart your egotistical ‘can-do’ attitude into overdrive. A good cup of joe, cradled in between your hands, warming up to the idea that maybe something remarkable will happen today. And so it did on this ironically rainy day. Through torrential rains and massive traffic the restaurant beckoned, that welcome respite for indulgence which promised to be what the culinary doctor ordered. As you will see, the day did not start for me on time. Come to think of it, it never did. Not in my profession. As they say in the industry, holidays and weekends do not belong to us cooks. It was on this rainy June afternoon that I find myselfP5270055   just off the beaten C5 highway just before Eastwood. A right here, then a left, then through an obscure gate, the car settled in front of a quaint little place that, were it not for the signage, the trail of bitter chocolate aroma would weave its wispy fingers around me and slowly entice me through the threshold.

P5270058 Quite a discovery this was for the personal chef, and it is with intrepid curiosity that I believed today would definitely be encoded into my journal as a day that my journey takes a detour from the humdrum and sundry. For that is what Xocolat appeared to the weary traveler that braved the ludicrous traffic the rainy days normally generate. Curb-appeal aside, the place had a certain draw. The kind you dream about on a rainy day. Quiet. Warm. Inviting. Rustic. Though it was only a few million hours since the sun rose on the east, breakfast was the order of the day. Could this place be a welcome choice? I braved the rain and the puddles to find out. P5270010

I was not alone. A place like this deserved that I bring someone along. Although from the looks of it, under other circumstances, it is a great place to be alone. I digress. And so I did bring someone along. My little Maxine, who has the same penchant for trying something new at least once. As my date, she had equal opportunity to appreciate what I was  about to have that day. We sat at the comfortable sofa by the window, not watching the outside world go by, not remotely concerned what would be our next destination. Perusing the menu, we were pleasantly surprised. Of course were indecisive over what chocolate indulgence we would be laying our grubby hands on. After all, what can you expect from a place named Xocolat. Apparently, a lot more.

P5270035Arroz a la Cubana
The classic Spanish dish was, for all intents and purposes, true to what it says on the menu. The chorizo sausage added to the sweetness, helping to counter the tartness of the sauce. The raisins were so tender, it actually competed with the supremacy of the beef that normally would dominate most cubana recipes. This is the kind of plate where it is not a sin to mix everything up into one inviting heap. Cut up the egg, let the yolk flow just a little bit, and with a big spoon scoop up the meat and indulge. Although we would have welcomed the roasted bananas that usually comes with this menu selection, it was not missed. The mashed potato we thought was a good sub.


Spicy Beef Flakes P5270021
Pulled beef never looked so good and inviting. Fork tender, very little effort is needed to make that solitary table knife feel unwanted. This is good when you are nursing a hangover. The last thing you want is to wrestle with is a tough cut of beef. The flavors were close to smoky, but not quite. By itself it would have made a good tapas offering, downing chocolate laced tequila shots. Surprisingly, the flakes seared pleasantly down to the back of my throat, adding a final kick to all those flavors that lingered in my mouth. What was that yellow dab of sauce? Curiously it looked like cheese. But having beef and cheese would scream bloody murder on rabid fans of the famous hoagie from Philadelphia. But this was goat cheese. Local goat cheese mind you. From the farms of Laguna. The only drawback was that I wanted more. Caramelized tomatoes add that sourness to balance out the richness, making the egg and rice just a necessary accessory.

P5270030 Spicy Tuyo
What is breakfast in Manila without tuyo, that veritable salted and dried sardine that graced many tables over a millennia. The local vinegar really cuts into the flavors of the fish, though mingled with the capers and olive oil. Garlic rice notwithstanding, I would have loved some hot pan de sal to sop up the remains. This dish is a classic. The craving for pucker-inducing saltiness has easily been tamped down. I would be hard pressed for anyone to go wrong with this plate.

We were at a crossroads an hour and a half later. By all accounts, this was lunch to a casual observer. To us this was breakfast. A conflict of interest, if you will. To Dessert or Not to Dessert. It was going late into the day. It was a satisfying petit dejouner sojourn. Something sweet to end the meal with. Something that would allow the remembrance of dishes past, at least the last three that I can remember. Besides, it was still pouring out. Menu please…

Chocolate PancakesP5270046
This the White King package did not make. Three uberfluffy pancakes stacked one on top of the other. It was not enough that they were obviously brown to denote what was incorporated. It was not enough that fresh slices of banana were tucked into every nook and cranny. It was not enough that whipped cocoa butter slowly melted into an inviting heap around the plate. It was the chocolate sauce and the choconut. Dark Belgian chocolate sauce at the top dripping out to the sides. Choconut from Davao just coming along for the ride. Despite the pancake being a little too cakey for my taste, it gave me the opportunity to soak up as much of the sauce in each bite as I can defy the laws of physics with. Don’t get me wrong. I do not intend to use superlatives here, as it would be inaccurate. The sauce was just that good. Bitter from start to finish, with the just right amount of sweetness. And to freshen the palate between each bite, chunks of peaches and fresh pineapple were at the ready.

P5270053 The rain has stopped. We did not notice when the last drop hit the pavement, but the sun started shining. Maxine had her sugar fix with a mudslide, so I was destined to handle a hyperactive six year old for the rest of the paseo home. Like I said, this was going to be a different day. It was the few hours spent at Xocolat that made it DSDD. A few other guests huddled over their warm mugs of hot chocolate and coffee while we gorged ourselves. Loners perused the magazines, leaning back and just zoning out. Though the restaurant was a wifi hotspot, not one guest pulled out a laptop to update their statuses. Perhaps it was a place with an unwritten rule that when you ease into that chair, you either disconnect from the outside world and enjoy the solitude; or focus on that person that is seated across you, having a meaningful conversation, engaging in playful banter. Over a cup, over a slice of chocolate cake. Sigh. Don’t leave. Not yet. Lunch will have to be enjoyed another time. Their pasta dishes and Panini's guarantees a trip back. Check please…

Xocolat Libis
Topy’s Place
Economia corner Calle Industriya
Quezon City


Philosophy of cooking

As a cook, as in all other professions, when you do something long enough, you achieve a kind of zen, a level of contentment that surpasses even the performance of even your best bedmate. And it is not an exclusive feeling that only professional cooks enjoy. On a daily basis anyone who can handle a knife and have good tastebuds and olfactory senses achieves moments of enlightenment at one moment or another.
It is evidenced by the way you move, the magnification of the senses, the mere presence of life, time and space.
How to attain this kind of tranquility? The following you may consider to be unsolcited advice. Others you have read about before. But mostly this is what works for most of the chefs I have worked with.
When in doubt, throw it out
Always have a sharp knife. Razor sharp. Safer that way, ironically.
Guard your mise en place like a rabid dog
Keep everything within reach, as in no more than a step away
Multi-task, but focus on what you are doing
Be choosy on your cookbook selection
Have a copy of Larousse Gastronomique and Repertoire de la Cuisine in your arsenal
Wear comfortable shoes
Listen to Vivaldi or Mozart when doing prep work. Led Zeppelin also works.
Fresh ground your pepper and salt when you need it
Clean sleeves, messy apron
Clean as you go
Keep a clock in view
Keep stock of stackable food containters
Keep a thermometer for fridge temp reading. Do not rely on the Fridge thermostat
A stash of weed works wonders on the creativity
A small notebook comes in handy for your recipes and adjustments
No man is an island. Be a mentor, or have a mentor
Know how to use Excel
Learn something new everyday
Explore your local supermarket every week
Get a tabletop pasta machine and play with it
The dish is the destination, the cooking an adventurous journey
That chicken leg that dropped on the floor means the chicken just died for nothing
Taste is to eating as porn is to sex
Chew 16 times for eahc mouthful, 32 if you are obsessive compulsive
Waste not, want not
Ask not what your ingredients can do for you, but what you can do with those ingredients
Have I missed anything. Let's assume the downdog position and meditate. Woosah!


Heavy mood, light chicken recipe

In between recipes. I between jobs that really matter. In between bookings. In transition.

It is not every day that one feels this way. Morose. In limbo. Horny. Unmotivated. Motivated. Not sure where to put a step, as long as it is not on some doo doo some pretentious dog lover left at Serendra. I woke up this morning feeling heavy in the head, my hair all over my face (Yes, I am growing my hair out, since the silvers are slowly making their presence). Mid-life crisis? Nope. Not even close. My Fino wallet keeps me liquid. I have bookings when it matters. I can cook. Not a great chef, but I can hold my own. I got a great woman. I do not have a convertible. Although I am eyeing that old Merc our neighbor has neglected.

This are just musings. Because a lot in the world leaves much for pondering. Like, Kris Aquino’s backing out of her promise. The over the edge reality shows that are too much already. Tiger Woods and his philandering. Sandra Bullock and his philandering. The death of Gary Coleman and the ensuing childish skirmish over his body. Anthony Bourdain and his take on the lechon from Cebu. The elusive Silver Spoon cook book that has yet to pass my hands and the kitchen table.

Dusk means another end, and the anticipation of a new beginning. Whoever said it is darkest before dawn should be cooking. Or eating. Or having some schnapps. I want some schnapps now. Some grappa. Some Mavro Daphne from Patras. A big gulp, and a plate of rich Tiramisu. With Guns N’ Roses playing in the background. While preparing ….

chicken_roulade Chicken Breast with Prawn and Lemon Mousse

4 Chicken breasts, fillet attached
2 large prawns, shelled and deveined
1 egg white
50 g fresh coriander, chopped
50 ml whipping cream
20 ml lemon juice
salt and pepper


Make a slice on chicken breast to form a pocket. Detach fillet
Season with salt and pepper
Pulse prawns in a processor roughly
Add egg white and pulse until smooth. Careful not to pulse too long or it will cook
Transfer to bowl. Fold in lemon zest, coriander, cream and lemon juice. Season to taste
Spoon Prawn mousse into each breast pocket
Cover pocket with fillet, then wrap tightly into a roll with cling film
Wrap in foil, then steam for 15 minutes
Remove from heat and let rest 5 minutes before slicing.
Serve with steamed rice and lemon sauce

Why this light citrusy recipe? Because it contrasts with my mood at the moment. Because I felt like it. Because I can.


Baby's Got The Blues

Loneliness is the tight-lipped bitch waiting for me when I get home. She saunters to and fro on the second floor of my house in her stilettos walking to a hypnotic beat making her presence undoubtedly known. She sits at the end of the dinner table tapping her long painted nails on her wrist, signaling and impatiently waiting for me to finish the "insipid" talk. She lies long, languid and lithe on my bed moving as slowly and as lazy as honey as if saying I have nowhere else to go. Even as children fill my home with laughter and noise, she tiptoes in the shadows of happiness to constantly and quite relentlessly remind me that devoid of an equal, I am in fact alone. Often times, I wish and convince myself that she is nothing but a figment of my imagination, a product of my vivid and aging mind. But I know she isn't. And the older I get, the more real she becomes.

She has a twin sister this bitch, Loneliness. Her name is Longing. She comes in unannounced in the strangest places like in the middle of a crowded room, where a band is attempting to drown everyone with decibels not fit for human consumption, or while driving and listening to the radio as the rain goes vertically mad on the pavement. You know that feeling when you are in a room full of people and everyone is laughing and then something crumples your ticker it feels "sour"? When your chest cavity is flooded with the feeling that something so rightfully yours has been taken away from you? That is Longing--the most unwelcome guest of my heart.

When I get the feeling that my unwanted guests (Loneliness and Longing in case you haven't been paying attention) are home, I find myself making Carbonara. I think that maybe, all of the world's problems can be solved with bacon. There's just something about the way simple, earthy ingredients are transformed into something rich, ethereal and soothing to heart, soul and tummy. It's what I'd like to call a gustatory blanket, something equivalent to a human hug. For me it's not just the eating part that is comforting but the whole ritual of making it.

First of all, I boil a big pot of water. In my interpretation of this dish, I use slab bacon. None of those thinly, machine sliced excuses for bacon. Traditionally, one uses pancetta or guanciale (from the jowls of the pig) but I like the smokiness of bacon which both pancetta and guanciale lack as they are not smoked. I then proceed to cut the slab into thick rectangular slices and render the fat over low heat. While waiting for the water to boil and the bacon to give off its ambrosial and deliriously sinful fat, I separate 3 egg yolks, which I mix with a cup of cream and half a cup of freshly grated parmiggiano-reggiano. Once the pasta is al dente, I throw it in the pan of the now lightly-browned bacon, turn off the heat and pour in the trinity of egg-cream-cheese and toss it all around until everything is locked in heavenly embrace. I put it in a bowl and begin to eat while reading a pocket book mostly of the mystery, horror, sci-fi kind. Think Stephen King, Robert Ludlum. Pointless to search for the comfort of food if you end up in masochist hell reading The Bridge Across Forever or Love in The Time of Cholera, right? So it's either a pocket book or a film such as Zombieland to blur the images of loneliness. Better to sleep with the memories of Zombies than stuff that only exists in fairy tales.

In the beginning, I said to myself that this path that will eventually lead to a solitary life is good. After all, everyone leaves whether it be a geographical, physical departure or a spiritual dissipation into the cosmos or vast unknown. Everyone leaves. Eventually, everyone becomes alone. However, is there really a point in preempting a definite ending? Loneliness and Longing, one day we three will have tea. I will have to live with them as the most ironic housemates in all of the earth. But right here, right now I really can do without them. I have a choice. And I choose to not be lonely anymore.


Here comes the rain again…

rain win gadget

“Here comes the rain again

Falling on my head like a memory.

Falling on my head like a new emotion

I want to breathe in the open wind

I want to kiss like lovers do

I want to dive into your ocean

Is it raining with you”

Annie Lennox, Eurythmics

Rain. The romantics would agree: it is in everything. Everything is nothing without it. With it, everything is not the same. The first taste. The first sensation. The first kiss. The first love. Rain. Droplets big and small. Droplets that covers everything in a magical shine. Droplets of water that paint the town. Ironically, it adds more color, adds vibrancy, adds life. Much the same way water is to us, to the food we eat, to the life we live.

The rains are not depressing, not even remotely.

“And when it rains on your parade, look up rather than down. Without the rain, there would be no rainbow.” – Gilbert Chesterton

The smell of moisture, the ground emanates with such power, with such deliberation whenever it is inundated.

“Let the rain kiss you. Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops. Let the rain sing you a lullaby.” – Langston Hughes

It is when vegetables are at their best. It is when the herbs are at their greenest. It is the coming of spring in some parts of the world, the end of summer in others.

“Many a man curses the rain that falls upon his head, and knows not that it brings abundance to drive away the hunger.” - Saint Basil

rain460 It was raining that I made my first recipe: Chicken Teriyaki. It was during my years at state university. And mom just left the family. Left to my own devices, and a well stocked book shelf and fridge, we had dinner. Despite the somber occasion, it was my first step. And I was happy. I was cooking. With a ladle, and a wing and a prayer, our family moved on. Broken, but nevertheless moved forward.

It was pouring when I went for my first day at the job. Sixteen, awkward, and passing the threshold of the local McD’s. Back then, the restaurant chain was magical to me. Red bricks. Systematic cooking and ordering. Everything surgically clean. Video training. The smell of burgers. The packaging. My first paycheck two weeks later.

umbrellas in the rain It was a deluge when I first submerged in the flooded waters of Espana in Manila, appreciating the comforting soup like no other a few hours later. It was dangerous. It was not natural that manholes, despite being left open to take care of the flood, actually posed more of a threat with the rushing water. It was chaotic for people to rush at the few remaining transports that have not been seized by the rising waters. It was surreal, because the umbrellas added color to an otherwise drab city. Red, blue. Black, Plaid. Rain coats of different sizes. Shoes floating. The lights had halos, casting a golden tint on the damp streets. Cold, drenched to the bone, it was at that moment I realized things should be better. Let me start with a hot bowl of soup.

Saute chopped white onions in olive oil until transparent. Toss in some chopped celery, stalk and leaves, and carrots. Let it dance for the length of that Annie Lennox ditty, then toss in some chorizo. Toss, then vandalize with a table spoon of tomato paste. Pour in some fresh chicken stock. Let it roll to a boil, then simmer. Add sliced cabbage, sprinkle in some sage, salt, pepper, and a smidge of chili pepper flakes. Stir. Serve this hearty soup in big bowls with a chunk of baguette.

It was drizzling when I left Manila for a few years in Switzerland. I still could remember how many droplets painted the airplane window. It was my first time away from home, out of the country, and completely alone in a foreign land where only tourists speak English. No friends or relatives. I should have been sad because of the world I was leaving behind. But I was not. I was looking forward to this. I was not looking back. Can I equate snow with rain? Because it felt that way, landing at the Geneva Airport. And it was magical, the way the snow flakes landed on my coat. Up until then, I thought snow flakes were just a product of people’s imagination. But I saw this flake, in all it’s crystalline glory for a few seconds.

rain zurich 2 It was the Spring Rain that found me in an apartment somewhere in Zurich Old Town, listening to Alanis Morisette’s “You Learn” and tapping to the beat. I knew how to speak Deutsch by then, fluent enough to tell a joke, to tell a story, to get around, to get lost. I knew Zurich like the back of my hand. The alleys, the back streets, the stores, the restaurants, the kitchens, the chefs. It was on that rainy spring day that I was to assume the position of Executive Sous Chef at an Italian Restaurant on Neiderdorfstrasse.

It was a dark, damp gloomy day when I lost my job at the Century Park hotel. I was not a chef there. Far from it. Room service manager. Dead end job. Slow professional growth, if any. I needed to be in the kitchen again. I walked out of the hotel, albeit with some regret, to grab my whites and find a place where I can strap on my apron again. I eventually did.

As you can see. I do not think of the rains as a depressing weather phenomenon. It is the mark of new beginnings. It is the signal that things are about to change. It is the rhythm of droplets like drumbeats that sound out what is to be. Notice how your skin feels smooth and velvety after an hour in the rain, that no other beauty product can match? Notice that only during and after the rains the food smells better, the light is more alive, the mood, as an understatement, restless.

It is the spirit that moves people forward. And it is the rain that nourishes some people’s spirit. It cleans the soul. It inspires, it gives hope.

“Some people walk in the rain, others just get wet.” – Roger Miller