Salt & Pepper, the People’s Culinary School

Owner and Chefs
Coke Semblante, Jun Cantal, Grace Marquez, Sam Colinares, Richard Hao

P1050311.JPGOur culinary scene is evolving. Food business is as vibrant as the young men and women who aspire to be chefs. With the staggering cost of pursuing a culinary career, those with limited financial resources can only “dream” of obtaining a diploma or a career as a chef. But the culinary career, which was out of reach several years ago, is becoming more attainable and affordable with the entry of several culinary schools in Cebu City.

Taking a step further to provide a platform for quality programs that can open life-changing opportunities and are affordable to as many Filipinos as possible, business man Ivan Spencer Lim of Davao city took over an existing culinary school in Davao City and renamed it “Salt & Pepper Culinary Institute” he envisions to be the people’s culinary school. With the initial acceptance in Davao city, Ivan decided to branch out in Cebu City with his long time friend, Jun Cantal. Thus Salt & Pepper Culinary Institute opened its doors to Cebuanos last month in Jamestown Square, Mantawi Drive in Mandaue City.

Chef Richard Hao can very well relate to those who aspire to be chefs since he worked his way through to acquire his expertise from a mix of formal schooling in culinary arts and a Bachelor’s degree in Hospitality & Restaurant Management at the University of Sam Jose Recoletos where he teaches now. His desire to bring the culinary arts to those with limited finances can be fulfilled by becoming a part of the “people’s culinary school”. He is joined by several industry-tested “chefs”: Radisson Blu Cebu’s Coke Semblante and Deofrey Vistal; Sam Colinares and Grace Marquez.


Mini Burger in Blackened Bun
Chicken Satay & Lechon Spread on Bread
Lemon Meringue Tartlets
Chef Hao Mixing Mango-Sago
Mini Quiche

The Opening of Salt & Pepper Culinary Institute was a preview of what to expect from the kitchens. The Cocktails were served with Chef Hao’s ceremonial mixing of his now famous Mango-Sago dessert, which was featured in a recently concluded Mango Festival in Mactan Newtown. The mini Burger in Blackened Buns was tasty and flavorful. Chef Coke explains that ground beef sirloin was used and the bun was rendered black with activated charcoal. The Lechon Spread on enseimada dough bread was something delightfully different. The Mini Quiche was just as delicious. I must say that the finger foods served had a touch of refinement that can only be achieved by expert hands! The Lemon Meringue Tartlets had thin delicate crust, smooth and creamy lemon filling topped by torched meringue. My 10-year granddaughter Sabrina who was with me wanted to taste the Cake Pops filled with coffee liquor but had second thoughts due to the alcoholic filling. She had her fill of mini burgers and Chicken Teriyaki Sate. She loved the Mango-Sago!








Delectable Dining at ICAAC’s Salle a Manger

The Salle a Manger of the International Culinary Arts Academy of Cebu (ICAAC) is the only training restaurant in Cebu with a seating capacity of 50 persons. The premiere professional culinary institution puts a strong emphasis on hands-on and practical learning setting it apart from other culinary schools. Here, the culinary students pursing a Two-year Culinary Arts Chefs Programme learn to cook and serve a variety of cuisines/dishes using different techniques that will prepare them for a future of excellent service. Operated by students, the training restaurant is open only during in-school semester and is committed to exceed the dining experience of guests.

Dining in Salle a Manger is always a delectable and satisfying experience. It can compete and even exceed the expectations of dining in upscale hotel and restaurants when one considers the food, the set-up and the service. And to complement this, it is always a delight to see young and aspiring students put up their best, like Diane Alberca who decided to pursue a culinary career after graduating from high school. As a first year student, she is part of the service crew. The second year students are busy in the well-equipped, state-of-the-art kitchen preparing and cooking the dishes under the strict supervision of Dean/Chef Jeremy Young and his wife, Pastry Chef Fatima.

My New York-based granddaughter, 10-year-old Sabrina, perused the delectable menu and picked her choices with confidence, knowing exactly what she wanted. The impressive menu has choices for Starters, Main Course and Dessert. To start with, Sabrina chose Fresh Mushroom Soup made from fresh button mushrooms with cream of Armangac and served with toasts. Armangac is the oldest brandy distilled in France. Sabrina loves the earthy flavor of mushrooms with flavors enhanced by Armagnac cream. For Sabrina, it was spoon licking good! I had the Quiche Lorraine, a cheesy flan tart with ham, cheddar & Gruyere, served simple salad. I shared this with Sabrina, a growing kid with twice my appetite. For the main courses, I knew Sabrina would have the Pan-Roasted Rack of Lamb with Herb Crust, Mashed Potato, Fresh veggies and Red Wine Sauce. She quickly advised Chef Jeremy that she wanted it cooked medium-rare. For variety, I had the Mixed Grill- US Beef Tenderloin, Pork Belly, Chicken Thigh, Hungarian Sausage, Potato and Compound Butter. Great choices, according to our student-server, Diane, who was very attentive.

Pastry Chef Fatima briefly sat down with us and offered the dessert choices: Layer of Sweetened Milk Reduction & Strawberry Cremeaux and Amaretto Chocolate Truffle with Hazelnut & Praline Paste in Dough. Another delectable dining experience in Salle a Manger!


Salle a Manger is open Thursday to Saturday only from 6 PM to 10 PM. Reservations are strongly recommended, by calling (032) 4125241.

Cafe Marco’s Swissness from A to Z

Switzerland is one of the most developed and richest countries in the world. And the new “Swissness” legislation strengthens the “Swiss-made” designation and the Swiss Cross logo. The Swiss Cross indicates anything and everything to do with Switzerland. And the prestigious Swiss cross logo means superior natural products, foodstuffs, industrial products and even services.

When I think of Switzerland in terms of food, brown cows, cheese, chocolates and sausages come to my mind. Making cheese is big business in Switzerland for many of the country’s daily farmers who milk cows while conquering the challenges into the Alpine meadows in summer months. Milk goes into cheese making, butter and cream. Popular cheeses are Le Gruyere and Emmenthal.

At Marco Polo Plaza Cebu’s Café Marco, Gen. Manager Brian Connelly and Resident Manager Michaela Priesner formally opened the Swissness A to Z Culinary Journey while a Swiss brown cow and the eye-catching Swiss Cross greeted the diners. Swiss cuisine is multifaceted and cheese fondue, raclette, rosti are omni-present. The most iconic is the Cheese Fondue, Swiss melted cheese served in a communal pot over portable stove eaten by dipping bread into the cheese using long stemmed forks. I queued at the Raclette with an electric top grill with semi-hard cheese for starters. As soon as the cheese starts to melt, it is scraped off straight to a plate with potatoes, gherkins, cornichons, pickled onions and diced meat. The warm, melted cheese is such a treat! Raclette was actually consumed by peasants in the mountainous Alpine Regions. Traditionally Cow herders carried cheese with them when they were moving cows up in the mountains and cheese would be placed to a campfire for softening and scraped into bread. I enjoyed classic Swiss stews that went well with Rosti (Swiss hash brown), Spaetzle (tiny dumplings native to Germany and Alsace) and Alpermagronen (a rich pasta, potato and cheese dish

RM Michaela Priesner and GM Brian Connelly
Rosti and Spaetzle
Assorted Sausages
Cheese Fondue
Swiss Cheery Flan

topped with caramelized onion, accompanied by applesauce). My New York-based granddaughter Sabrina was obviously enjoying the Swiss dishes while making friends with everyone on our table. She served herself with the variety of hams and sausages – frankfurter, bratwurst, wienerli and cervelat paired with Braised Red Cabbage and Beetroot Salad. And I truly savored picking on the different Swiss cheeses and a big slice of creamy Cheese Quiche. There were a variety of sweet treats. I had a slice of Cherry Flan. Sabrina had several trips to try several desserts! Swissness, Indeed!







Bluewater Maribago’s 30 years of Amuma

Mactan Island is a prime tourist destination. The island boasts of a rich history, pristine waters, white sand beaches that have been attracting tourists. it is home to Cebu’s finest resorts.

One of the pioneers in the island is an all-Filipino resort, the Bluewater Maribago Beach Resort. The late Cebuano businessman, Arcadio C. Alegrado and his Butuanon wife Marle Montalban established what would grow into the Bluewater Resorts Group. The flagship, Maribago, started with a few rooms way back in 1989 on a 7-hectare property. Their children, daughters June and Julie and sonly son, Jovi, practically grew up here, learning the intricacies of running the resort. This togetherness will eventually define their family-friendly brand of hospitality. Today, Bluewater Maribago has 170 rooms composed of royal bungalows, prime deluxe rooms, amuma spa suites, that showcase modern Filipino architecture. A 6-floor mid-rise building with 62 more rooms is under construction and will be ready by 2020.

This year marks the 30th year of Bluewater Maribago Beach Resort. In lieu of the usual invitation card, Asst. Gen. Manager Domiku Sebasten Alegrado Ugarte (June’s son) sent personalized letters to celebrate 30 years of “Amuma”, a Visayan word that translates to caring, pampering, feeding, giving all the best to the valued guests. The occasion also paid tribute to loyal employees with 30 years of service, one of whom was VP for Sales & Marketing, Margie Munsayac,

White tents in anticipation of the rain were put up on the Beachfront venue where a festive set-up awaited guests. And the rain did not dampen the celebration at all. Ilocano Executive Chef Stephen del Amen and his culinary team prepared a feast highlighted by the bounty of the sea and Filipino dishes. The Buffet spread had several food stations. I particularly liked the steamed shrimps and scallops, oysters, Salmon Kinilaw, Chicken Relleno, and his Ilocano specialty “Tinungbo”, an Ilocano method of cooking rice and seafood using   light young bamboo internodes locally called “tubong” and grilled over charcoal or low fire, a technique used for almost a 100 years. I was delighted to see “Carioca”, skewered fried rice balls with brown sugar glaze, a street food in Manila.


Julie Alegrado Vergara, Jovi Alegrado, June Alegrado Ugarte
Steamed Scallops & Shrimps
Salmon Kinilaw
Chicken Relleno
Adlai Paella


President Julie Alegrado Vergara led the celebration ceremonies, giving an inspiring talk on how the resort progressed to where it is now, a top tourist destination in Mactan Island. She mentioned the balete trees (relative of banyan trees) that were planted when her dad started the resort. These are graceful trees and have a broad root system. Just like the trees, she said, the resort has grown stronger and steadily. Here’s to more magical years of hospitality with the distinctive brand of Filipino service!




A Silky Day at Seda with GM Gwen

Seda Ayala Center Cebu’s GM Gwen dela Cruz, a seasoned hotelier with sterling experience, fondly tells Chocolate Queen Raquel Choa and I that we were the very first personalities who welcomed her in Cebu when she arrived at the hotel to assume her new post. Looking tired, she happily joined us while we were dining at the hotel’s Misto. The evening turned out invigorating her as we enjoyed a lively conversation punctuated with laughter. That was a year ago.

While I was still in New York, Gwen extended an invitation for lunch at Misto, which I gladly set a week after I arrived in Cebu last July, exactly a year after that memorable “welcome” dinner we had. So with my granddaughter 10-year old Sabrina, we met up for lunch together with Raquel and her 14-year old daughter, Angelie. Joining the fun were Sales & Marketing Director Frances Alfafara and Marketing Communications Officer Gabrielle Llanos.

After only a year, the 301-room Seda Ayala Center Cebu, a homegrown brand owned by Ayala Group has been embraced by the local as well as foreign guests and continues to enjoy brisk business, Gwen proudly announced. The hotel’s restaurant, Misto, Italian word for “mix” is running in good friendly competition with all the restaurants at the Ayala Center. A concept created by Group GM, Andrea Mastellone, Misto is common to all the Seda Hotels in the country. Italian for “mixed”, Misto offers a medley of authentic flavors with international flair but pays respect to the Filipino cuisine. So when we gathered for lunch at Misto, GM Gwen recommended that we enjoy Executive Chef Ma. Gemma “Gina” Limot’s Cebuano dishes. We started with “Larang”, a classic dish similar to “Sinigang” of Luzon. Chef Gina used fresh tomatoes only, imparting an appetizing reddish color and a hint of sourness to the soup with Tanguigue fish cubes. I requested a food attendant for fish sauce or “Patis”. The “Sinuglaw”, a portmanteau of the words “Sinugba” and “Kinilaw” is a popular appetizer or “Pica-Pica” with fresh slices of “Tanguigue” marinated in kalamansi, coconut milk and spices mixed with grilled pork belly. The main course was the Pork Humba,, a Chinese influenced dish. Executive Chef Gina recently assumed her post, a well-deserved promotion with twenty years of invaluable experience in 5-star hotels and resorts.

Our Misto get-together, a totally delightful one, progressed in the afternoon in time for the Misto Afternoon Delight High Tea. There were two sets to choose from: English inspired or Western Spread complete with scones, whipped butter and jams, fancy ham & cheese pinwheels, pork humba in puff pastry or Local Selections of pork sisig tarts, kakanins like sapin-sapin. pichi-pichi, Maja mais and turon langka.

Our silky day at Seda was capped with a leisurely evening at the Executive Floor Lounge with the city’s panoramic view complemented by a delightful cocktail spread.

Executive Chef Gina Limot and GM Gwen dela Cruz
Executive Chef Gina Limot & GM Gwen dela Cruz
Afternoon Tea_Western Spread
Afternoon Delight High Tea

Seamless Filipino hospitality uniquely at Seda!

Dining Fashionably at Armani Ristorante

A few months before I flew to New York last June, my dear friend, Giorgio Armani Fashion Stylist Marlon Corvera, was bursting with excitement as he talked about the magnificent staircase of Italian luxury fashion megastore, Armani New York Fifth, which also houses one of the 20 globally acclaimed, Michelin-Starred, Armani Ristorante,

Giorgio Armani, the iconic Italian fashion designer has expended his empire to include restaurants and hotels. His Armani New York Fifth where Marlon works is located in the heart of Manhattan and overlooks the most celebrated street in New York City, Fifth Avenue. Central feature of the elegant 4-storey store is an incredibly breathtaking sculptural steel staircase, the vortex of which brings the building as a single fluid space, connecting all the different levels that accommodate the Armani universe.

I was brimming with excitement when I accepted Marlon’s invitation for a late lunch at Armani Ristorante. The acclaimed staircase designed by Doriana & Massimiliano Fuksas captivated my undivided attention, leaving me breathless. I slowly ascended the rolled calendar steel dazzled by the lighting that defines and emphasizes the curvature as well as the bends of the walls and spaces. I finally reached the elegant Armani Ristorante on the 4th floor where Marlon Corvera and no less than the Italian Executive Chef Michele Brogioni roused me from a state of wonder as they welcomed me. Marlon and I sat at a table with a splendid view of 5th Ave and the end of Central park, filtered by an amber veil. Chef Michele who must be in his late 40’s looks very youthful. He hails from Perugia and learned the art of cooking from his father’s restaurant, acquiring finesse, refinement and simplicity – the hallmark of his cuisine. Handpicked by the now legendary Giorgio Armani himself, his vanguard cuisine marries Italian tradition and translates the Armani’s tasteful philosophy. While browsing through the menu, Chef Michele served an Amuse Bouche, usually not in the menu compliments of the chef, of Peas with Truffles on Fava Beans in lemon jam and topped with dainty pea leaf shoots. Being a hot summer day, I chose to enjoy Melone – chilled cantaloupe soup with lime, yellowtail crudo and pickled cucumber. Crudo is a dish that has light and

Melone Chilled Cantaloupe Soup with Yellowtail Crudo
The Writer at the Armani Staircase
Executive Chef Michele Brogioni with Writer
Spaghetti with Baby Squid, Sea Urchin and Bottarga

bright flavors, made with shallot, ginger, Serrano pepper, fish sauce, lime juice, olive oil and yuzu paste, perfect for summer. The chilled cantaloupe soup was poured as the enticingly refreshing dish was served. Fresh, sweet, tangy, salty flavors burst into my mouth as I scooped a spoonful with cut morsels of firm yellowtail. It was absolutely delightful! Marlon recommended one of Chef Michele’s signature dish, Spaghetti with baby squid, sea urchin, lemon zest, sage and generously sprinkled with grated bottarga, Italian for a delicacy of salted and cured fish roe, typically of grey mullet or blue fin tuna. Spaghetti never tasted so good! Squisito!





Uncle Boons Sister Cafe at Trendy SoHo

It was a leisurely Sunday afternoon of sightseeing and shopping. My granddaughter Sabrina’s craving for Milk & Cream, an ice cream cereal bar, brought us to New York City’s SoHo, world famous shopping paradise with trendy designer boutiques and artist district in Lower Manhattan. SoHo, an area South of Houston is a tourist haven famous for its elegant cast-iron building facades and cobblestone streets. And yes, restaurants and cafes! During the day vendors sell anything from jewelry to original artworks.

Walking along Mott Street in SoHo, we decided to have a savory merienda on our way to Milk & Cream. My daughter Patricia ‘s eye caught Uncle Boons Sister Cafe

Phat Thai
Sabrina and Writer at Uncle Boons Sister
Phat See Ew
Patricia and Writer at Uncle Boons Sister

and got excited for me. After all, Uncle Boons is a One Michelin Star restaurant offering creative Thai eats and cocktails in a small funky café with brick walls and Bankok flea market décor. His sister will do for the moment, a 12-seater café. Michelin-starred restaurants in New York are not necessarily expensive; the number of stars is a guide, lower star is typically more affordable. Tim Howan is actually the cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant.

With a beautiful sunny weather, we took a table on the sidewalk bordered by bamboo divider. The next table had a longhaired Chihuahua that kept us amused. Sparkling Lemonade was very refreshing while we decided to order merienda of Phat Tai, rice noodles with peanuts, dried shrimps and tamarind sauce. The choice was either vegetarian or with chicken or prawns. Sabrina chose to have chicken. Patricia chose another noodle course, Phat See Ew, stir fry flat rice noodles with garlic, soy and Chinese broccoli with prawns. Choices for protein include chicken, short rib or combo. My palates were totally mesmerized with the taste and flavors that exploded in my mouth that must have earned a Michelin Star! Both courses were extraordinarily tasty although Patricia found the Phat See Ew a bit overpowering. All together, I probably will not enjoy these courses in any restaurant after a taste of it in Uncle Boons Sister! For the two noodle courses plus drinks, Patricia paid less than $50!