The Chocolate Journey: Beyond Chocolate

The Chocolate Journey of a thousand miles of Chocolate Queen, Raquel Toquero Choa, begins with one cacao step: her advocacy to grow cacao trees and help educate cacao farmers. To get the proper supply of cacao, new techniques are incorporated for “tablea” production from well-fermented and solar-dried cacao beans that are roasted, shelled, ground and molded. And Raquel is tirelessly creating her “Tablea” the artisanal way with such artful grace, using the “lusong ” or mortar and “alho” or wooden pestle to pound the cacao nibs. Her Cacao de Bola can only be made by hand, a technique she hopes to hand over to her children. She also continuously inspires everyone with the trails and tales of the legendary Maria Cacao, a story that her grandmother shared with them while growing up in the mountains of Balamban.

Her Chocolate journey highlights the rich tradition of tablea-making and how these pure cacao tablets evolved as an essential culinary ingredient. The Chocolate Queen’s gathering of friends for an afternoon soiree to introduce her latest creations and innovations started with the age-old tradition of preparing “sikwate” in a chocolatera using a batirol and the art of drinking it. To enjoy a hot cup of “sikwate”, Raquel, the chocolate sommelier, reveals the 5 S’s, which are: swirl, smell, sip, swish and swallow. The Chocolate Chamber puts a twist to Puto-Sikwate, a favorite merienda. The Cebuano “puto” is steamed glutinous rice with coconut milk and a hint of ginger; quite different from the Tagalog “puto” or steamed rice cake made of rice flour. The Cebuano “puto” was really deliciously sticky! Due to the seasonal nature of mango, “puto” is topped with homemade mango marmalade and pairs perfectly well with “Sikwate. Ralfe Gourmet Chocolate Products were displayed on our ornate table setting with the Chocolate Bar Drink exclusively made for the Manila Polo Club on our small plates. The Chamber Keepers (Raquel’s children) were our attentive servers who took the bars, placed in a small thermos with hot milk, shook them and presto! Instant Chocolate Drink!

 

The Chocolate Journey goes beyond its culinary essence. To bring out the chocolate flavor and color, cacao beans are roasted, milled and the cacao nibs are pounded to create the cacao liquor that contains particles suspended in butter. The Casa de Cacao has specially formulated the Cacao Lava from the cacao liquor, which has both beauty and aesthetic uses. And the special guest for that afternoon gathering was budding artist, Jin Gayo, who captured the Chocolate queen on canvas, the technique and art of which are very challenging using chocolate lava as a medium. And if you wonder why Raquel’s complexion is flawless and glowing, that is the Cacao Lava’s magic!

 

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New Traditional Dishes at Enye by Chele

Dining at Enye by Chele, the premier restaurant of Crimson Resort & Spa in Mactan Island means savoring the very essence of the innovations of a world-renowned Spanish Chef Chele Gonzalez, driven by tradition and his advocacy of using fresh local ingredients. His creations are a reflection of his star-studded culinary career after earning a culinary degree in Bilbao and training in the world’s most respected restaurants including Michelin starred El Bulli and Mugaritz. He fell in love with the Philippines after a three-week vacation in Asia and eventually opened the Gallery Vask. He is most inspired by the personal bonds he establishes with growers, producers, breeders and communities in his search for new ingredients and flavors.

 

To mark Enye by Chele’s 18th month of serving authentic contemporary Spanish cuisine with strong Basque influence, Chef Chele Gonzalez was back in the resort to introduce a selection of new traditional dishes with his distinct touch. Spanish Viña Albali Verdejo Sauvignon Blanc, pleasant, fruity and light was generously poured while I checked the well-curated menu, which included his favorite tapas, family heirloom recipes and classic Spanish favorites. For openers, we enjoyed Wagyu Beef Flamenquin, the highly prized buttery, incredibly tender wagyu, cooked Flamenquin style – breaded, deep-fried. It truly melted in our mouths! There were two kinds of Croquetas: Mariscos or Seafood and Setas Y Trufa or mixed mushrooms and truffle oil. The croquets were delicately crispy outside, with soft and creamy filling of béchamel sauce binding the morsels of seafood and mushrooms. The Vieiras Gratinadas or gratinated baby scallops with béchamel sauce, cheese and ham were a delight to our palates. Satisfied with the appetizers, we moved on to the first course, White Snapper Fish and Scallop Ceviche with tiger’s milk, pickled onions, and coconut-curry espuma. Tiger’s milk or leche de tigre is a Peruvian term for citrus-based marinade that cures seafood in ceviche. Yes, Chef Chele used calamansi so it was not as bitingly sour as lemons. Each bite was bursting with freshness! The second course, Seared Foie Gras, always captivates my palate with its silky goodness albeit with atinge of guilt when I think of the gavage method of forced feeding the goose. The third course was Baked Grouper Fish Fillet stuffed with crabmeat with paprika and swimming in tasty seafood broth. True to family tradition, we shared Paella Negra or Arroz Negra, a dish that originated from Valencia like the classic paella. Rice is cooked with garlic, Cuban peppers, sweet paprika, olive oil, seafood broth and rendered black with squid ink or tinta de calamari. The Lamb dish or Cordero Asado de Manera was braised to delicious tenderness. For sweet endings, the Choco Mango Cebu is an upgraded version of local Suman, Mangga at Tsokolate. The Apple Tart was scrumptiously deconstructed with the components of apple foam, roasted apple, vanilla custard and ice cream. The Tarta de Queso Casera or Baked Cheesecake was extra delightful with red berry compote and rum ice cream. Que Sabroso!

 

 

Lebanese Yogurt Cheese

Young Filipino-Lebanese entrepreneur, Elias Naime, proudly presented his top quality and affordable dairy and yogurt products at Anzani’s , a romantic hillside restaurant in Nivel Hills where culinarians Marco and Kate Anzani whip up their fine dining masterpieces. Elias’s new company “Cheese & Cheese” tagline “Making the health benefits of all-natural yogurt a part of everyday Filipino meals” is certainly catchy. After all, yogurt is a healthy food produced by bacterial fermentation of milk, which produces lactic acid that acts on milk proteins to give yogurt its texture and characteristic tart flavor. Yogurt is a Turkish word whose origins is unknown but was invented in Mesopotamia as early as 5000 BC where a combination of yogurt and honey was called “food for the gods”. Cheese Yogurt has been strained to remove most of its whey, resulting in thicker consistency.

I know very little about the once war-torn Lebanon due to its geographic location, next to Syria and Cyprus. Its capital, Beirut, is considered the “Paris of the Middle East”. My attention was focused on the tiny republic due to Kahlil Gibran, the 3rd best selling poet of all time and Eli Saab, Fashion designer who dresses Hollywood stars. Through Elie Naime and his yogurt cheese, I hope to learn more about Lebanon and its culinary culture.

Our Yogurt Cheese “smorgasbord” started with a variety of “Labneh” dips where yogurt cheese was flavored with different condiments like dried tomato, pesto, pimiento, garlic, olives, pistachios and herbs. We enjoyed them with different breads. The Shanklish is a cheese-tomato-onion-olive oil dip great with chicken. The Lebanese Cold Soup of yogurt, cucumber, garlic, dried mint was served in small cups. For a filling treat, there was Manteh or baked meat dumpling with tomato sauce, yogurt seasoned with sumac, cayenne pepper and dried mint. Sumac is a tangy Middle Eastern red powder spice that packs a wallop of tart, lemony flavor that brightens salad dressings and meats. Sumac comes from the sumac flower or fruit, a member of the cashew family. Another filling delight is the Kebbe or fried meatballs filled with yogurt balls. We also enjoyed Achta or clotted cheese with honey. For the sweet treat, we had Katayef or Lebanese pancake filled with clotted cheese with rose-sugar syrup.

 

In between the delicious bites of cheese yogurt, Elias surprised us with his fluent Tagalog. His mother hails from Cagayan Valley who lives with his Lebanese dad in Beirut. He claims he is the only member of the family who chose to stay in the Philippines. His lengthy stay in Manila explains his proficiency with the Filipino language. He is fast catching up with Cebuano since he chose to open his business in Cebu where he has friends. He proudly says his supply of milk comes from Cebu. Here’s to a healthier diet with Cheese & Cheese all-natural yogurt and products!

Movenpick’s California Dreamin’ Cuisine

The Brand Founder Ueli Prager’s original premise that “the idea of doing normal things in an extraordinary way”, is Movenpick’s resident foodies approach to gastronomy today. Once again they come up with another global food promotions for Movenpick Hotels and Resorts worldwide. At the Hotel Mactan Island Cebu, Executive Chef Jean Louis Leon and his culinary team execute the “California Dreamin’” menu at the resort’s Sails featuring the seven classic California fusion cuisine.

California, the golden state, is the agricultural hub of the USA. Its local and sustainable produce drives its cuisine. Fresh vegetables, fruits, meats, seafood from the California Coast often define the style. The California sunshine and seasonal flavors are captured in Monvenpick’s latest global culinary creations by the dynamic duo of resident foodies Europe F & B Director Thomas Hollenstein and Corporate Marketing Manager Jochen Krautheim. California Dreamin’ takes its cue from America’s hip and glamorous Hollywood, Venice Beach and Napa Valley.

 

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With the “California Dreamin” sang by the of the Mamas & Papas playing softly during our leisurely dinner at Sails, Executive Chef Jean Louis gave us a short introductory talk about the dishes that his team prepared, ensuring that every detail has been followed. For openers, The Crab Cake on a bed of sweet corn & black beans & lettuce served with Asian Remoulade used fresh crabmeat only picked from its shell. It was delicious. Manny O’s award-winning Discipulus Blanc went well with the crab cakes and the Flowered Tuna on garden greens, spring vegetables (baby asparagus, snow peas, carrot, zucchini, spring onions). The tuna was perfectly seared with raw/pink insides and rolled in dried flowers. The Beef Carpaccio Formaggi uses beef tenderloin infused with tuna fillet oil, capers, black tapenade, briefly seared and finished in the oven on low temperature, chilled before slicing into the paper-thin 2 mm. Goat cheese balls, artichoke and mushroom salad completed the dish. The 4th dish “Label Rouge Salmon” reflects the hip restaurant trend and aligned with Movenpick’s commitment to sustainability and “Go Healthy” concept. Label Rouge or Red Label is a sign of quality assurance in France and the Scottish salmon is the first fish and first non-French product to be awarded the quality mark. Here the salmon is simply seasoned with sea salt and baked completely immersed in olive oil. The salmon is served with summer vegetables heated with vinaigrette of olive oil, lemon juice, lemon zest, lemon thyme, black and pink pepper, sea salt with horse radish cream on the side. Perfectly blended flavors! California is top 10 citrus –growing countries globally so the Lemon Poultry dish uses the lemons to roast the chicken breasts and served with Pea Mash and Onion Confit. The Oven-roasted Rack of Lamb was crusty outside and appetizingly pink inside with butter beans & veggies, potato and rich red wine sauce. California’s rich soil, freshest coastal breezes and sun foster the growth of super food like avocado. And dessert was Lemon and Avocado Cheesecake. Scrumptious! So, dream no more and indulge in the bounty of California in Movenpick Hotel Mactan Island Cebu’s Sails from March to April 2019.

Dining at ICAAC’s Salle a Manger

Our dinner was excellent as fine dining should be at the International Culinary Arts Academy of Cebu’s (ICAAC) Salle a Manger Training Restaurant in Guadalupe. We were a foursome so agreed we would share everyone’s orders. The menu was exquisitely curated. For starters, I chose a variety of handcrafted breads with Pesto, Bone Marrow butter and Herbed Cream Cheese. The guys preferred to open their palates with Fresh Mushroom Cream Soup and my friend Hannah had Fresh Mushrooms on Toast. We carefully picked our choices for the Mains after the Starters opened up our palates. The students, in the course of their training must have perfected the meat and fish courses offered.

We chose fish, pork lamb and beef dishes prepared to please any discerning palate. The 24-Hour Sous Vide Lamb Shanks in Red Curry Sauce served with Couscous and Mint Yogurt was a dream dish. The lamb was evenly tender as a result of the Sous Vide procedure. Sous Vide is a method of cooking where food is placed in a vacuum-sealed container and cooked in a water bath with regulated temperature for long hours thereby retaining the flavors and aroma while being cooked evenly. Every bite of the tender lamb was deliciously good that went well with couscous and mint yogurt. The 24-hour Sous Vide Asian Style Pork Belly on Garlic Rice and Mixed Veggies had a fried egg on the side. The Baked Fish Fillet with Tom Yam Sauce with coconut cream was Thai goodness! Chef Jeremy Young informed us that the very fresh, firm, white fillet is Lamon –Lamon, common in Cebu. The 4th dish we shared was Australian Beef Short Ribs in Red Wine Mushroom Demi-glace. Our student food Attendants, Izzy Escalona and Eric Davies, were very accommodating, answering our queries as best as they could. Eric made sure no crumbs were on the tablecloth, a gesture common in upscale restaurants. We tried all the dessert for the night: Vanilla Crème Brulee, Macha or green tea Opera Cake and Oreo-Nutella Cheesecake.

The exquisite dinner was, indeed, a special one. ICAAC’s raining restaurant, Salle a Manger is highly seasonal; operated by culinary students enrolled in 30-Month British Advanced Diploma in Culinary Arts Program that includes Restaurant Operations Module. Dean/Chef Jeremy Young together with his team, Chef de Cuisine Justin Mechill and Pastry Chef Fatima Tan-Tan Young emphasizes French culinary techniques using global ingredients. And the dining experience certainly exceeds expectations.

 

ICAAC’s Salle s Manger is open Thursday to Saturday only from 6:00 PM to 9:30 PM until April 13, 2019 only. Reservations are strongly recommended. Tel. 412-5241.

Radisson Blu’s Brand of Hospitality

Intimate afternoons with Radisson Blu’s General Manager Stephan Sieberg and his lovely wife Stephanie is getting to be a norm that selected writers are getting used to. And once again, we were privileged to enjoy another afternoon of the Radisson Blu’s charming brand of hospitality with the hotels’ First Couple.

The Radisson Blu Marcom ladies Lara Verdan Agua and Tin Estrella gathered 6 of us in the spacious lobby where GM Stephan warmly welcomed us and graciously escorted us to the 20th Floor’s refurbished Business Class Guestrooms. The 55 guestrooms and suites from the 19th to the 21st floors Business Class have undergone total renovation with elegant shades of blue steel tones that compliment beige and mahogany design accents. Amenities answer the needs of techy-savvy guests with exclusive privileges such as complimentary access to the Business Class Lounge on the 20th floor where guests enjoy personalized check-in/out, all-day pampering with breakfasts, refreshments, evening cocktails, not to mention the panoramic view of the metropolis with its bustling seaports and the SM City’s shopping complex. “Our refreshed business class guestrooms and suites are a charming mix of both business and leisure”, says the quintessential hotelier, GM Stephan Sieberg.

 

It was a perfect time for High Tea in the hotel’s Business Class Lounge. The afternoon sun filtered through the gossamer curtains as we sat around the dining table with the Radisson Blu’s first couple. The high tea tiered trays were filled with Finger Sandwiches of Beef & Chicken, the very British Scones, Canadian Nanaimo Bars, Chocolate Cupcakes and Cheesecakes. The classic high tea scones are popular British baked goodies usually made of wheat flour and oatmeal leavened with baking powder. It was delightfully tender, flaky and buttery and was perfect with whipped butter and fruit preserves. Nanaimo bars are of Canadian origin, named after the city in British Columbia, Vancouver. The dainty cake bar is a no-bake dessert with 3 layers of wafer, coconut crumble base, custard-flavored butter icing and veiled with silky chocolate ganache. Iced Tea, fresh watermelon and mango juices were very refreshing for the afternoon high tea. More exciting and juicy conversations kept all of us in jovial mood, which run the gamut of hospitality updates, travels, society tidbits and the unavoidable politics, which we kept toned down. First Couple Stephan and Stephanie extensively travel the world and treasure their experiences especially in Asia. And Cebu seems to be their favorite, so far.

Seafood & Wine at Il Corso

Seafood lover that I am, I was delighted to discover a new dining area serving the bounty of the sea. Fishes Seafood & Wine recently opened its doors in Il Corso, a 10-hectare waterfront mall and lifestyle destination, which is a part of Filinvest Land’s 50-hectare coastal township, City di Mare or City by the Sea in SRP.

After the hectic holiday season, I finally found the time to make a trip to Il Corso upon the invitation of Hanski Garcia, Marketing Officer of Filinivest Lifemalls. The development of Il Corso is in progress and the latest restaurant to occupy the scenic waterfront is Fishes Seafood & Wine. A petite and friendly young entrepreneur Jocille Bascones welcomed me to the opening of the family-owned restaurant. I noticed a few prominent exporters huddled on a table with Phil, Export Cebu President Joseph Bascones, who is the CEO of Central Seafoods, which owns the newly opened Fishes. Central Seafoods is one of the leading exporters of the bounty of Philippine seas.

Y101’s Jiggy Jr. took to the floor before the seafood dishes were paraded to our table. Behind the kitchen, Jiggy introduced, is Danny Aquino, a homegrown chef who hails from Mexico, Pampanga. The fact that he comes from the culinary capital of our country says a lot about his culinary skills. Jiggy assured me we will meet up with Chef Danny up-close after preparing the freshest and savory seafood dishes for our lunch.

The Seafood Cream Soup, Bouillabaisse style, opened up our palates. Morsels of my favorite seafood were swimming in the rich creamy broth. Italian Chardonnay was poured in our wine glasses to complement and draw out the flavors of the seafood. The best seller, Scallop Overload, was baked with generous topping of cheese. The menu is a showcasing of the seafood specialties. The Aligue Rice is something new to Cebuanos. Aligue or crab fat is a delicacy from Luzon. Back in Manila, I enjoyed freshly squeezed aligue from “Burong Talangka” on hot rice, which I truly miss! The creative styling skill of Chef Danny was impressive on the Whole Squid, Calamari style.

P1040702The Steamed Parrot Fish or Loro Fish or Molmol in Cebuano in Imperial Sauce was bursting with freshness. I love its firm, white flesh and I usually have it filleted in the market. More Fish fillets were served with Florentine Sauce and breaded with mayonnaise. Florentine sauce is actually a creamy sauce with spinach, which refers back to the region of Florence, Italy. The Spicy Prawns were plump and juicy with just a hint of spiciness. Fishes is certainly a place for seafood lovers. The Menu also carries several meat dishes like Bagnet (the Ilocano lechong kawali), but I will choose to have the freshest of the bounty of the sea at Fishes Seafood & Wine anytime!