Celebrating Indian Cuisine at Café Marco

Café Marco at Marco Polo Plaza Cebu is famous for its exciting buffet spread. And to thrill diners even more, it embarks on a Culinary Journey that features cuisines of different countries.

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In celebration of Diwali or the Festival of Lights, Café Marco goes Indian and created a feast of exotic dishes and desserts. For 3 years now, Culinary Consultant Ms. Judeline Murjani with the award-winning chefs of Marco Polo, have been whippping up selections as authentic as they can be using Indian ingredients and spices.

India is a vast South Asian country with diverse terrain. The second most populous country (China is first), its cuisine varies from its different regions dictated by culture, geographical location and seasonality. The 11 basic spices are familiar to many of us: cardamom, clove, curry, cassia bark (cinnamon), nutmeg & mace, cumin, coriander, mustard seed, turmeric and the very pricy saffron. The use of spices beyond these can be very confusing for those unfamiliar with the intricacies of the cuisine.

Café Marco was very festive with the staff dressed in Indian clothes. And the buffet lay out competed with its colors and flavors. A section was devoted to Indian savory dishes and desserts. Unfamiliar with the Indian names, I made my choices based on how the dishes appealed to my senses, this after I enjoyed the Japanese Sushi and Sashimi to set the exciting mood of my palates. There was an array of curry dishes – green, red and yellow. A whole roasted headless goat was waiting to be carved. I chose to dine on the familiar tandoori, variety of meats and bread roasted in a tandoor or cylindrical clay oven. The choices included chicken, lamb, fish marinated in the classic tandoori mix that include yogurt, lime juice, Garam Masala, garlic, ginger powder, clove, ground red chili and a few optional spices. They are best eaten with Naan or Indian bread baked in the tandoor. Lamb and Chicken Kofta was not too complicated – meatball mixed with spices. A whole Chicken Tandoori was stuffed with Biryani, a mixed rice dish with Indian spices, meat with nuts and dried fruits. The dishes I enjoyed were best paired with chutney and raita.

The methai or desserts were quite different. I had Jalebi, a deep-fried batter in pretzel form soaked in syrup, Burfi or dense milk based confectionary, Gulab Jamun or milk solid kneaded with flour, shaped into balls and deep-fried and soaked in light syrup flavored with green cardamom and rose water. One just has to taste them to erase the wonder or intimidation.

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Mövenpick Chocolate on the Salty Side

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Chocolate is typically sweet and has been a delicacy for millennia. Next to diamonds, chocolate is probably a girl’s best friend.

Movenpick, an upscale brand within the AccorHotels group, in celebration of Swiss cuisine, embarks on a global campaign with its food artisans giving several savory dishes with a distinctive character by adding a touch of its chocolate. World famous Movenpick Chocolate is produced with legendary precision as well as its culinary values that date back 70 years.

Movenpick Hotel Mactan Island Cebu recently unveiled a menu of 7 savory dishes at its all-day dining Sails using chocolate, which has become one of the most popular food in the world, not only for desserts but for savory dishes as well. Here, the versatility of the popular chocolate has been created to complement and enhance meats, fish and vegetables. Its Executive Chef Jean Louis Leon recreated the dishes by Movenpick’s food artisans that will be offered in all its hotels worldwide that will run until November 20, 2018.

Tasting portions of the 7 dishes were served, giving us time to enjoy and savor each dish. Opening the exciting repertoire was Beetroot Salmon that gets its extraordinary color from a lively marinade of beetroot, herbs and citrus fruit, with the addition of dark chocolate for a sublime overture. On the side were thyme crackers with crème fraiche dip. A light and savory version of classic Tarte Tatin was a surprising combination of tomatoes, goat cheese, pine nuts, coffee beans and white lemon chocolate. The Movenpick Chocolate “Maple Walnut” Sea Bass & Green Tea was a stand-out. The sea bass is placed on top of potato slices on a pan and rapeseed oil is drizzled until the fish is cooked. Rapeseed comes from a bright yellow flowering member of mustard or cabbage family and group of cultivar, familiar to many of us, is canola. Nut topping uses Maple Walnut chocolate, hazel nuts, almonds, chili flakes and panko bread crumbs on the sea bass fillet. The popular Hungarian stew, Beef Goulash, cooked the traditional way with red wine, gets a richer sauce with the addition of dark chocolate. This brought to my mind the Mexican “Mole”, the national sauce made with fruit, chili peppers, spices like pepper, cumin, cinnamon and chocolate. Lamb Shank & Pesto is a slow-cooked dish just like our grandmothers used to cook. This time, it is refined with pistachio pesto with the addition of hazelnut chocolate. The lamb was so tender the meat just falls off the bone. Last but not the least of the 7 dishes was Duck Breast & Potato Pie, with the pink-roasted duck breast basked in the medley of vanilla and apricots, lime and pepper and white chocolate with lemon.

The Finale of Pavés au Chocolat is dark chocolate with crispy fragments of cocoa beans, pecan nuts with matcha or green tea. Pavé means pavement or cobblestone and a box of these truffles look like its namesake. The paves were exquisite with espresso, a fitting tribute to chocolate!

 

Lunch with the Marketman at Pigafetta

Long before blogging became a fad, Joel “Marketman” Binamira has been sharing his knowledge, expertise, and a culture of food he grew up with, mostly from his grandmother. His inquisitive nature must be satisfied by thorough research and hands-on experience. This is one of the reasons he makes trips to market regularly to pick up ingredients he needs for his culinary pursuits.

And it was though his website www.marketmanila.com that the late celebrated chef,author, and TV host Anthony Bourdain discovered and chose to shoot an episode of CNN’s “No Reservations” to feature what is now the famous Bourdain’s “Best pig ever” description of Joel’s “Zubuchon”. Roasting lechon the way his grandmother did it the artisanal way was simply a hobby and a passion for Joel. His simple act of research and roasting lechon to get the perfect “Zubuchon” have given rise to a highly successful “Zubuchon” business with 9 branches in Cebu and 6 in Metro Manila. More than the business, he simply takes pride in providing employment, thereby helping people.

Now a reluctant TV host together with Chef JP Anglo in Metro Channel’s “Show Me the Market”, Joel is in his element as they search for fresh ingredients in the new food and travel show. The well-travelled banking/management consultant seemingly enjoys picking and then cooking his choice of ingredients.

It was, therefore, another surprise treat when Zubuchon GM Joan Danao invited Jude Bacalso and I for another lunch get-together with Joel Binamira at his Italian restaurant, Pigafetta located in Axis along Escario Street. Pigafetta was a scholarly Venetian who chronicled the historic voyage of Magellan. While Joan was busy ordering the new offerings in the menu, Joel was already enjoying his favorite Alla Bolognese, fettuccine with meat sauce, with gusto. After picking on homemade potato and camote chips, we shared Insalata Mista (Mixed Salad) and Insalata Salmone (arugula, salmon gravlax, vinaigrette). Chilled, crisp, white wine flowed into our glasses. The Pasta Specials were paraded on our table. Granchio (crab), crabmeat in creamy sauce and Porcini Truffle Mushroom Pasta were classic meatless goodness. Porcini mushrooms were sautéed with truffle cream. Porcini mushrooms are very meaty and versatile. Every time I visit my daughter, Patricia, in New York, huge porcini mushrooms are grilled and are as flavorful as steak when we do barbecues in the park. The Pork Belly Ragout was served with pasta, as well as with rice. The thick rich sauce is so good with steamed rice! After the pasta, there must be pizza, naturally. Both Jude and I chose a light but very tasty Formaggi pizza with 4 kinds of cheeses that melted in our mouths.

Dolci or dessert was classic Italian favorites. Tiramisu or pick me up in Italian is a coffee-flavored dessert of lady fingers dipped in coffee and layered with whipped mixture of eggs, sugar, mascarpone cheese and dusted with cocoa. Panna Cotta is a chilled molded gelatin dessert usually eaten with fruits. Squisito!

New Breakfast Fibers at Abaca Baking Company

Abaca, also called Manila hemp is the strongest of natural fibers. Native to the Philippines, it is grown as a commercial crop and has great economic importance due to its versatility.

Highly successful American Chef/Entrepreneur Jason Hyatt couldn’t have chosen a better name for his fast growing business, The Abaca Group, which is known for its luxury resort and restaurants. The company has certainly evolved into an empire of sorts since I had the pleasure of dining and writing about the Mediterranean-inspired restaurant in Abaca Boutique Resort in Punta Engaño when it soft-opened in August of 2006.  Chef Jason’s exquisite gastronomic fibers of Abaca thereon have been twisted together to strongly hold the Abaca Group that is giving Cebu high quality dining options and delicious experiences. The growing conglomerate has now 8 exciting and distinct brands. One of Chef Jason’s strength is his willingness to adapt to what the market wants.

 

Anyone who enjoys all-day breakfast, artisan handcrafted breads and pastries and classic American comfort food can always make a trip to any of the conveniently located Abaca Baking Company (ABC), the latest of which is in Robinson’s Galeria. Oct. 1 was International Coffee Day so it was a fitting celebration to be at ABC, popular for its coffee selections. Jaja Chiongbian Rama and ABC’s Niña Olalo hosted Breakfast at noontime. Niña, who joined the Abaca Group as Marketing & Events Coordinator, introduced the new breakfast offerings at ABC’s latest and biggest outlet. To perk up our late morning, we had brewed coffee while picking on spicy bagel crisps. The popular breakfast item loved by everyone, Spam, is served on rice with two over easy eggs. But the good news is, the spam is homemade, so no preservatives and made only with the freshest ingredients. Every kid I know loves this meat product. A huge bowl of Chicken Chopped is an exciting salad with beans, crisp bacon, cherry tomato, blue cheese, bits of greens, boiled eggs, tossed in ranch dressing, a perfect mate for the Spam dish. For the light eaters, the Tuna Melt will literally melt one’s taste buds – melted Swiss cheese on top of the creamy tuna flakes served open-faced on multi grain bread with tomatoes and asparagus. In between scrumptious bites, Jaja and Niña filled me in on the latest, after being in New York for a few months. Hands-on mom, Jaja, continues to enjoy her 3 kids, the youngest of which is finally a girl named Georgiana. I met Niña through her mother, Ann, then Sales & Marketing Director of Radisson Blue Cebu. Ann has just assumed her new post as Hotel Manager of Park Inn by Radisson’s Clark in Pampanga. With my coffee limit of two cups for the day, Niña introduced the new healthy fresh fruit smoothies: Mango-Banana-Blueberry and Strawberry-Blueberry-Banana. Refreshingly chilled goodness! For a sweet treat, the Flourless Chocolate Torte with Walnuts and Chocolate Palmier pampered our palates. The palmiers are butterfly-shaped delicately baked croissant dipped in dark chocolate and pistachio nuts. Every bite is simply delightful!

Mövenpick Wins Chef Wars

The hospitality industry never fails to generate excitement when the Hotel, Resort & Restaurant Association of Cebu (HRRAC) embarks on its main biennial event, the Cebu Goes Culinary (CGC). Since the 90’s, this most awaited event continues to elevate the quality of food and service with challenging categories that put into fore the combined knowledge and experience in the culinary field of both the professionals and students in this 2-day competition. There were no less than 21 different categories this year. Julita Urbina, CEO & Founder of Laguna Group ably assisted by Raki Urbina, Corporate Chef of Laguna Group, chaired CGC 2018 held last Sept. 21 and 22, 2018

The highpoint of the Cebu Goes Culinary 2018 was the Chef Wars Competition. Mövenpick Hotel Mactan Island Cebu bagged the gold medal for Visayas, giving them the opportunity to compete in the National Food Showdown 2018 against teams from the NCR, Central/Northern Luzon and Mindanao. The competition was a showcasing of skills, talent and creativity of the team composed of 3 junior chefs, namely: Marvin Ampoloquio, Jason Nellas and Raymond Albacite. A month before the competition, a pantry list of local ingredients were given while the final and main ingredient, “Prawns” were revealed a week before. Unlike the American “Iron Chef” TV show where the secret ingredient is revealed on the cooking competition itself, the Chef Wars team was given a week to create and kitchen test their entries. Specific guidelines during the actual competition included the following; each team will prepare 3 dishes good for 2 persons, which can be appetizers, main courses, desserts or a combination of all three to make a set menu that will be prepared within a period of one hour only.

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Mövenpick’s winning team was guided and coached by Executive Chef Jean Louie Leon. As soon as the Main ingredient of “Prawns” were revealed, the team shared ideas and worked on the pantry ingredients, the goal of which was to combine texture and natural flavors. The winning 3 hot dishes were: Seared Shrimp Sausage with Ginger, Malunggay Leaves in Coconut Milk Sauce; Sauteed Shrimps in Turmeric Crustacean Sauce and Pasayan Squid Ink Escabeche, Pickled Tentacles with Tomato-Carrot-Onion-Pineapple, Fresh Seaweed. The focus was on the main ingredient “Shrimp”, using prawn trimmings for sauce or broth as base while working around local ingredients. Being first timers in a competition, the victory came as a complete surprise. The judges included Chef Myrna Segismundo who is also the chairman of the National Food Showdown, Via Mare’s Glenda Barretto, Chef Ariel Manuel, Chef Cheong Yan See and Chef Tatung. The winning team of Mövenpick represents Chef Wars–Visayas and will compete in the Grand National finals of the National Food Showdown that will be held in Manila on October 26 & 27, 2018.

Maria Cacao’s Degustation Journey at Circa 1900:

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The Tablea continues to be elevated into a highly versatile product by Cebu’s Chocolate Queen, Raquel Toquero Choa. This roasted, pounded, and molded nibs of fermented pure cacao bean chocolate tablet is proudly a Filipino product that traces its origins from the Spanish colonial times when Cacao trees were introduced in the 16th century. Raquel, who spent her childhood in the hills of Balamban, was inspired by the legend of Maria Cacao, a “Diwata” or mountain goddess, where she learned to plant cacao trees and the art of making artisanal tablea. She is tirelessly creating awareness and promoting the versatility of this once lowly Tablea. Her brand, Ralfe Gourmet continues to give a touch of sophistication to the artisanal chocolate.

At Circa 1900, the turn of the century mansion-restaurant culinary destination in Lahug, Cebu City, the Tablea goes center stage in the Maria Cacao Degustation Journey where Executive Chef Steve Shrimski and his team, Sous Chefs Jun Moreno and Joseph Son, together with Pastry Chef Jocelle Ahumada created dishes incorporating the Tablea. While waiting to be seated for dinner, Chocolate Queen and Sommelier Raquel with the assistance of her heir apparent Hannah prepared Sikwate the old-fashioned way using the batirol, which was served in dainty demitasse. To fully appreciate the sikwate, Chocolate Sommelier Raquel gracefully demonstrated how to savor the drink with the 5 S’s: swirl, smell, sip, swirl, and swallow.

Bruschetta topped with caponata of pine nut, olive, tomato, eggplant and a pretty, lacey tablea tuille served with Tablea Chicken Wings tossed in 5-spice and cinnamon opened the degustation. Pretty impressive appetizer that heralded the salad, mains and dessert! There were always 2 choices for sharing. The refreshing salads were: Roast Cauliflower and Asparagus with nuts and greens tossed in picant tablea picada dressing; Roast Beetroot with Roast Tablea Nibs and Citrus Green-Arugula Salad. The Cacao de Bola was freshly grated over the salads, pretty much like using grated cheese, but with exotic bitter chocolate flavors. I enjoyed the Pasta dishes: Tablea infused Angel Hair with Calamari, Herbs and Spanish Chorizo while the White Anchovy Puttanesca was drizzled with both gratinated Parmesan and Cacao de Bola, which was an interesting combination. The three main dishes highlighted Filipino and Italian favorites. Tablea-infused Risotto using Malagkit or glutinous rice paired with Grilled Smoked Grouper (Lapu-Lapu) with hints of chili and lemon juice. I actually preferred the malagkit to the Italian Arborio rice traditionally used for risotto. Slow Seared Tablea Pork Asado on pumpkin puree, sauté chorizo and cannellini beans (Italian white kidney beans) was sinfully delicious. The Tablea certainly complemented the rich flavor of asado pork with a thick layers of fat. The Chicken Adobo infused with Tablea, soy and coconut vinegar was classic goodness. Dessert was a delightful creation of Pastry Chef Jocelle—Tablea Ganache Cerveza Stout Cake, Tablea Chocolate and Pumpkin Cheesecake. The cake used Cerveza Negra or dark beer, chewy just the way I like my chocolate cake!

Party on a Plate at Movenpick

Executive Chefs are constantly on the move. And I was pleasantly surprised when French Chef Jean Louis Leon was recently introduced by Movenpick Hotel Mactan Island Cebu. His remarkable artistry and prowess gave me a lasting impression when I met him at his Bocas Moderne Patisserie in Cebu a few years ago. It is easy to be captivated by this jolly chef who considers “the unusual as usual”. A native of Brittany in the Northwest of France, he was born into the culture of food with a butcher for a dad and a mom who worked in a restaurant. He brings with him 25 years of culinary experience from upscale hotels and resorts in Europe and Asia.

At the hotel’s chic Ibiza, Frozen Rosé dispensed from a “slushee” machine welcomed our anxious taste buds. F & B Manager Jeryl Tio explained that Manny O’s Agapito Rosé was mixed with strawberry coulis and frozen. I first tried Frosé in Daniel Boulud Bistro in New York City served by my mixologist daughter Patricia, who explained that alcohol has a very low freezing point so sugar must be added. Patricia’s Frosé uses Lillet Rosé and Lillet Blanc, aperitif wines made from Bordeau grapes with macerated fruit liqueurs.

A playful person Chef Jean Louis announced his introductory menu was a surprise when asked for it. We played along, with eager excitement. The first course, Seafood Plate, is a visual party delight – a medley of Squid tossed in tapenade (Provencal dip of black olives, capers and anchovies), Prawns with avocado oil and citrus dressing, beet-cured Salmon with mustard-dill sauce and squid ink Sponge Cake topped with a gold leaf. Freshness bursting in our mouths with complementing flavors! Chef Jean Louis, in his crisp French accent, took the time to explain each dish that was served. Bicol Express Pork was prepared by one of his sous chefs, Rick Baluyut, who hails from Bicol. Tender pork pieces in creamy coconut milk had a hint of spiciness, unlike the   typical dish with burning chili hot flavor. Soft-boiled egg completed the dish. It would have been perfect with steamed rice but that will leave us no room for the other dishes. Churrasco-Style Angus Rib Eye was festive served with polenta topped with a chunk of Parmesan , béarnaise sauce, grilled baby asparagus and carrot. The rib eye was made tastier with emulsified jus enhanced with truffle oil.

Dessert is signature Chef Jean Louis that brought me back to his Bocas Patisserie – Yuzu Bavarois, a mousse-flan creation of custard cream and yuzu paste with gelatin and whipped cream on a bed of joconde (French almond biscuit). Yuzu is a kind of Japanese citrus fruit. Chef further elaborated that using a velvet spray, he “flocked” – a technique used to create fine velvety coating – the mousse-flan with cocoa butter. Eye-popping effect!

Movenpick’s banquets and parties promise to be a celebration all the time with sensational culinary creations of Chef Jean Louis Leon!