Sugbusog-a Sinulog Feast

Celebrating the Feast of the Sto. Niño has been apart of my life since I was a little girl. I grew up in Tondo, Manila, where the same feast is celebrated every 3rd Sunday of January just like in Cebu. Aside from the religious rituals, my memories and recollection of this grand and festive event are filled with gastronomic fare.

Before 2018 came to a close, I was invited by the Gen. Manager Brian Connelly of Marco Polo Plaza Cebu to be an Event Ambassador of their upcoming Culinary Journey in January, “Sugbusog” with the theme “ Keeping the tradition, Sugbusog Gihapon” by way of sharing my signature dish “Pancit Luglug” in a promotional video teaching one of my favorite food writer, Michael Karlo Lim, how to cook the popular Filipino dish. Pancit Luglug is always served at home to my loved ones and friends and I was “thrilled” to say the least, to cook this for a 5-star hotel, no less!

Pancit Luglug is the Kapampangan version of Pancit Palabok that uses thicker rice noodles and has a richer sauce and more toppings. The term “luglug” means to submerge in water, which we also refer to as “niluluglug”. I remember my mother using a bamboo basket to do this. The sauce is shrimp-head based and rendered orange in color by annatto seeds or powder. For fuller flavor, I add pork broth to the sauce and season with “patis” or fish sauce. I prefer my luglug with seafood toppings only since my children avoid eating pork meat. Hence the toppings include shrimps, crushed chicharon, tinapa flakes, fried tofu, baby squid rings, fried garlic, spring onions, and a sprig of cilantro (wansoy). Calamansi and patis must always be served on the side.

The “Sugbusog” is now on its 12th year and recreates essence of eating in the streets. Cebuano dishes include the ubiquitous Lechon, Balbacua, Humba, Caldereta, Bistek Cebuano (actually Bistek Tagalog with beef slices marinated in soy and calamansi, served with onion rings) and classic street food (kwek kwek, BBQ on sticks, Balut, fish & squid balls) and of course, Pancit Luglug, which one gets to assemble. Catch this all-Filipino food spread at the Café Marco of Marco Polo Plaza Cebu on January 15 to 21, 2019. VIVA PIT SENYOR!




Dining at JPark Island’s Havana by the Sea

The past Yuletide Season was an important, festive event for our family. My second daughter Stephanie had her wedding on the 29th of December so everyone was home for the season, including our son Jason and our New York-based daughter Patricia and her children. All together we call our three grandchildren “rascals” although they have outlived that age.

Cebu means sun, sea and beaches so I carefully planned a getaway in J Park Island Resort & Waterpark long before the onset of Christmas. We gifted the newly weds, Stephanie and Amelito Derecho a Villa with a Pool for utmost privacy while the rest of the family enjoyed the world-class luxury of the Cebu Suite. Our much-awaited holiday on the 3rd of January was every family’s dream, in spite of the overcast skies when we all checked in. While waiting for our rooms to be ready upon check-in, we enjoyed Buffet Lunch at the Abalone, a 400-seater Buffet Restaurant that offers 4 live stations, namely: Japanese, Mediterranean. Oriental and decadent Dessert spread.

It has been sometime since we enjoyed this now wholly Filipino resort and waterpark owned by the Uy brothers whose first names all start the letter “J”. The 5-star resort remains to be a # 1 destination in Mactan and boasts of the only waterpark in the island. I was pleasantly surprised to see the management led by GM Jonathan Nowell that started the resort sometime 2009. Even my favorite chefs, Executive Chinese Chef Kenny Yong and Executive Western Chef Mattia Stroppa are still on top of the culinary team.

Dinner at Caribbean-inspired Havana by The Sea was a welcomed treat. Chef Mattia Stroppa., almost ten years after, still looks as youthful. I first met him as a love-struck 25-year-old chef then, so in love with a Boholana lass whom he married without delay. A native of Brescia in the Northern Italy, Chef Mattia learned the rudiments of cooking from his grandmother. An epicure, he loved fine food and wine and finished his formal culinary training in Caterina de Medici. The seasoned and quiet passion he has for his craft was quite evident, gained from experiences in Italy, Dubai and long years with J Park. His eclectic Tasting Menu he specially prepared for our family embodies all these. His Pan Navajo or grilled flat bread with Parmesan cheese was warm, chewy and exciting, dipped in spicy marinara (salasa). His Cozze or black mussel with fresh tomato and Calabria Salami was freshness with flavors that pleased our palates. There is a rich and ancient tradition in homemade salami and one of the prized Italian family food experiences. The Ceviche of King Prawn using calamansi and coconut milk with coriander was a delight. The prawn was seared on the sides with the inner meat still raw and firm. Risotto with seaweed, nori powder topped with Uni was interestingly Italian-Japanese in flavor. The Arborio rice was al dente but very creamy. The tasting menu gradually became intense in flavors that started with the light seafoods and ended with Bavette, hanger steak with chimichurri and Pappardelle with tender smoked ribs. Delizioso!

Christmas at Marco Polo Plaza Cebu

Christmas at Marco Polo Plaza Cebu

Marco Polo Plaza Cebu holds a lot of Christmas memories for me. For many, years, this same high rise building on Nivel Hills was the   Grand Dame of tourism as Cebu Plaza Hotel. Then, the Grand Lobby and what used to be Café Tartanilla (now Café Marco) saw the festive spirit of Christmas in its resplendent glory. The tradition of the Ginger Bread House, in fact was born here. Café Tartanilla also popularized the Buffet feasts in Cebu City.

Today, Marco Polo Plaza Cebu has carried on the tradition in   an even grander scale.   The Lighting of the Christmas Tree that stands in magnificence at the grand lobby has acquired a deeper meaning as the Tree of Hope. Guests are encouraged to hang a Christmas ball for P/200 each, the proceeds of which go to the indigents through the GMA Kapuso Foundation. A donation of 2 or more balls entitles a guest to a raffle ticket with a chance to win a RT ticket to Hongkong courtesy of Cathay Pacific. Embracing the season of giving certainly goes a long way!

At the Grand Lobby, nutcracker soldiers welcomed and mingled with the guests as we arrived for a preview of The Marco Polo Plaza Cebu Festive Buffet offerings at Café Marco. Busy bodies, chefs and food attendants were busy setting up the Christmas spread in the coffee shop’s private room. The aroma of sweet Christmas spices of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves mingled with the appetizing savory whiff of ham and roast turkey. As we took our seats at the dining table, cold glasses of Eggnog were served. Traditional Eggnog is an egg-rich milk punch with rum or brandy with a dash of nutmeg or cinnamon. In Britain, it was originally popular among the aristocracy; eggnog became tied to holidays when it was adopted by the USA.

The American Roasted Turkey, side by side with the Filipino favorite, Chicken Relleno took the center stage. The Christmas Ham did not shy away from the stage. The Ginger Bread House, Christmas cakes and pastries: Christmas Enseimada, Pudding, Chocolate Log, Cupcakes, Strudel, Raisin Rolls and colorful Cookies completed the Christmas offerings.


The Roast Turkey was very tender. The white meat was just as tasty with giblet gravy and cranberry sauce. The Chicken Relleno tasted just as festive as its looks and the Ham was Christmassy. The Chicken Potato Salad and Macaroni Salad paired very well with the Christmas meats. We satisfied our sweet cravings with gusto. The Holiday spread was very satisfying we did not bother to make a trip to the famous and sumptuous Café Marco Buffet offerings. Merry Delicious Christmas!

Bluewater Maribago’s Balay Pasko

Bluewater Maribago’s Balay Pasko

Bluewater Resorts, a wholly Filipino-owned chain of resorts, namely: Maribago, Sumilon and Panglao uphold the Filipino tradition of hospitality or “Amuma”, a Visayan word that translates to caring, nurturing, feeding, giving all the best for guests. Bluewater also totally believes in the talent of the Filipinos, who skillfully operate the chain of resorts. The owners, led by Bluewater Resorts President, Julie Alegrado Vergara, have established the Bluewater Academy that offers scholarship to poor but deserving students. The vocational school is within the resort property and enrolled students are actually trained in the resort. Graduates are assured of a job after their graduation. The realization of this project is a dream come true for the owners as a part of their Corporate Social Responsibility.

The glittering Christmas Tree Lighting event had an all-Filipino theme, using the “Parol” or native Christmas lantern. There was an inter-departmental competition of “Parol” making using local materials that were creatively crafted. The festive occasion saw all the staff using Camiso Chino and Baro’t Saya catering to the needs of the guests. It certainly gives us a feeling of pride for Filipino customs and tradition.

The highlights of the event also included the opening of the “Balay Pasko” where the youthful Asst. Gen. Manager, Domiku Alegrado Ugarte cut the ceremonial ribbon with the assistance of VP for Finance Riz Buac, Executive Chef Stephen del Amen and Pastry Chef Marollano. Domiku is the third generation of the Alegrados who own the Bluewater Resorts. Maribago, the flagship, was a pioneer in the resort industry in Mactan Island, which opened way back in July 1989.

The “Balay Pasko” boasts of traditional Filipino Christmas Specialties like Chicken Galantina and Christmas Ham. Pastry Chef John Marollano who has been working in the resort since 2008 proudly used locally sourced ingredients like tableaya, coconut, ube, cashew nuts and peanuts. A very unique creation is his “Chocoron” where chicharon or pork crackling is coated with chocolate using tableya. The Cashew Rocha can give the imported Almon Rocha a stiff competition. It was really good! The Assorted Ensaymada comes in different flavors of Ube (purple yam), queso de bola, piña colada and plain. Ensaymada is a Spanish pastry product from Mallorca, reference of which dates back to the 17th century. The classic Ensaymada is baked with butter instead of the original pork lard, In fact, the Ensaymada comes from the Catalan word “Saim, which means pork lard from the Arabic “Sahim” which means “Fat”. This is served traditionally during Christmas with Chocolate E (espeso or thick). Chef Marollano also created a variety of thin cookies: Oameal Coconut Lime, Multi-Seeded, Brownie Thins, Red Velvet Chocolate Chip, Double chocolate, Strawberry and Blueberry Linzer.

Maayong Pasko from Balay Pasko!

ICAAC’s Final Evening of Food & Wine

The International Culinary Arts Academy of Cebu (ICAAC) Culminating or Final Dinner Event of graduating students with a 30-month Advanced British Diploma in Culinary Arts Program is always a captivating experience. There were three graduating students: Sheila Marie Q. Aldecoa, Aaron G. Catipay and April John A. Tan who finished the flagship program of the academy. These students have been trained in both the traditional and latest culinary techniques and trends. The course also includes Restaurant Operation Module wherein students operate the ICAAC Training Restaurant in food preparation and service of breakfast, ala carte, menu, table d’ hote menu, and buffet. The Culminating Dinner was prepared by the graduating students with Chef /Dean Jeremy Young as Maitre d’hotel and Chef Justin M. Mechill as Chef de Cuisine.

The exquisite 5-course menu was paired with wines to complement the dish. For starters, Crudo of US Diver Scallop with Local Flavors served with Charles de Fére, Chardonnay Tradition Reserve, Brut Sparkling, France fascinated our eager palates. Crudo means raw in Spanish and refers to preparation of thinly sliced scallop or fish drizzled with oil, acid and flavorings. Here Calamansi was used. The second course always tops the list of my favorites – Poached Foie Gras de Canard served with Banana Polvoron and pudding, pumpkin puree and spiced up with jalapeño. The silky, fattened liver of the duck was simply delightful. Gustav Lorenz Pinot Blanc Reserve Vin d’ Alsace, France, was skillfully poured in our wine glasses to pair with Roasted Chilean Bass wrapped in squid ink pasta with miso glace, bread crumbs and corn kernels. The play of flavors was amazing! The hearty course, Tajima Kobe Beef with Warm Spices & Potato, was complemented by Saint Jacque de Siran, Margeaux, Grand Vin de Bordeau, France. Tajima is one of 3 bloodlines of Wagyu or Japanese cattle and only pure Tajima is certified as Kobe Beef. Kobe Beef is distinctive due to intense marbling patterns causing the beef to almost melt in one’s mouth. The serving portion was very generous and had an extremely appealing taste. The sidings were masterfully prepared: mushroom pave, carrot pudding, garlic & potato spuma or foam with cadena de amor flowers and goto cola leaf.

To refresh our palates for the dessert, Tropical Rum Sorbet on a stick was served, complete with cold mist produced by liquid nitrogen for dramatic effects. I loved the flavors of mango, banana, and pineapple with Tanduay Rum. A Chocolate Overloaded Deseert was scrumptious, which consisted of Bittersweet Chocolate Gateau with Belgian Dark Chocolate Bailey’s Truffle, Frozen Chocolate Mousse and Sable Pave, Chocolate Egg Truffle and Chili Meringue.

After that exquisite Culminating Dinner with impeccable service, the graduating students are ready and excited to embark on a 12-month Culinary Internship here or abroad. When completed, the students will be eligible to receive the International City & Guilds Advanced Diploma in Culinary Arts.


The Sri Lankan Factor at Shangri-La

Sri Lanka, an island nation in the Northern Indian Ocean with a very diverse landscape, was known as the British colony of Ceylon until it gained independence in 1948. World famous for its tea, I know very little about this fascinating island nation until my attention was captured by its hospitality personalities, the latest of whom is Shangri-La Mactan’s Resort & Spa’s Executive Chef Roshan Fernando. This multi-awarded chef recently took over the culinary team bringing with him a wealth of experience and conquests in international culinary competition of gold and silver medals. Prior to his current post, Chef Roshan was in Sule Shangri-La in Yangoon, Myanmar where he was recognized as “Chef of the Year” at the Myanmore Awards for mentoring young chefs and bringing global attention to Myanmar cuisine.

Over an intimate media dinner in Shangri-La’s Mactan Resort’s Cowrie Cove, Executive Roshan presented his Sr Lankan cuisine that brought us to the different regions of his country. Looking calm, cool and collected, Chef Roshan informed us that he wanted to introduce Sri Lankan dishes but went easy on the use of spices. He personally loves curry and is a reason he visits home in Negombo for his grandmother’s curry recipes. He adds that he chooses not to showcase signature dishes since his professional style revolves around continuously innovating and reinventing new flavor combinations.

He played with our appetites with Jaffna Curry Crab Salad in Braised Squid with Sambol, Bitter Gourd, Goto Cola, and Sweet Pepper Coulis. The presentation was very pretty looking like a wreath of seafood and vegetables. Sambol is a condiment made of chili pepper, coconut and sugar. The sweet pepper coulis at the center complimented the different flavors of the sea and land. A glass of Chateau Ste Michelle Gewurztraminer Colombia Valley Vintage 2014 is crisp white wine that was perfect for the dish. Soup was splendid – Puttalam Cumin Prawn Soup with Malunggay. The thick broth made from shrimp heads was tasty with cumin tempering the flavor while the island of shrimp morsels floating on the broth was daintily topped with foam. I was enjoying the soup amid whispers of approval. To prepare our palates for the main course, Kandurata Jackfruit Sorbet with candied pineapple was dramatic, encased in a teardrop-like ice emitting different colors for effects. Refreshing and delightful! Negombo Stuffed Chicken Supreme, with interesting medley of flavors of Cinnamon Pumpkin Puree, Mustard Pepper Gravy and Tempered Potatoes pretty much reflected the taste of his hometown.

Chef Roshan joined us over his dessert of Southern Watalappan Chocolate Cremeux, Coconut Custard with Chocolate, Passion Fruit Jelly, Malibu Cream and Dessicated Soil (coconut). Watalappan is Sri Lankan coconut custard pudding.

Mövenpick: The Ultimate “Chef Wars” Champion

Their culinary skills, creativity, and guidance by the seasoned Executive Chef Jean Louis Leon, proved to be the winning combination for Demi Chef de Partie Jason Nellasto, Chef de Partie Marvin Ampoloquio and Commis Chef Reymuel Albacite of Mövenpick Hotel Mactan Island Cebu and won the regional Chef Wars Competition in the Cebu Goes Culinary and the much-coveted Ultimate Chef Wars champion in the National Food Showdown in Manila. “Chef Wars” is the major competition and finale in the prestigious National Food Showdown, a culinary show of the best of Filipino talents. Now on its 12th years, Chef Wars is a pet project of Chef Myrna D. Segismudo, one of the country’s top chefs. The competition has gained respect to raise culinary standards and develop Filipino talent.

Chef Wars’ objective is to create three dishes with a list of ingredients given just a few hours before the live competition. The three Cebuano junior chefs of Mövenpick Hotel Mactan Island who represented the Visayas region had very little time to prepare for the final battle but managed to come up with an impressive menu that was unique and achievable within the one hour competition limit. The main ingredient was chicken complete with gizzards and liver and all the parts must be used. For the face-off, the junior chefs used their culinary skills, playful mix of local flavors and ingredients. Coach Chef Jean Louis Leon reminded them to have a balance between composition and techniques.

The first course, soup, was Turmeric Enhanced Chicken Consomme with chicken oyster, tortellini stuffed with smoked eggplant and poultry glazed sponge. The second course was Breaded Poultry Quenelles with kare-kare sauce, steamed pumpkin flower with mashed pumpkin and alugbati leaves. Quenelle is a mixture of creamed meat or fish (chicken was used), combined with eggs and formed into egg-like shape and cooked, either steamed or fried. The chefs coated the quenelle with breadcrumbs and fried. Alugbati or Malabar spinach is a leafy vine commonly used in Visayas. The “Utan Bisaya” is not complete without alugbati. The third course was Poached chicken in Coconut Milk enhanced with spices, emulsified liver sauce served with mashed sweet potato, vegetables with papaya blossom.

The excitement-packed one-hour of putting all their skills, creativity and passion won the approval of the prestigious judges with the Mövenpick Hotel Mactan Island Cebu team as Ultimate Champion!