Drink Like Monks and Saints

Margaux Salcedo | Inquirer Business | First Class

It’s October! And that means one thing for F&B connoisseurs and beer lovers: Oktoberfest!
Sadly, Oktoberfest was cancelled again this year. It was first cancelled in 2020 due to the pandemic. There were high hopes for its return this 2021 but in May it was announced that the 187th Oktoberfest, which should have taken place from September 18 to October 3 on the Theresienwiese in Munich, would also be cancelled.

The organizers explained: “The risk is simply too huge that people here could become infected with the Coronavirus.” They added: “Oktoberfest can only take place completely or not at all. Or, in one Bavarian sentence: ‘So a bissl Wiesn geht ned. (There’s no thing like a little bit of Wiesn.)”
In pre-pandemic Philippines, there would usually be beer festivals at various hotels, bars and pubs all over the metro the entire month of October. Sadly, all that is cancelled as well.

Oktoberfest 2013. Photo: Heribert Pohl | Wikimedia Commons

Beer connoisseurs

But no one is stopping us from drinking at home and celebrating with the people in our bubble or virtually. (For some of us, this is what has kept us sane every day!) So in the spirit of Oktoberfest, let’s make ourselves feel better with some good beer!
The operative word is ‘good’. We are not promoting mindless drinking here but an appreciation for the complexities and nuances of carefully thought out brews.

Strictly speaking, Oktoberfest revolves only around six breweries: Augustiner, Hofbräu, Hacker-Pschorr, Löwenbräu, Paulaner and Spaten. And there are clear specifications on beer quality: The festival beer must have an original gravity of at least 13.6%. The beer must be golden yellow, drinkable and full-bodied; and must have original wort percentage, alcohol content, bitterness and color. The Munich Purity Law of 1487 applies and the water must come from Munich deep wells, which reach into layers of the Tertiary period. Finally, brewing is only allowed in the territory of the city of Munich.


St Francis

In the Philippines, Paulaner is especially appreciated. And here’s some timely trivia as we celebrate the Feast of St Francis of Assisi tomorrow, October 4: Paulaner was named after St Francis of Paola, founder of the mendicant Order of Minims, whose friars of the Neudeck ob der Au cloister established the German brewery in Munich in 1634. St Francis of Paola, meanwhile, was named after St Francis of Assisi, as his parents asked St Francis of Assisi for intercession when they were trying to conceive and also later when he was in danger of losing his eyesight due to an illness.

The young Francis of Paola entered the friary of the Franciscan Order and later went with his parents on a pilgrimage to Assisi, after which he chose to live a life of solitude, living in a secluded cave. Later, in 1436, he was joined by two companions, which led to the foundation of the Hermits of Saint Francis of Assisi, which would eventually become the Order of Minims (O.M.). The Minim friars are known for their humility but also for their ‘fourth vow’: a Lenten way of life, which includes abstinence from meat and other animal products.

Perhaps this vow is what inspired some brothers of the order, i.e., the monks in the Neudeck ob der Au Monastery in Munich two hundred years later, to become creative and make exceptional beer!

Then whatever the monks did not drink, they would give to the poor. In 1634, the city council received complaints from other brewers about competition from the monastery. The date of this letter is considered the first documented evidence of the Paulaner Brewery and used as the founding date of the brewery.

Kozel

Personally, though, with all respect and reverence for St Francis, my personal preference for beer is named after St Michael. I still love our good ol’ San Miguel Pale Pilsen (not Light!), proudly made in the Philippines!

And truth be told, I prefer dark beer over light. The best is still Guinness. And not from the bottle or from the can but draught! Guinness is an Irish dry stout that originated in the brewery of Arthur Guinness at St. James’s Gate, Dublin, Ireland, in 1759.

Since we cannot yet really travel as we used to, there is a good alternative here for dark beer lovers: Kozel. This is brewed in the village of Velké Popovice in the Czech Republic, just outside Prague, exactly where the first batch of Kozel was brewed in 1874. To this day, this beer is brewed the traditional Czech way, with select malts and the aromatic hop Premiant for a complex but well-balanced bitter and sweet taste. This is distributed in the Philippines by Don Revy (visit donrevy.com to order). It’s my favorite!


Whatever beer you choose to drink today, I hope it lifts your spirits! Let’s pray for the end of this pandemic and drink to that!

And as we remember his feast day tomorrow, let’s raise a glass as well to St Francis of Assisi and ask for his intercession to help us through this pandemic. Paulaner cheers! Prost!

******

Read as published in the Inquirer here:

What It Takes To Make It In The World of Hotel PR

he Makati communication directors squad: (L-R) Bess Howe, PR Director, Holiday Inn & Suites; Monique Toda, Communications Director, Raffles & Fairmont, Patti Javier, Communications Director, Shangrila Makati, Claire Hernandez, E-Commerce Manager, Peninsula Manila, Margaux Hontiveros, incoming Marketing Communications Director, Raffles Cambodia and former Communications Director of Primea; Shariza Relova, MarComm Director, Dusit Thani; Grace Lim and Mariano Garchitorena, PR Director of Peninsula Manila.
Some people think that working in a hotel is a glamorous job. Many kids aspire to become chefs when they grow up, as they watch celebrity chefs on television, Netflix and social media, and think that it’s an easy role to play. Others aspire to be in the hotel industry as part of its communications team, perceiving it to be a job of utter luxury, as their workplace would be the hotel and every dish you have would be Instagram-worthy.
 
I spoke with Margaux Hontiveros, who has just been promoted to the world of international communication directors as incoming Director of Marketing Communications of Raffles Cambodia, to find out what it’s really like to be a hotel / F&B publicist. Here are her revelations:
 
1. Working in a hotel is not all glamour and glitz

 
As glamorous as it appears, Margaux confesses with a smile, “It is not all glamour. It has perks but there’s a lot of hard work involved. Over the years I’ve been no stranger to getting my hands dirty and finding myself in various situations where I’ve literally had to get down in the grime and grit.” Although, she is quick to add, “How quickly we can vacillate from glamour to grit is one of the things I love about this job.”

Margaux Hontiveros, Raffles Cambodia
The glamorous Margaux Hontiveros, incoming Marketing Communications Director of Raffles Cambodia

2. You may work 26 hours a day (yes, more than 24!)
 
There are 8:30 am briefings, a ton of errands including writing or approving press releases, photo shoots, “a never-ending cascade of meetings to attend” during the day, media to entertain at 8:30 in the evening with frivolities that can last til the wee hours of the morning. Then repeat the next day.
 
3. You don’t need to be stiff
 
“Definitely there’s a certain sense of decorum that we have to follow. But what was proper 20 years ago may seem extremely outdated and cold these days,” Margaux explains. Instead, she emphasizes the importance of manners but says that the level of formality will depend on what is being promoted and who the audience is.
 
4. You don’t need to undercut the competition
 
One would think that hotel publicists would hate each other, viewing each other as competition, but the Makati hotel PRs have gone the exact opposite direction and straight up support each other, hang out, and appear to have a genuine love for each other. It seems like in the PR world, they are all one happy family.
 

Margaux confirms this: “It is competitive, but extremely friendly and supportive. I can’t speak for everyone, of course, but at least in our circle (Raffles, Shangri-la, Peninsula, Primea, Holiday Inn and Dusit), we keep up with what each other is doing and are extremely supportive of each other. It’s a great camaraderie. It completely dispels the theory that to get ahead, you must be ruthless. I am deeply grateful for these friends, and most of them I consider to be my mentors.”

he Makati communication directors squad: (L-R) Bess Howe, PR Director, Holiday Inn & Suites; Monique Toda, Communications Director, Raffles & Fairmont, Patti Javier, Communications Director, Shangrila Makati, Claire Hernandez, E-Commerce Manager, Peninsula Manila, Margaux Hontiveros, incoming Marketing Communications Director, Raffles Cambodia and former Communications Director of Primea; Shariza Relova, MarComm Director, Dusit Thani; Grace Lim and Mariano Garchitorena, PR Director of Peninsula Manila.
The Makati Hotels Communication Directors Squad:
(L-R) Bess Howe, PR Director, Holiday Inn & Suites; Monique Toda, Communications Director, Raffles & Fairmont; Patti Javier, Communications Director, Shangrila Makati; Claire Hernandez, E-Commerce Manager, Peninsula Manila; Margaux Hontiveros, incoming Marketing Communications Director, Raffles Cambodia and former Communications Director of Primea; Shariza Relova, MarComm Director, Dusit Thani; Grace Lim and Mariano Garchitorena, PR Director of The Peninsula Manila.

5. You don’t need a hospitality degree

 

Margaux did not go to a hospitality school. She is an artist. She recalls distinctly, “During one of my (first) interviews, it was brought up that I didn’t have any hospitality experience, to which I cheekily answered, ‘No one goes to art school to work in a hotel.’” She still got the job anyway but started out as a Graphic Designer under Joy Wassmer, then Communications Director of Shangri-la Makati. Then Erica Sotto, also with Shang, saw Margaux’s potential not only for visuals but also for writing. After testing her with captions, she promoted Margaux to copywriter until she became Communications Coordinator and eventually Communcations Executive.
From Shang, Margaux joined the opening team of Lind Boracay and a few years later joined Monique Toda for Raffles & Fairmont Makati. “My time at Raffles and Fairmont Makati was where I truly grew up. Monique (Communications Director of Raffles Makati) really took me under her wing, and supported me in figuring out what kind of MarComm person I wanted to be,” Margaux reminisces.
After graduating from the Monique Toda school of PR, she felt confident enough to take on the role of Communications Director at Discovery Primea under General Manager David Pardo de Ayala, whom she considers another mentor. And for the next few years, she will be Communications Director of Raffles in Cambodia.
Not bad for someone who never went to hospitality school!

 

***

I also asked Margaux for some tips for F&B or hotel PR. Here are her suggestions:

1. You need a good product.

While branding is king, you also need a good product to begin with. When the competition is fierce, you up your game not only through promotions but by having better products, i.e., better services, better menus, better music, better chocolate. “Any hotel or company that’s worth its salt must have a strong brand to back up everything they do and say,” Margaux stresses. “If you can deliver an experience that is genuine and true to your brand promise, there is no doubt you’ll stand out.”

2. Highlight personalities.

 

Let’s face it, there are occasions where all hotels have the same products and promotions: Easter, Christmas, Chinese New Year. What to do then? Margaux suggests to highlight the personality of your chefs. “Every chef has his or her own personality, and it’s important that the Executive Chef has the freedom to create as he or she wishes. I’ve been fortunate to work collaboratively with some of the best F&B people and chefs, and perhaps it’s also due to my own love of food and awe of what they do, but I’ve always been inspired by their creativity,” she says.

 

3. Tell a story

 

At the core of marketing and communications is the task of telling stories. Margaux explains: “Whether it’s a brand story, or why we do a certain promotion, or the profile of an individual, we have to tell a story through copy, through design, through experiences.”
In fact, this is what she loves most about the job. “From the unique features of each property, to the philosophies of the brands, and the people who work tirelessly to ensure that the guests are comfortable, secure and delighted at every turn, the opportunities to flex your creative muscles are endless.”

 

4. Create an experience

 

Margaux fell in love with gin at Raffles Makati, after having a sip of their signature Sipsmith gin. But it was at Primea that she was given the freedom to launch a real gin experience. She created the concept of a “gin buffet”. “I wanted to create an environment where people could come and feed their curiosity about gin and the many different brands,” she recalls. Thankfully, Primea F&B Director Rhea Sycip and head bartender Lennon Aguilar were just as excited about the concept and immediately got on board so today, Primea has over a hundred different bottles available at the Gilarmi Lounge’s Gin Library and the gin buffet is now one of the hotel’s most celebrated F&B attractions.

Margaux Hontiveros’ love for gin inspired her to create Manila’s first Gin Buffet. Photo by Margaux Hontiveros

 

5. Genuinely care

This is something she learned from Lui Parungao, whom Margaux describes as “the heart and soul of the Shangrila Makati Marcomm team for over 25 years” and whom she considers to have been her “constant mentor” from the beginning of her career: You can remember everyone’s names, birthdays, what they like and don’t like, who they are connected with, if you have a genuine care and interest in people. Lui also taught her, “Above all, take the time to be kind. Be humble. And always grow.”

Finally, she shares a lesson from her father: “Whatever you do, find the joy in it.”

No doubt this Filipina will shine as she flexes her communication muscles once again, this time in Cambodia.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom!

Since today is Mother’s Day, I would like to pay tribute to my mother, the gorgeous Wonderwoman – Carmelita “Baby” Vargas Salcedo. I will share a few kitchen stories about her, also to encourage our readers to share kitchen stories of their own mothers on social media so we can celebrate moms everywhere! (Do tag me @margauxsalcedo and Inquirer @inquirerbiz and add the hashtag #firstclassmom – I would love to read your stories!)

Like many of you, my parents were my first kitchen mentors. It was my
mother who taught me how to tell if meat is cooked (fork it); how to
tell if fish is cooked (watch the color); how to make meat tender
(adjust the level of fire); and how to make traditional hot chocolate
from scratch.

Mothers are the living embodiment of love: my mom, Carmelita ‘Baby’ Salcedo.

Superpowers

Our first major project together was Nana Meng Tsokolate, an effort to
share with the world the joy of experiencing hot chocolate as we know
it in Bulacan. While she gives me full credit, this brand is really
not just mine but our baby, a tribute to my grand aunt, Nana Meng, and
to the culinary traditions of my maternal hometown, Sta.Maria,
Bulacan.

We make the tsokolate from scratch: we roast the beans, de-shell them,
grind them to a paste (the Bulacan tsokolate texture is like paste,
not the tablea kind), then bottle and cook. Our first Christmas
selling the products, we did not expect the deluge of orders. Since we
were literally just five persons working on the tsokolate, including
my mom and myself, we worked 24/7 to meet the orders.

It was then that I witnessed one of my mother’s superpowers: sleeping
while standing! I caught her at 5 am with her eyes closed but still
standing and holding the rolling pin in her hands, ready to de-shell
the cacao! It’s true: mothers have the superpower of sleeping while
standing!

Negotiator

Another superpower of my mother – probably like your mother – is
negotiating. While sourcing for materials in Divisoria, I saw a
container I wanted to purchase. At this time, my mom was at another
stall. I listened to the prices that the vendor was giving other
customers. He was giving it it to them at P120. When they left, I
haggled with the vendor and he gave the product to me at P100. I
walked away and told my mom about the item I wanted to buy. Then she
went to the vendor while I waited at a nearby stall. She haggled and
haggled and got the vendor to bring the price down to P60!! Talk about
negotiating skills! Later, walking past the vendor with my mom, I
confronted the vendor, “Bakit sa kaniya binigay mo ng P60 sa akin sabi
mo P100?” (Why did you give the product to her at P60 but you priced
it for me at P100?). The vendor could not do anything but smile
sheepishly and scratch his head!

Now that is our strategy when we shop. I do the initial haggling while
she hides; and afterwards, I hide and she goes in for the win!

In the spirit of preserving our culinary heritage, calling on all mothers to write down their family recipes like these mothers of Bulacan: Bernadette, Carmelita, Socorro.

 

Preserving Heritage

We had the honor of contributing to the sequel of Amy Besa’s Memories
of Philippine Kitchens so my mom and I had to submit a recipe for our
family’s dinuguan, which Amy loved. The problem is that heirloom
recipes in the Philippines are mostly passed on orally, without
written documentation. So I had to translate my notes from our cooking
session with Ka Tage, one of the lola cooks in Bulacan who cooked the
dinuguan excellently.

I will never forget laughing our heads off as we tried to translate
the first step, as Ka Tage explained: “Linisin ang taenga ng baboy”
(Clean the pig’s ears). In the end, we decided to keep it
straightforward.

As we made this recipe, we realized the importance of preserving
family recipes. Because you don’t want those recipes and yummy dishes
to disappear when those who you relied on to cook them pass away.

My mother, in her own quiet way, is preserving our culinary traditions
by keeping index cards of various recipes, a habit she formed before
the advent of computers. (Does your mother have recipes in index
cards, too? I have a few friends who tell me their mothers are also
record their recipes that way!) She is very studious with her
documentation and who knows, maybe someday soon she might even have
her own cookbook! So here’s a shout out to all mothers out there to
preserve yours and your family recipes, for your children and the
generations to come!

Food for the Soul

More than food, my mother has fattened me up with food for the soul.

Aside from imbibing in us the rich traditions of her faith, complete
with attending fiesta processions and other traditions, my sister
Goldee and I have been lucky to have a mother who has been diligent in
teaching values that are important, regardless of religion: truth,
honesty, generosity, respect for elders, humility, kindness,
compassion.

Most of all, my mother has been a living example of love: she is
patient, kind, understanding, caring, present. As much as I love food,
I have to admit that these are more important than the family heirloom
paella.

So today, we cheer with gratitude for our mothers. May you keep
getting better at your job and may you pass on wisdom, love, recipes
and a state of grace to the generations to come!

Happy Mother’s Day!

***

See the story as publisher in the Inquirer at this link –

https://business.inquirer.net/270396/moms-have-hidden-powers-you-still-dont-know-about

Le Cordon Bleu Rises at the Ateneo

As you might have heard, Le Cordon Bleu, the legendary culinary institute, has partnered with Ateneo de Manila and to open Le Cordon Bleu Ateneo de Manila at the Arete, a new building at the Loyola Heights campus of the Ateneo branded as their “creative hub”. This seems to be Ateneo’s response to Enderun College’s Alain Ducasse Institute; Dusit Hospitality Management College’s partership with Institut Paul Bocuse; and De La Salle University – College of St. Benilde’s culinary arts, hospitality management and entrepreneurship courses. Of course in true Ateneo fashion, the Blue Eagles are quick to share why this school would be “the best”. This time, though, the bragging rights are well-earned.

Arete. The new home of Le Cordon Bleu Manila

Historic
The history of Le Cordon Bleu alone is worth taking pride in.
I am happy to highlight, first and foremost, a fact that Le Cordon Bleu International president and CEO Andre Cointreau, in my interview with him at the newly opened school in Arete, emphasized: that their founder was a woman.
“Le Cordon Bleu was created by a woman, who could have been a nun; she was unmarried.” Cointreau noted. “She thought it was unfair that women could not be trained in the culinary field, that although they were cooking for their families, it was still a macho world for hotels and restaurants. She was really dedicated to the idea of training women.”
 
The woman is Marthe Distel, a journalist and publisher (!). She started the culinary magazine La Cuisinière Cordon Bleu. To increase readership, Distel offered subscribers cooking lessons with professional chefs, with the first class held in January 1895 in the kitchens of the Palais Royal. These classes later on became a more formal school, Le Cordon Bleu.
 
Later the school became known not only for training women but for training an international audience of aspiring chefs who wanted to master the art of cooking using French techniques. Cointreau notes that their first international student was from Russia, in 1978; a few years later, in 1905, they had their first Japanese student. One of their most notable graduates is the legendary Julia Child, an American lady who studied at Le Cordon Bleu Paris in 1948 and authored the book Mastering the Art of French Cooking before becoming a television personality in the USA.

Marthe Distel, Le Cordon Bleu founder. Photo: cordonbleu.edu

International
 
Today, there are 30 Le Cordon Bleu institues around the world, each making a dent in the local culinary scene.
 
In London, Cointreau shared proudly, Le Cordon Bleu prepared the Coronation luncheon for Queen Elizabeth II in January 1953. And just last 2017, Le Cordon Bleu London was asked to recreate the 9-foot tall, 250-kilo Royal Wedding Cake wedding cake of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip for the documentary A Very Royal Wedding.
 

Coronation Menu of Queen Elizabeth by Le Cordon Bleu London. Photo: cordonbleu.edu

In Thailand, Le Cordon Bleu Dusit became the first culinary school to be accredited by their Ministry of Education, teaching a comprehensive professional Thai Cuisine curriculum with more than 200 recipes of traditional, regional, royal and modern contemporary Thai dishes.
In Japan, Le Cordon Bleu has offered a special bursary program, developed as an official project by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries of Japan for the Promotion of Japanese Cuisine & Food Culture.

Local Flavors, French Techniques

 
Cointreau emphasizes that what they teach are French techinques, not just French recipes; and students are encouraged to explore local flavors.
 
He acknowledges that in each country, one must also explore a nation’s culinary history and traditions. Just as in France, where each region and even certain families are recognized for their heritage recipes, so must it be for each country.
 
But Le Cordon Bleu is on a mission to codify not only recipes but also cooking techniques that are somehow being lost as the world evolves. By learning and codifying these techniques around the world, Cointreau emphasizes, “we are at the service of the culinary arts of tomorrow.”
 
“We come not only with recipes but with a grid of training even before a student learns recipes,” Cointreau explains. So a Le Cordon Bleu graduate would be able to demonstrate not only memorized recipes but also the technical skills needed to compete and thrive in the culinary world.
 

Julia Child at Le Cordon Bleu Paris. Photo: cordonbleu.edu

Jesuit
 
“But why did you partner with Ateneo, of all the schools in the Philippines?” I asked Cointreau. The Le Cordon Bleu International president and CEO explained that it’s because of their shared values of “integrating a true mastery of crafstmanship with enhancing and shaping the characters and  competencies of (their students).”
 
He has also become good friends with Fr. Nebres (the longest serving president of Ateneo de Manila) and loves that Ateneo focuses not only on educational excellence but also on the development of character and values, as well as the importance and joy of spreading the message of Christ to the underprivileged. He notes that the founder of Le Cordon Bleu also valued not only excellence and empowerment but also charity as she in fact left Le Cordon Bleu to an orphanage when she died in the 1930s (the school was later bought by another woman, Élisabeth Brassart.)
 
The LCB Network
 
More than its history, however, Cointreau shares that the advantage of Le Cordon Bleu over all other schools is its incredible global network of multi-awarded chefs and educators.
 
“We are probably the only one to have such an international network. We have been around for so long; we are accredited in more than 10 countires. Not only are we accredited but we can exchange our teachers, programs, internships,” Cointreau stressed.
 
Chef Theirry Le Baut, Technical Director of Le Cordon Blue Ateneo de Manila, shares his personal experience on this advantage: “There are a lot of us chefs (in Le Cordon Bleu) in different countries, in different parts of France, and all of us worked either in a big restaurant or a Michelin-starred restaurant so we have the combined experiences of different chefs from around the world. So if we want to know about a technique, we can just reach out to each other; I can go to Japan or London and stay there for 15 days to see their new techniques and recipes, or they can come to the Philippines. We work together and try to find the best techniques to teach our students. For me, this is what makes Le Cordon Bleu unique.”

Margaux Salcedo with Chef Thierry Le Baut, Technical Director of Le Cordon Bleu Ateneo de Manila
Margaux Salcedo with Chef Thierry Le Baut, Technical Director of Le Cordon Bleu Ateneo de Manila

But he also emphasizes that their strength is in giving each student the skills to be excellent in cooking using French techniques. “French technique is the most important in the world,” Le Baut says. “You can cook Peruvian cuisine or Thai cuisine using French techniques.”
 
The school then give each student all the tools they would need for cooking “the French way”: a set of knives, thermometer, pans, etc. (Students can go home with this set and keep the tools for life.) “Each student has his own work station where the student is personally guided by the professor as he learns each recipe. And everything is precise, down to the measurement of millimeters and temperatures, whether it be for a potato that must be 6 cm in size and 50 grams, or fish that must be cooked only up to 54 degrees, no more. “It must be perfect all the time,” Le Baut stresses.
 
Courses
Liza Hernandez-Morales, Institute Director at Le Cordon Bleu Ateneo de Manila, shares that the school now offers two courses: Bachelor of Science in Restaurant Entrepreneurship and Diploma in Cuisine. The Diploma in Cuisine has 3 programs or phases: Basic, Intermediate and Superior, with each course running 3 months.

Andre Cointreau, President & CEO of Le Cordon Bleu International with Chef Thierry Le Baut, Technical Director of Le Cordon Bleu Ateneo.

Here’s the Ateneo challenge, though: all applicants must pass the Ateneo Collegel Entrance exam. But once you graduate, you will receive two diplomas: one from the Ateneo and another from Le Cordon Bleu.
 
Now you can be an eagle that is not only blue but Le Cordon Bleu!

Clockwise: Margaux Salcedo with Andre Cointreau, President of Le Cordon Bleu International and his son Charles Cointreau, VP of Le Cordon Bleu. Andre and Charles Cointreau with Le Cordon Blue Ateneo Institute Director Liza Hernandez-Morales. Margaux Salcedo with Le Cordon Bleu Ateneo Technical Director Thierry Le Baut.

Sekaya has me switching to tea!

Sekaya botanic infusion by Unilab

I’m switching to tea!

Well, a little bit. At least for the products of Sekaya, I’m a convert.

I was introduced to the brand by Claire de Leon Papa, Communications Director of Unilab, when she approached me to recommend a pastry chef who could create cookies or scones using their teas.

Sweet Sally Desserts, of course, was top of mind since it was close to home (by Goldee Salcedo) and over the holidays I was so happy to be the guinea pig to test such creations as Earl Grey brownie bites or Green Tea banana bread.

Chef Wilson Cariaga of Tagaytay Highlands with menu infused with Sekaya teas by Unilab
Chef Wilson Cariaga of Tagaytay Highlands creates a spread using Sekaya botanic infusions and teas

Last week, though, Sekaya went a step further for their official launch when they approached Chef Wilson Cariaga of Tagaytay Highlands who created a full menu inspired by the teas.

Chef Wilson, previously at Four Seasons Maldives, did both savoury and sweet creations!

I loved that he created a rub using Sekaya’s Pu-Ehr Tea which he used on chicken skewers. He also poached salmon in Pu-ehr tea.

As for the sweets, I loved everything that he created with the Earl Grey tea. You don’t taste it right away but it will hit you a few seconds after digging in, then the taste lingers. Love that! He used Earl Grey for his almond and walnut cookies, orange pound cake and chocolate truffles (yum!).

There were a lot of other Sekaya botanical infusion flavors as well:

Mango Summer tea was used by Chef Wilson for a panda cotta, pavlova and creme brûlée; and Hibiscus tea was used to create a syrup for a yogurt parfait.

Orange pound cake by Chef Wilson Cariaga of Tagaytay Highlands featuring Unilab's Sekaya botanical infusion teas.
Orange pound cake using Sekaya’s Earl Grey botanic infusion.

But more than the added dimension to flavours that the tea gives you, I was informed by Judy Abrina, Marketing Manager of Sekaya, of the many health benefits that botanic infusions give you!

Sekaya’s Pu-erh Trim, which uses pu-erh tea from Yunnan, China, helps boost metabolism. Their Mango Summer botanical infusion, on the other hand, combines marigold petals from Egypt and black Ceylon tea leaves from Sri Lanka with ripe mango essence, which combined serve as an antioxidant. Hibiscus, meanwhile, prepared using hibiscus petals from Egypt, helps in maintaining a healthy blood pressure (and, Judy notes, Hibiscus has 3x more antioxidants than matcha!)
She also explained to me the difference between teas and botanic infusions. :if the leaves are not from the evergreen shrub species Camellia Synensis, which produces teas like chamomile, jasmine and the like, it is technically not tea but tisane (herbal tea). Both tea and tisanes, however, are considered botanical infusions, hence the terminology by the brand Sekaya.

Judy Abrina, Marketing Manager, Sekaya botanic infusion teas by Unilab
Judy Abrina, Marketing Manager, Sekaya, tells us about tea as key to wellness.

I was also happy to note that Sekaya, though foreign-sounding, is a purely local brand, created by pharmaceutical Unilab. “Since Unilab is focused on the healthcare of the Filipino, it was decided that it is time that we also come up with natural products that will respond to compliment that vision,” Abrina explained.
I confess that I am not a tea drinker. I am part of the Starbucks generation obsessed with coffee. As creator of the Nana Meng Tsokolate brand, I am also into chocolate. But maybe, as we grow older *gulp* it’s time to reconsider our drinks and switch to tea! The wellness benefits seem to be abundant!
*
Sekaya is available online at sekaya.com.ph.
Plant-based healing 
So Sekaya has studied botanical infusions (teas and tisanes) for specific wellness purposes.