Claude Tayag: Portrait of the Chef as Artist

Claude Tayag never ceases to amaze me as he not only dabbles but shines in the various endeavors he pours his heart and soul into – whether it be the culinary arts or the visual arts.

The other side of Claude Tayag: The chef exhibits his watercolor paintings at the National Museum

Bale Dutung

We know him as a chef and culinary icon, with his relentless promotion of Pampango and Philippine cuisine.

The name of his private dining space is Bale Dutung. If you have not yet been to this culinary treasure, make your way to the Tayags’ home in Angeles, Pampanga (visit baledutung.com for details). It’s is by reservation only as guests experience the culinary traditions of the Pampangeños, as interpreted by Tayag, made extraordinary with the charming touch of his wife Maryann Quioc. You may opt for an all-Pampango menu or an all-lechon menu. It was in fact at Tayag’s home that Anthony Bourdain experienced and fell in love sisig, after which the culinary legend said that sisig would “win the hearts and minds of the world”. (To honor Bourdain, Bale Dutung now also offers an Anthony Bourdain menu.)

Claude Tayag’s wife Maryann Quioc poses before 1956 portrait of the artist of himself being carried by his mother.

The Influence of E. Aguilar Cruz

But the chef’s hat is only one of his many hats. In fact, Claude Tayag was first recognized for his paintings, not for his cooking.

It was over 40 years ago, in 1977, that he was first acknowledged as a painter, when he won second prize at the annual competition of the Art Association of the Philippines, for an acrylic on canvas painting depicting the frenzied Ati-tihan festival from an elevated view. A year later, in 1978, he made his official debut into the Manila art scene with a one-man exhibition of watercolor paintings at the ABC Galleries of Larry J. Cruz, son of the great Emilio “Abe” Aguilar Cruz, in Manila. The exhibit was well-received, with critics describing Tayag’s works as “characterized by a forceful spontaneity and raw vigor”.

Abè (father of Larry) was Tayag’s greatest influence and mentor. Cruz was the bosom buddy of Tayag’s father, Renato “Katoks” Dayrit Tayag, a lawyer turned journalist. They used to call Abe “Tatang Milio”. Tayag very clearly remembers when Abe invited his artist friends over to paint the landscape of the Zambales ranges (now Carmenville Subdivision). Tayag holds dear a photo taken by his father of that moment, in 1968, with the 12-year old Claude watching the painters intently. It was quite a group: Sofronio ‘SYM’ Mendoza, Romulo Galicano, Rodolfo Ragodon, Andres Cristobal Cruz, Mauro ‘Malang’ Santos, and the future National Artist Vicente Manansala. Tayag remembers that it was then that he found his own calling, thinking, “That’s what I want to be when I grow up!”

Tayag also recalls his visits to Abe in 1976: “I was a third year Architecture student at the University of the Philippines but I would visit Tatang Milio in his painting studio on Arquiza Street, just off the tourist belt area along A. Mabini in Manila. I’d show him my latest watercolor paintings then he would critique them, and would demonstrate with paint sketches a trick or two.”

Tayag also remembers joining Cruz for the “Sketching Soiree” of the Saturday Artists’ Group – an informal association of professionals with a common passion for making art, led by Cesar Legazpi, then an executive of an advertising agency, and with members such as Alfredo “Ding” Roces, and artists who later became recognized as National Artists, such as Vicente Manansala, H.R. Ocampo, Jose Joya, Ang Kiukok, Arturo Luz, Bencab (Benedicto Cabrera) and Federico Aguilar Alcuaz.

Sketching Soiree by Claude Tayag. September 11, 1976.

Tayag was also influenced by the “Dimasalang group” comprised of Cruz and 3 friends, SYM, Galicano, and Andres Cristobal. “It was their watercolor paintings that I tried to emulate, in terms of style and subject matter,” Tayag recalls.

Inspired by these great artists, Tayag pursued watercolor as a medium, hoping to increase appreciation for this medium as well. “Watercolor is the most difficult painting medium there is,” the artist explains. “One has to have full control of the water, color, paper and timing. And this could only be achieved through a lifetime dedication of practice and exploration. For me, it is the most rewarding and most pleasurable to work with once you’ve mastered it.”

Watercolor and Wood

In the decade following his first exhibit, Tayag was very prolific, holding an exhibit every two years, with each exhibit focusing on a different subject. Among his exhibits were a European watercolor travelogue in 1980, inspired by his 11-month tour of Europe; Moriones in 1981; Cordillera landscapes in 1985 at the Hyatt Terraces in Baguio, after living in Baguio for a while; Kristos in 1987; and a black and white exhibition using Japanese ink on rice paper called the Bokuseki series, influenced by the Japanese style of painting called Sumi-e, in 1994 and 1997.

Sunset in the Clouds, 1979, Claude Tayag.

Later, Tayag also became known as a sculptor. He started by designing and manufacturing traditional Filipino domestic furniture (e.g la mesa, upuan, taburete, bangkô, paminggalan), which he consigned to the Pansol Pottery owned by potters Jon and Tessie Pettyjohn in Makati. He became known for his creations that had “straightforward functionality and clean lines, much like the Japanese and Shaker furniture”, with “no-nail construction, using mostly dove-tailing and mortise-and-tenon techniques”. In 1990, he staged his first one-man exhibition as a sculptor at the Ayala Museum, presenting both functional and sculptural creations in wood. He awed audiences with his ability to “supercede the limitations of an essentially rigid material, achieving limitless volume and sensuous plasticity with this wave and curvilinear series”.

Chef Claude

In the 1980s, Tayag started dabbling in cooking. The ingenious Larry Cruz, then owner of Ang Hang restaurant in Makati, challenged Tayag to interpret his watercolor paintings as “edible art”. I guess a Capampangan does not back down from a challenge, especially one related to cooking, so Tayag executed a clever dinner entitled “Artworks” in 1989. So just as Cruz had given Tayag his first exhibit in 1978, it was also Cruz who gave Tayag his first culinary “exhibit” in 1989!

It must have been a hit as a few years later, in 1993, Tayag was featured as the guest chef of the hoity toity Chaine des Rotisseurs at their annual dinner held at the Manila Hotel. He cooked traditional Pampango cuisine.

In 2001, he was invited to be guest chef for an entire month at the famous fine dining restaurant Prince Albert of the Intercontinental Hotel, the first Asian chef ever to be invited, cooking alongside their French chef Cyrille Soenen.

Since then, Tayag has become a favorite in the culinary scene. Aside from his private dining space Bale Dutung, which he opened with wife Maryann in the 2000s, he has also hosted a television show on food, and has published three food-related books: Food Tour, Linamnam, and Kulinarya (with co-authors). He also made the country proud when he won the People’s Choice Award at the Embassy Chef Challenge in Washington, D.C. in May 2016.

National Museum

But once an artist, you are always an artist. So when Dr. Ana Labrador, assistant director of the National Museum, saw Tayag at the Emilio “Abé” Aguilar Cruz Hall opening three years ago and suggested that he do an exhibition of his watercolor paintings with them, being a direct “offspring” of Abé as a watercolorist, he immediately said yes.

So until until September 22, the National Museum presents “Claude Tayag: Watercolors 1974 – Present”.

T’bloi Women by Claude Tayag.
My favorite among Claude’s works: “Kain Na!” A T’boli woman enticing you to eat.

Here you will see the other side of the “chef”: that of visual artist, featuring his watercolor paintings of T’boli women, paintings from the Moriones series, the Kristo series, the Cordillera series, paintings of churches and images of Catholic saints, postcards with art from his travels, and a throwback to the Bokuseki series.

I love the energy that flows from each work of art – from the vibrant colors to the details that communicate life. It is a beautiful exhibition that mirrors the artist’s inspired journeys.

I encourage everyone to visit this exhibit. It is one that his mentors and even his father, who discouraged him from pursuing fine arts, would undoubtedly be proud of. Claude Tayag, like his mentor E. Aguilar Cruz, is truly a Renaissance man!

Claude Tayag: Watercolors 1974 – Present
At the National Museum
Until September 22, 2019

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Other opening highlights:

Me and my sister Goldee, fans of Claude, getting our book of watercolor paintings by Claude Tayag autographed by the artist at the exhibition opening.
Also love Claude’s church series. This is a painting from 1979 of the Nuremberg Cathedral.
Also love his series on Catholic images or what we call “Poon”.
Claude Tayag greeted by fellow chefs Myrna Segismundo (checkered, beside Claude) and Glenda Barretto of Via Mare (blue)
Checking out Claude Tayag’s Bokuseki series with Manila tour guide Ivan Man Dy
The exhibit opening was a resounding success. It was a nice touch too that there was food from Pampanga brought by the chef. We all loved the tibok tibok (carabao milk pudding)
Never a dull moment with Goldee!! Playing tourist with Claude’s Moriones series. This is based on an actual painting (see first photo with the artist).

Congratulations, Claude!!!

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.

Beautiful Proposal Atop The Eiffel Tower

Nico Garcia, Goldee Salcedo, Proposal, Eiffel Tower, Le Jules Verne

Nico Garcia, Goldee Salcedo, Proposal, Eiffel Tower, Le Jules VerneI have the honor of announcing the engagement of Makati Congressional bet and 3-term Magallanes Councilor Nico Garcia to the gorgeous and gregarious entrepreneur/baker/leadership and management trainer and consultant/supersister/superdaughter/supergirl Goldee Salcedo.

Finally! 🙂

Nico and Goldee have been a couple for eight years running. After keeping everyone in suspense, both heaven and earth are rejoicing that they are finally to be wed!

Nico proved to be a true romantic and proposed in no less than the Eiffel Tower in the City of Love.

Unbeknownst to Goldee, Nico followed us to Europe and was to surprise her at dinner on our first evening in Paris.

And surprise he did!

We were so lucky to get reservations at Le Jules Verne, the incomparable Michelin-starred restaurant of culinary legend Chef Alain Ducasse in the Eiffel Tower. (Chika lang – this was the same restaurant where Tom Cruise proposed to Katie Holmes … and the same restaurant where French President Emmanuel Macron brought US President Donald Trump when Trump visited Paris for Bastille Day just this July.)

Once we were seated at our table, Nico snuck up behind Goldee to give her flowers … and an engagement ring!

The gentlemen over at Le Jules Verne (thank you, Monsieurs Didi and Jean Jacques!), The Duchess and I “collaborated” like millennials and got it all on video:

Look at their beaming smiles after the proposal … Goldee will kill me for posting that lower pic because her eyes are closed but it’s the one that shows how deliriously happy she was!

Goldee Salcedo, Nico Garcia, Eiffel Tower, Engagement, LoveRead the full story in today’s First Class in the Inquirer:

Margaux Salcedo, First Class, Inquirer column, food writer, Philippines, Nico Garcia, Goldee Salcedo, engagement, Le Jules Verne, Alain Ducasse, Michelin, Eiffel Tower, proposal, Tom CruiseHere’s the link:

http://business.inquirer.net/234065/paris-never-gets-old-proposing

Congratulations, Goldee and Nico!

 

Downtown Cafe: Pinoy ’50s Diner in Pampanga

Downtown Cafe, Angeles, Pampanga

Here’s Part 2 of my column First Class published 21 August 2016, Sunday, in the Philippine Daily Inquirer + more pics🙂 I wrote about a recent day trip to Pampanga. Went with a few doctors of my dad, whom we met when they were just residents and now they have finished their fellowships!

Part 1 here: Sau del Rosario’s Cafe Fleur

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Downtown Cafe

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Claude Tayag is another famous Capampangan celebrity chef, or as he was called at the Mission Manila dinner during Madrid Fusion, El Kusinero.

He is better known for Bale Dutung, his home, showroom and private dining space with his lovely Capampangan wife Mary Ann Quioc. This is the place No Reservations host Anthony Bourdain visited and loved—a place that is ironically by reservation only and for a minimum guest list of around 12.

Thankfully, the Tayags have opened Downtown Cafe. While it is by no means Bale Dutung, which is an incomparable experience, Downtown has a charm of its own, with its diner vibe complete with jukebox and a Coke ad with the stunning Gloria Romero. The big bonus, of course, is that we can now get a taste of Claude Tayag’s cooking every day.

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Best on the menu is the duck. In classic Claude Tayag humor, the menu reads “What’s Up, Duck?” The duck leg confit is salted and slow-cooked for two hours; you eat it Peking Duck-style, with wrappers.

The star of the menu of late, though, is the bringhe, which won the the People’s Choice Award at the 8th Annual Embassy Chef Challenge in Washington D.C. last May.

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The waiters call it bringhe pizza; it felt like a morphing of bibingka galapong and paella. It’s a fun, unique snack.

On a rainy day, have a cup of their barako. Really Filipino and really good coffee. I bet coffee guru Chit Juan would approve.

PS Really loved the interiors. Look – Royal Tru Orange before “Joey”/RJ Ledesma …
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Our friend Dr Jill Tabora also had this super refreshing dessert:
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I was too stuffed from eating so much at Cafe Fleur, Everybody’s Cafe and Susie’s that I could really only eat this:
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But we were excited to dance to the music from the jukebox … or maybe from our minds – naloka na sa busog haha. (The jukebox doesn’t really work.)

Thanks so much to our #LafangMD friends for a great time!!! Isser and Pau, thanks for being such wonderful tour guides! Mabuhay ang Angeles!!1956 Downtown Cafe by Bale Dutung. 1 Plaridel St., Nepo Quad, Angeles City. 0917-5359198. More info at baledutung.com.

Part 1: Cafe Fleur
Part 2 of 3

Why Restaurant Arzak is worth a plane ride, a train ride & a six-hour drive to San Sebastian

Juan Mari Arzak, Elena Arzak
Juan Mari Arzak, Elena Arzak
Arzak: the ultimate dining experience. Shown here: the father-daughter tandem of Modern Basque Cuisine pioneer Juan Mari Arzak & World’s Best Female Chef Elena Arzak.

There are many chefs the world over who now do “modern cuisine”.

A couple of years ago, I was blown away by the creations of Heston Blumenthal at Dinner by Heston at the Mandarin Hyde Park in London. As an appetizer he served something that looked like an orange but was in fact foie gras. It was a bewildering yet delightful illusion!

Here in Southeast Asia, Iggy’s in Singapore has become renowned for his “modern European cuisine”. It was here, around eight years ago, that I first experienced the incorporation of Pop Rocks on an elegantly plated dessert. The waitress even made us guess what it was and it was Chef Rolando Laudico, the chef in our party of four, who correctly guessed that it was that favorite childhood candy that was crackling in our mouths. Back when Andre Chiang was still at Jaan at the Swissotel, I had the privilege of tasting his “modern French” creations. And recently, Ivan Brehm, who had worked with Heston Blumenthal at the Fat Duck, has been making waves at Bacchanalia.

In the Philippines, Chef Jose Luis “Chele” Gonzalez takes the lead in offering modern Basque cuisine at Gallery Vask although you will also see modern techniques employed at the more casual Rambla in Rockwell and the uber fine dining Tasting Room at City of Dreams.

But nothing quite prepares you for Arzak, a home that has been around since 1897 and where modern gastronomy had its beginnings – in the mid ’70s!

There is – oddly – no train that goes direct from Lyon (where we were for the World Pastry Cup and the Bocuse d’Or) to San Sebastian. Instead, the trains go via Paris and Barcelona, which are actually longer routes! So we chose to see Barcelona instead of going back to Paris and then got a car to drive to San Sebastian.

It was an easy but very long six hour drive (mas malapit pa ang Baguio-Manila!). On top of that, the winds were very strong – we had to drive slower because our car was being blown by the wind! We did not realize until our concierge verified it that there was in fact a storm. All we knew was that from the B10 to A2 to AP7 highway, it felt like a never ending road.

But Arzak was absolutely worth the long drive. You understand, after dining here, why it is considered one of the world’s greatest dining destinations.

Pintxos

Restaurant ArzakYou are greeted with a can of beer. Andy Warhol would have fallen in love with this. “This is black pudding and beer,” the server explained. “Did you crush this can yourself?” I teased her. “Yes, we play football every morning,” she joked back.

You don’t eat the can of Kellerbier, of course, but can pop the entire pudding on the chard leaf in your mouth. Then boom! Umami with a little dot of spiciness in the end. “How?!” you ask. This is a question that you keep asking all throughout the meal.

At this restaurant, there is no one tiny amuse bouche as is the custom in other fine dining places. Instead, they introduce you to Basque culture by loading you up with at least five of these introductory pintxos that tell you what the restaurant is all about.

Arzak Arzak Following the black pudding and beer, we were served: 1) Kabraroka pudding wrapped in kataifi. This is a pudding made of scorpion fish, an otherwise overlooked fish because it is described as “ugly” but made famous by Restaurant Arzak (check out this site).  2) Sweet chilly pepper and sardine sphere. The sphere felt like a round Filipino barquillo so it was interesting to note that this was made out of potatoes. And then inside, a burst of the flavors of sardines. These fish appetizers immediately tell you about the philosophy of Arzak of finding local produce and making these come alive in their restaurant through their incredible techniques.

ArzakGyoza of prawns and moringa. Restaurant Arzak, San Sebastian. Photo by Margaux Salcedo for margauxlicious.com. It did not end there. We were also served: gyoza of prawns and moringa. This was an astonishing creation. It takes the concept of the Japanese gyoza but instead of the steamed dough, the cover on this one is crackling. But inside, the meat is sweet. And finally, a lentil cookie with ssam-jang, a spicy Korean paste. These creations show you that Arzak is committed to discovering the unique ingredients each country has to offer, allowing guests flavors that they may never have experienced before.

“It felt like a trip around the world,” I said to the legendary Chef Juan Mari Arzak, who is, to this day, in spite of his lengthy list of accolades, still present every day in the Arzak kitchen. “Yes, we get ingredients from around the world,” he said (through a translator), “but the end product is from Kilometer 0. It is absolutely Basque.”

Cromlech, manioc and huitlacoche, Restaurant Arzak, San SebastianAfter eating all that, our tummies were good to go. But the menu said we were just getting started!!!

Coastal Creations

The official starter that we had was entitled “Cromlech” because it is made to look like a prehistoric megalithic structure. But in fact it was made of manioc (or what we call cassava!) and huitlacoche (which is disgustingly described on the internet as ‘corn smut’ but in Mexico is a prized kind of mushroom that is considered part of their culinary heritage, used in cooking since pre-Hispanic times). You are instructed to turn these cones upside down and eat it “like ice cream”. It looks odd but inside there are caramelized onions and my sister Goldee immediately detected foie gras. It is crazy good!

This was followed by three seafood dishes: lobster, scallops and red mullet. Remember that San Sebastian is a coastal city and therefore abundant in seafood.

Restaurant Arzak. Lobster Sea and Garden. Photo by Margaux Salcedo for margauxlicious.comThe lobster was an example of gorgeous plating. For some reason it reminded me of impressionist art, with Van Gogh’s Starry Night coming to mind. Probably because of the green crispy crepe that looks like a starfish. But its purpose was to add not just color but dimension to not only to the texture but also to the flavors of the dish, as it had hints of turmeric. Meanwhile that lovely orange dash of color is a zucchini flower and they all lie on tomato water that totally compliments the juiciness of the lobster.

Arzak, Elena Arzak, Juan Mari Arzak

From impressionism they move on to realism with the scallops, which arrives on the table enclosed in two long bamboo leaves. Can you imagine that – we have so many bamboos in the Philippines yet we usually just use banana leaves in the presentation of our food. But the first thing that struck me here was the fragrant whiff of earthiness which I guess was from the leaves. “You don’t eat that,” the server said, laughing, as she opened the leaves to reveal the scallops.

And from realism they end the seafood series with pop art. This one was absolutely avante garde. I was startled when a kind of ipad/tablet was placed before me instead of a plate. It had a video of waves. And then the dish arrived on an elevated glass plate: the red mullet – so it appeared as if the mullet was still swimming in the sea! (Well, minus its head, haha!) Around it were “leaves” – they looked like leaves but they were actually not leaves but made with anis, pepper, beetroot and other spices. What was really fascinating was how the taste of the fish would change with each bite of a different “leaf”. It’s absolutely trippy! Yet in spite of all illusions, the dish was still centered on something very popular in Basque cuisine: the red mullet. It was also accented on the side with a Basque favorite, the “crispy tail” – piniritong buntot sa atin.

Restaurant Arzak. Photo by Margaux Salcedo for margauxlicious.comRestaurant Arzak. Photo by Margaux Salcedo for margauxlicious.com Utopia

The chefs are kind enough to welcome guests into the kitchen after their meals. We saw several groups come in. While speaking to the legendary Juan Mari Arzak, he said that even in cooking, they strive for utopia – that imagined place where everything is perfect. Well, that’s what I felt when they brought out this truffle dish.

You see, truffles are a tricky thing. Unless you get the entire block, you hardly really smell that distinct truffle aroma. A chef once told me he cheated by adding the synthetic truffle oil to the real thing (que horror!). Chef William Mahi (who, by the way, is Basque) over at Tasting Room at the City of Dreams Manila, does an excellent job with shaved Perigord winter truffles with his 52-degree egg starter but the egg is the star of that show. Here, the truffles rightfully play the lead role, with the potatoes and the egg singing glorious back up. Like Destiny’s Child and the truffles here are Beyonce, hehe – and she will make you sing!

Restaurant ArzakFor the final dish, we had deer. This comes wrapped in lettuce leaves and the use of lemongrass brought me to Southeast Asia. It shows you how well-traveled their chefs are.

Arzak 10Finally, dessert. And they continued their A-game. “It’s a giant truffle,” the waitress joked as she presented a block of chocolate. But it’s not chocolate, explains Elena Arzak, who runs the restaurant in tandem with her father. “This is carob,” she explained. “It is like chocolate but it is not chocolate. During the war, it was used as a substitute for chocolate but now people are also exploring its health benefits.”

Restaurant Arzak. Photo by Margaux Salcedo for margauxlicious.com  Restaurant Arzak. Photo by Margaux Salcedo for margauxlicious.comI had heard many times in the past about Restaurant Arzak. You can’t avoid hearing about it as it has consistently been at the top of the list of the San Pellegrino World’s Best Restaurant awards and has been a three-starred Michelin restaurant since we were in diapers. You also hear about Arzak from chefs like Chele Gonzalez of Vask, who had worked at Arzak, and has brought the Arzak philosophy of modern Basque cuisine to the Philippines. So you feel like you have an idea of what Arzak is all about.

But you don’t. Not until you have dined there.

Arzak is like love. You may have an idea of it from what has been written but it is something you must experience to fully grasp and understand.

And it is, truly, a one-of-a-kind experience. Absolutely magical and definitely worth the trip. Even in the middle of a storm!

Margaux Salcedo, Goldee Salcedo, Elena Arzak, Juan Mari Arzak
Chef’s Table at Arzak

PS. GOOD NEWS:

Chef Elena Arzak is coming to Madrid Fusion Manila this April! Come back to the Madrid Fusion section of this blog for updates on Madrid Fusion Manila! I will keep you posted 🙂

 

Porky Gifts for the Holidays

Bulacan chicharon. Photo by Margaux Salcedo.

As published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Sunday, December 14, 2014.

Margaux Salcedo First Class Inquirer Pork Options December 14, 2014 SundayNow that the P2.6-trillion national budget with redefined savings for 2015 has been passed by Congress, let’s roll with the theme of pork for our Christmas gifts!

Here are a few suggestions for your pork-loving colleague or boss, or for that wacky Christmas party.

Bai’s Boneless Lechon Cebu

It has been argued that Cebu lechon is the best in the country. It has had this reputation since time immemorial. My personal favorite is Rico’s lechon, cooked traditionally, with all the ingredients that make for an awesome Cebu lechon. A few years ago, the sterling reputation of Cebu lechon was sealed worldwide as famous blogger and Zubuchon founder Marketman introduced celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain to Cebu lechon. Bourdain called it “the best pig in the world.”

But how do we get a taste of this famous Cebu lechon without flying in the whole pig?

Bai's LechonEntrepreneur Dexter Ding has come up with a solution. Ding hails from Cebu and his father loves lechon. Based in Manila, they were likewise faced with the challenge of satisfying Cebu lechon cravings.

Not wanting to fly the entire lechon from Cebu all the time, Ding created Bai’s Boneless Lechon Cebu.

These are chopped rolls of lechon, looking like a porchetta. However, all the delights of Cebu lechon are there: The beautifully crispy skin and the meat beautifully flavored with lemongrass and other Cebu lechon spices. Since it tastes just like Cebu lechon, there will be no need for lechon sauce or vinegar to go with it.

Ding confesses, though, that the pork he uses is not local but comes from Canada (so think Canadian bacon). It has a very clean taste. Ding also makes sure that this is pork of the highest grade and with just the right amount of fat.

A cut that is good for 10 to 15 pax is sold by the box. Call 0917-5825333 for orders.

Bacon Cookies by Sweet Sally Desserts

Imagine a chocolate chip cookie but, instead of chocolate chips, there are bacon bits instead. That’s what these cookies are like. It has all the sweet delights of a cookie but it is punctuated with bacon. Highly addictive! Order to believe it. Call 0917-7962731.

Bella’s Bacon Jam by Aimee Fuentes

Margaux  Salcedo Bella Yuchengco Aimee Fuentes Bacon Jam December 2014Daughter Aimee Fuentes, who now makes this and accepts orders, calls it Mom’s Famous Bacon Jam. No wonder it’s famous—this is pure indulgence in bacon. It’s a recipe of hostess with the mostest Bella Yuchengco. Aimee shares that they first tasted this when her mom served it with macaroni and cheese, and everyone’s been obsessed with it since.

I had tried bacon jam before but, while it had the salty soul of bacon, it was still mostly just jam. Aimee’s version, though, has a lot of bacon. Each teaspoonful that you dig out of the bottle will offer you the deliciously salty crunch of itty-bitty bacon slices.

Aimee shares that the recipe is really basic—she uses maple syrup and bourbon for the jam—except she doesn’t scrimp on the bacon. That makes a world of difference! I had mine with just scrambled eggs and later with toast. If you are a bacon lover, this is to die for! For orders, call 8077900.

Bulacan Chicharon

Chicharon—those sinful deep-fried slices of pork back fat. Little swirls of cholesterol heaven. Oh, the sound of that crunch as your teeth break the pig skin … music to the pork-lover’s ears!

Don’t be chicken and have those weak, airy versions sold near the MRT. You might as well just have kropek. No, if you are going to have chicharon, get full back fat!

Margaux Salcedo Bulacan chicharonCall me biased, but I dare say you have not tried chicharon until you have had chicharon from Sta. Maria, Bulacan. There, almost every other corner has a chicharon stand. And you get to choose whether you want chicharon that has full back fat or just semi back fat. Of course for pork lovers, it’s a no-brainer, go for full back fat! (That will directly translate into your own full back fat … but who cares!)

This is the best chicharon in the country. Mabuhay ang Sta. Maria, Bulacan! For orders call 0915-8636262.

Cirkulo’s Cochinillo

For good ol’ cochinillo, my go-to is Cirkulo. Call 8102763 for orders. If they are swamped, as they usually are come Christmas time, try La Tienda on Polaris Street, Bel Air. Call 8904123.

Pepita’s Stuffed Lechon

Bloggers have been all the rave for several years now about the lechon of Dedet dela Fuente, who calls herself the “lechon diva.” She had ovens customized in her backyard and she has become known for her stuffed lechon. Lydia’s also has lechon stuffed with paella. Dedet makes the stuffed lechon her signature, though, with her very creative stuffing. She goes “around the world” with a French stuffing of truffled rice; a German stuffing with apricots and chestnuts; a Chinese stuffing of machang; a Filipino stuffing of binagoongan; and the classic Spanish stuffing of paella. Her lechon is de leche and it’s really nakaka-leche in a delicious and delightful way. Call 0917-8660662 for orders.

Elar’s

To my mind, it’s still the best lechon out there. Order it in the morning, the skin will remain crispy until your party at night with the fat glistening from underneath the crispy orange skin. Call 7317551, 7317552 or 7324116 for orders. Order early as even the biggest VIPs are turned down for orders come crunch time a few days before Christmas.

Have a porky Christmas! (Except to the House of Representatives, which already has too much pork.)