By CJ Juntereal
Diamond Hotel Philippines always puts a lot of thought into their selection of chefs for their yearly Filipino food festivals, and their choices of chefs are never run-of-the-mill.
This year, the hotel features Chef Sau del Rosario and Chef Miko Aspiras in their Filipino Culinary Pride Food Festival, which will be at Corniche beginning today until July 1. The chefs’ teamup takes their story full circle, as Miko explains that Sau was one of his mentors when he first started working at the now-closed Madison Grill. They’ve kept in touch, and it has translated into the easy-going banter and sense of camaraderie I noticed during a sit-down interview with both of them.
Sau has mentored several of the young chefs in our current culinary scene, training them in the same no-nonsense, classical, start-from-the-bottom style that he learned while he was working in France.
“Perhaps a little like Gordon Ramsay,” he grinned. But these are lessons that chefs who worked in his kitchens remember to this day—hard work, perfection, cleanliness, dedication, passion. Miko recounts how they would be made to clean the exhaust fans, and how the kitchen had to be cleaned after service.
The mentoring comes easily to Sau, who explained that he likes teaching and talking to students. “My talent is a gift. And it must be shared. I’m not competing with today’s new chefs. I just want my cooking to be relevant,” he said. He had, in fact, recently come back from the US where he represented the Philippines at Flavors of the World, a yearly event organized by the Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley. At the event, people queued up for his Sisig Paella, Lapu-Lapu Mayonesa, and Bringhe Arancini with Calamansi Aoli.
For the Filipino Culinary Pride event at Diamond Hotel, Sau will be serving dishes that will certainly taste Filipino, but have been re-imagined with his inimitable and classic French style of cooking. Some of these dishes are bestsellers at his popular Angeles City restaurant, Café Fleur. Tamales Pampangueña is served almost like a mousse—velvety smooth and light, but with the traditional Kapampangan flavor of peanuts, toasted rice, and atsuete oil. Another Café Fleur specialty that he will be serving is Crispy Pork Kare-Kare Macadamia. Crisp skinned lechon belly sits on top of creamy kare-kare sauce that has been made with macadamia nuts and drizzled with truffle oil. It certainly isn’t your grandmother’s kare-kare, but the flavors are all there just the same. The sauce is subtler in flavor because of the macadamia nuts and, in fact, can be eaten without bagoong, which might just overpower its flavor. The Sisig Paella he served in Napa Valley will also be on rotation at the festival.
Other dishes to look out for are the Sinigang Flan and the Oyster Cevice; Sau’s take on Camaron Rebosado, with a crisp batter tossed in salted egg sauce, and a dipping sauce made with aligue (crab fat), calamansi, garlic, and mayonnaise; and Lamb Adobo with Garlic Confit. His classic training shines through in a dish of Duck Confit Adobo. He uses local duck, braised then fried in its own fat. The result is fall-off-the-bone meat that still retains its texture, crisp skin, and a rich adobo sauce that is more salty than sour—just the way I like it!
The buffet centerpiece will be lechon belly roasted with three different kinds of stuffing. The most unusual is one that features unsweetened Malagos chocolate and Malagos cheese. The stuffing is reminiscent of Mexican Mole, but when dipped into the classic lechon liver sauce it tastes purely Filipino—sweet, salty, with a hint of bitterness and acidity. It may not be to everyone’s liking, but it must be tried.
The dessert buffet will be award-winning Miko’s kingdom. He took the agreed upon concept—a market-style buffet—ran with it, and quite literally turned it into a farmer’s market fruit stand. The desserts will be nothing like those seen on an ordinary hotel buffet; you won’t see them at his Le Petit Souffle and Scout’s Honor restaurants, either, and that is because Miko has a mission.
“I want Filipinos to get the happiness that I get from dessert,” he explains. “When I went to Japan to study, I learned the mentality that desserts can be a simple luxury at the end of the day. The desserts I’ve created for Diamond Hotel will be intricate. They will be my version of perfect.”
One of the standouts is Mansanas, a shiny, perfect-looking apple that is crafted from dulce de leche-cinnamon mousse and apple compote. Another is Cherry, his take on Black Forest cake that includes fudgy chocolate cake, cream, crunch Oreo cookie bits, and a perfect-looking cherry that hides velvety cherry mousse. He re-imagined the famous Diamond Hotel Ube Ensaymada in giant form, and serves it at the live cooking station with a flambé of Rosella sauce.
Miko will also be serving a selection of the French macarons that he is famous for, including a sweet-salty Keso de Bola version. Other desserts are a coconut mousse with dayap curd, Grape Choux, Mandarin Orange Cheesecake, and an ice cream that’s yet to be named. “It’s my zero-waste ice cream,” Miko tells me, “but I think it needs a better name.”
Always conscious of wastage, he had gathered all the cake and bread scraps from the kitchen and toasted them in butter, before swirling them with fruit into an ice cream base. The result is delicious, like a crunchy, buttery bread pudding in ice cream form. Look for it in the buffet’s scooping station. I’d save space for it, and the other desserts.
In the battle of hotel buffets and Filipino food festivals, I think that Diamond Hotel’s Filipino Culinary Pride festival will hold its own. It’s a celebration of Filipino food and ingredients—traditional in flavor and heart, but updated in execution.
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Filipino Culinary Pride will be at the Diamond Hotel until July 1, for P2,780 per persons. Visit www.onlineshopping.diamondhotel.com to purchase food vouchers for the festival.