Memories of a Manila landmark

Published July 30, 2020, 8:59 AM

by Sol Vanzi

The legacy of The Oasis Paco Park Hotel and the treasures inside My Kitchen restaurant.

The Oasis Paco Park Hotel (Image from TripAdvisor)

The Oasis Paco Park Hotel, secretly loved and shared by business travelers, foreign correspondents, and retirees, is no more. Gone too are its major attractions, the excellent My Kitchen restaurant and its chef Chris Locher, who lost a long battle with cancer early this year.

Chef Chris Locher (Photo from Chris Locher Facebook Page)

The restaurant and hotel, across the street from the historic Paco Park, had become a favorite among discriminating connoisseurs, many of whom drove all the way from Alabang, Makati, La Vista, and beyond for multicourse a la carte lunch or dinner paired with choice wines from a well-stocked cellar. Diners almost always had to make reservations days ahead to ensure good seats. 

PANIZZA CREATOR 

Chef Chris is remembered in food circles as the guy who developed the panizza. Traditionally, panizza was a polenta or focaccia made from chickpea flour before Chef Chris created the recipe that he described as “a fine crisp dough layered with a blend of five cheeses and herbs, and perfected with favorite toppings.”  The unique toppings include alfalfa sprouts, arugula, and micro greens.

My Kitchen’s The Original panizza

Panizza caught on so fast that its creator was left with crumbs. Chef Chris, who created the dish and introduced it to the Philippines, explained that the dish of My Kitchen was called The Original “because someone else had copyrighted the panizza recipe and name.” 

UNFORGETTABLE MEAL 

I remember vividly the meal Chef Chris prepared for us four years ago.    

Our small group ate family-style meals—sharing dishes the way Italians and Filipinos eat at home. We started with panizza, a half-half combination: verbena (tomato and white truffle with cheese sauce topped with scallops, prawns, and sun-dried tomatoes) and lazio (with artichoke hearts and honey-cured ham). By itself and with glasses of wine, an order of panizza made for a light lunch for two.

There was a large Oasis salad of artichoke hearts, roasted peppers, caramelized onions, sun-dried tomatoes, Kalamata olives, and two kinds of capers, arugula, and several types of lettuce. Homemade bread with cheese-pesto-olive oil dip was complimentary.

Pesto enriched with Cappelini Beatrice is lightly tossed with giant US scallops and prawns.

A unique side dish had tender rapini greens and pencil-thin asparagus topped with ox tongue risotto and accented with Marsala-simmered meat, fresh mushrooms, and cheeses.

Our seafood course featured plump olive mussels from Chile, prepared with wine, garlic, and tomatoes. Simple preparation highlighted the freshness of the imported bivalves.

ITALIAN GRANDMA’S LEGACY

Named after the chef’s paternal nona (grandma) was the classic Osso Bucco Maestri (veal shank stewed in wine and cream) with a twist. The traditional gremolata (lemon zest, garlic, and parsley), sprinkled as garnish, was instead incorporated while the shanks were stewing, thereby resulting in a more subtly-enhanced gravy.

The humongous veal shank, so tender we needed no knife, sat atop a large mound of saffron-hued, creamy risotto.

We ended the long meal with a large slice of tiramisu plus two flavors of homemade gelato: mint chocolate and blueberry, perfect with My Kitchen’s own blend of coffee.

A CHEF’S PASSION  

In a separate interview, Chef Chris shared the secret to his energy, which seemed to ignore his illness. 

“At the end of the day I’m a cook. I love cooking. I love the interaction and even if I have been doing this professionally for over 20 years, I still have the passion every single day to get up and do it over and over again,” said Chef Chris. “You have your days when you think you need a day off, but the passion and drive are still there. And the curiosity is still there.”

My Kitchen restaurant interior

But his biggest secret was his love for the country he chose to call home. 

“I was born and raised in Switzerland, I have an Italian grandmother, and—as the story goes—a Filipino heart. Home is the Philippines. I have very, very little ties back in Switzerland and absolutely have no ties back in Italy at this point in time,” he said. “Having been born and raised in Switzerland definitely gave me certain advantages, especially from an educational point of view, but home in today’s time and age is definitely the Philippines.”

 
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