Successful comeback for Swiss-PH gastrodiplomacy and the IBF Bazaar

TASTING THE FUTURE TOGETHER From left: Tippi Tambunting, Armin Amrein, Tom Bascon, and Amb. Alain Gaschen

Swiss chef Armin Amrein is in town to bring his brand of Swiss culinary expertise to the country and its foodies. Just this week, he worked with M Dining + Bar chefs Tippi Tambunting and Tom Bascon to create a six-hands dinner spread consisting of 10 courses, each one taking us to the Swiss Alps and farmers markets in Switzerland then back to the Philippines’ flavors that are as numerous and mystifying as its islands. “Tasting the Future Together” was how the Swiss embassy dubbed the event, which was part of the celebration of the 65th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the Philippines and Switzerland.

“It’s always a good sign when you interrupt a dinner and it’s already quiet,” Swiss Ambassador to the Philippines Alain Gaschen said when he took the microphone toward the end of the evening, noting how quiet everyone had been with a lot of focus directed at the dishes. He added that the idea to bring Amrein to the Philippines had been around even before the pandemic as a treat to both Swiss and Filipinos gastronomes.

Embarking on a 10-course dinner is no easy feat and one that requires much resolve. Dinners this long often have hits and a couple of misses even at Michelin-starred joints in Europe. With 10 courses to prepare, it’s very likely to have one or two come out average. This one, however, proved to be quite an exception.

Seeing the menu, I was expecting to be thrown off by the first course, the Bacalao fritter, which could have overpowered the rest of the hors d’oeuvres. But it was light, airy, and mild. I loved the use of kesong puti in the fern salad and the glass of Bourgogne Blanc 2020 it came with. Capuns often left me feeling overstuffed while living in Europe but that never stopped me from ordering it whenever I saw it on a menu. If you’re a fan of spätzle, this is easily the Swiss counterpart, which is even heavier. Perfect for the winter we are ever so lacking in the middle of Manila’s humid holiday season. Thankfully, air conditioners exist. The capuns came with a tiger prawn and crustacean sauce that would make you want to slurp it off your plate, if only you weren’t seated directly in front of the ambassador. The squid stuffed with sobrassada was divine and the duck ragu with polenta did not leave my head spinning. This usually happens to me when there’s way too much fat on the duck. This one was a lean, juicy bird. It must have gone to Pilates often before it ended up on my plate.

We cleansed our palate with a grape champagne sorbet before we were given a creamy Vacherin Mont d’Or ravioli with some chanterelles or what the German side of Switzerland would call pfifferlinge.

We cleansed our palate with a grape champagne sorbet before we were given a creamy Vacherin Mont d’Or ravioli with some chanterelles or what the German side of Switzerland would call pfifferlinge. Ah, yes. Good luck in pronouncing that. I was ecstatic to see them on my plate knowing how hard sourcing must have been. Chanterelle season ends in late September yet there they were, sitting elegantly on my plate on a humid November day. They were fresh and crisp, like a European summer day. Either the chefs have a really good source here or there was some sorcery involved.

Next came the braised wagyu shank flanked by a piece of foie gras and some potatoes. It was a Swiss dinner. There had to be potatoes. I’m glad to report, however, that they were some of the best I’ve had. Washing it down with a glass of La Rioja Gran Reserva 904—a 2011 if I remember correctly—was a moment of pure joy.

At this point, most of us were stuffed but as a wise Filipino once said, there’s a different stomach for dessert. In my cocky opinion, variations of apple tarts are some of the most boring desserts but that was me before I tried eating it with black sesame crème brûlée as served during our dinner. We concluded the evening with a black and white chocolate mousse that came with tropical flavors through a banana sorbet, some pineapple, and rum. A great way to utilize tart and acidity to cut through the heavy mousse.

Nothing short of impressed, everyone left M Dining + Bar smiling. I couldn’t help but think that this is gastrodiplomacy that’s actually done right—elegant, elevated, exciting.

4,500 shoppers at the IBF Bazaar

WHERE THE WORLD COMES TO SHOP Ribbon-cutting at the Inter- national Bazaar 2022 with guest of honor Sen. Loren Legarda, IBF chair Pamela Louise Manalo (in blue), and SHOM president Rita Laakso of Finland (in gray)

Organizers of the International Bazaar Foundation (IBF) Bazaar often refer to the annual event as “where the world comes to shop.” Why yes, indeed! The world, through their embassies in Manila, also brought fine goods, which left Christmas shoppers pleased.

Sen. Loren Legarda, the event’s guest of honor, commended organizers and expressed support for their work. A long-time advocate of small-medium enterprises and craft, she said she enjoyed visiting the various booths at the bazaar. She also thanked DFA personnel for being frontliners during the pandemic.

Meanwhile, IBF chairperson Pamela Louise Manalo said that “the International Bazaar represents both the diversity and solidarity within our diplomatic community” but “at the heart of it, the International Bazaar is held for a noble cause—to give to those who are in need.”

Ticket sales, booth rentals, and donations from embassies will go to projects of IBF and the Spouses of Heads of Mission (SHOM), including scholarships and livelihood assistance. Over 4,500 people flocked to the World Trade Center on Sunday, Nov. 20, to shop at over a hundred booths with 42 countries represented. There were also participants from the Philippines, selling jewelry, craft, and Filipiniana pieces.