Tapas Night

Here’s my story on the Tapas Night held Saturday April 11 at Green Sun Hotel, which was published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Lifestyle Section, on April 16.

With an abundance of Spanish dishes, cheeses, hams, and delicacies, the event was a prelude to Madrid Fusion Manila, which is being held this week (April 24-26) at the SMX Convention Center, near Mall of Asia, Pasay City.

“GO RIGHT AWAY,” Mrs. Mari de Terry urges my friend Gold and me.  “Go before the ham is all finished.  Usually when we serve ham, it’s gone in 30 minutes.”

Like obedient children Gold and I hurry over to the center of the room, where a man from  Terry’s Selection is carving paper thin slices of Jamon Iberico. There’s a long line of guests waiting to be served Spain’s most coveted ham and Gold and I quickly join the cue.


Jamon Iberico

Just looking at the leg of ham can spark a craving deep in the recesses of one’s soul:

it’s an appetizing rosy red, interspersed with delicate marblings of fat.   No ordinary ham, it comes from pata negra, the indigenous black footed pigs which graze on acorns and aromatic plants in Spain’s unique ecosystem region called the Dehesa.  Curing it takes years; the legs of ham are salted and dried and are left to hang in special barns with open windows so the cool air can circulate around them as they “ripen” in the stillness of Spain’s mountainous regions.


Slices of Jamon Iberico (Photos by Gold Quetulio)

Soon the leg of ham in front of us is carved to the bone, and every bit of ham is taken—but not before Gold and I get our share and taste its exquisite flavor.

Supple, tender, it’s smooth and mellow, whispering of a complex balance of sweetness and saltiness.  The nuances of flavor linger on the palate, stirring desire, creating taste memories.

DSC04146 (2): Tapas Night DOT Undersecretary Benito Bengson, Spanish Economic and Commercial Counsellor Enrique Feas, Spanish Ambassador Luis Calvo

Undersecretary of Tourism Benito Bengzon, Economic and Commercial Counsellor Enrique Feas Costilla and Spanish Ambassador Luis Calvo

Elsewhere in the capacious hall of Green Sun Hotel there are other things to savor.  It is, after all, Tapas Night, a celebration of regional Spanish food and wine organized by the Embassy of Spain and the Spanish Economic and Commercial Office, with no less than Spanish Ambassador  Luis Calvo, Economic and  Commercial Counsellor Enrique Feás Costilla and Undersecretary of Tourism Benito Bengson welcoming the guests.

And what a feast has been laid out. Seven of the best Spanish chefs in Manila José Luis “Chele” Gonzalez and Ivan Saiz (Vask Gallery and ArroZeria), Juan Carlos de Terry (Terry´s), Pepe López (Ramblas), Carlos Garcia (The Black Pig), Nicolas Diaz (Barcino) and Pablo López (Donosti) have prepared tapas from Spain’s North, East, and Central and South regions.

Croquetas of Segovian Suckling Pig with Aji Sauce

Croquetas of Segovian Suckling Pig with Aji Sauce

Many of the tapas are contemporary takes on the traditional ones.

Cochinillo from the Central and Southern regions is transformed into croquetas served with aji sauce.

Puff Pastry Tart with Roasted Veggies and Black Olive Paste

Coca transformed into puff pastry tart with roasted veggies and black olive paste

Pulpo a la Gallega from the North is enhanced by a cream of cauliflower, while coca, a popular tapa in the Eastern region, is made with puff pastry (instead of plain bread) and is topped with roasted vegetables and black olive paste.

IMG_5720: Torta de Casar

Torta del Casar from Terry's Selection

There’s also fideua, noodles simmered in octopus and squid ink, foie gras mousse with mango toast, an abundance of cheeses, from Manchego to Mahón, from the Spanish blue cheese Valdeón to the wine macerated Murcia al Vino as well as a variety of chorizos (del Rioja, Pamplona).


Murcia al Vino



The Spanish wines and liquors are overflowing:  sparkling Cavas, San Valentin and Gran Sangre de Toro from Torres Wines of the Penedés region, Ramon Bilbao Reserva and Real Madrid from the Rioja region and Brandy de Jerez from the South.    I am reminded of previous visits to Spain, when the Spain Tourism Board whisked me from Barcelona to Valencia, to Cuenca and Madrid, to experience and savor the best of Spanish food and wine.

“This is like hopping from one tapas bar to another in Spain,” says Jun Santos of the Spanish Economic and Commercial Office.

Indeed it is, but it’s also just a prelude to the bigger event this month:  the Madrid Fusión Manila, slated for April 24-26 in SMX Convention Center. For this gastronomy congress, chefs from Spain as well from other Asian countries will join forces with Filipino chefs to conduct forums, talk about food trends, show their mastery of culinary techniques, and prepare their own specialty dishes. A trade exhibit will showcase premium food and wine and food service equipment.  There will likewise be tasting seminars and degustación of wines, cheeses and olive oils.

IMG_5773: Tapas Night

Dried figs, apricots and cubes of cheese

Just before we leave dessert is brought to the tables. There’s the inevitable churros con chocolate, and also dried figs and apricots,

IMG_5769: Turrones

Spanish turrones

DSC04158 (1): Spanish Chocolate with Almonds

Chocolates with almonds

turrones and large chunks of chocolates generously studded with nuts.

My mind wanders to Toledo, where once a group and I visited the Delaviuda factory which makes the most scrumptious marzipan and nougat confections. At that time I couldn’t resist buying several packs of turrones, to eat during the trip and to bring home as pasalubong.  This time the confections are as irresistible as they were when I saw them in their Toledo factory some years ago. Gold and I reach for some chunks of chocolate and turrones and  savor them with a goblet of Torres wine.

Madrid Fusión Manila is a joint partnership among the Philippines’ Department of Tourism, the Tourism Promotions Board, Madrid Fusión Organizers Foro de Debate and Arum Estrategias de Internacionalización. It will be held April 24-26 at the SMX Convention Center, Pasay City.  For more information visit www.madridfusionmanila.com

Posted in Articles, Food and travel, Tastes and Impressions, Uncategorized, Updates | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Chef’s Secrets to Cooking Great Pasta

Chef Paolo Nesi’s cooking demonstration at the Maya Kitchen Culinary Center was the subject of my DIY column in last Thursday’s (April 2) issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

A native of Tuscany, Chef Nesi showed the participants how to prepare five Italian dishes the way they do them in L’Opera Ristorante Italiano, where he’s executive chef.

Truly amazing were the oysters,
IMG_5677:  Oysters

which he cooked two ways:  with lemon air and with spinach and cheese sauce.  The oysters were huge, fresh, juicy and very succulent.  Turns out he ordered them from Aklan—and he finds them even better than French oysters.
IMG_5680:  Oysters

Here’s my article on the cooking class of Chef Nesi and his recipe for angel hair pasta with sun-dried tomatoes and spicy extra virgin olive oil.  With two tablespoons of chilies in the sauce, this pasta is spicy indeed.

Make sure to scroll down for his tips on cooking pasta. They’re some of the secrets to making a good pasta dish.

JUST AN HOUR AFTER HE STARTED, Chef Luciano Paolo Nesi was done with his cooking demonstration at the Maya Kitchen Culinary Center.  And to think he prepared five dishes in all: crystal bay oysters cooked two ways (with lemon air and with spinach and cheese sauce); capellini pomodoro secchi (angel hair pasta with sundried tomatoes); scamorza alla griglia (grilled smoked mozzarella with fresh pork sausage topped with balsamic cream); funghi trifolati (assorted mushrooms in garlic and extra virgin olive oil) and panna cotta con miele (panna cotta with honey syrup).

But that’s probably the Italian way. At L’Opera restaurant, where he’s executive chef, Nesi says they cook everything very fast. Not that there’s any short cut involved.  In fact, says Nesi, they make their own pasta from scratch (except for the spaghetti), using durum wheat semolina flour brought in from Italy.

“We use semolina because it’s a hard type of flour,” says Nesi.  “Because it’s strong, it can stay al dente.”

What lets them cook the dishes fast is the freshness and the advance preparation of the ingredients.  Everything must be sliced, chopped, and peeled before the actual cooking begins.

IMG_5702: Chef Paolo Nesi of L'Opera

Chef Luciano Paolo Nesi

A native of Tuscany, Nesi is a certified sommelier who has opened 27 restaurants worldwide in a career that now spans 40 years.  In 1994 he came to the Philippines and, with some Filipino partners, established L’Opera to provide the local scene with “an uncompromising authentic Italian dining experience.” Indeed, L’Opera has been certified by Eccellenze Italiane as one of the Italian excellencies in the Expo Milano 2014-15.  It was also nominated by Manila’s Best Kept Restaurant Secrets as one of Manila’s best Italian restaurants in 2014.

Here’s one of the recipes Nesi prepared at the Maya Kitchen last Saturday:  angel hair pasta with sundried tomatoes in spicy extra virgin olive oil.

Capellini Pomodoro Secchi

(Angel hair pasta with sundried tomatoes in spicy extra virgin olive oil)
Cappelini Pomodoro Secchi e Succhine

12 – 16             c water, for boiling the pasta


200                  grams capellini pasta (angel hair pasta)

1/4                   c extra virgin olive oil

1                      small zucchini (100 grams), sliced thinly into half-moon sizes

½                     head garlic, sliced

2                      tbsp finger chilies, sliced

½                     cup sundried tomatoes, soaked in warm water for about 10 minutes

Salt and pepper, to taste

In a large pot, bring the water to a rolling boil.  Add the salt. Let the water boil for one to two more minutes then add the pasta.  After one minute stir the pasta so as to keep it from sticking.  Let the pasta cook until just before it reaches the al dente stage.

Meanwhile in a large pan, heat the olive oil.  Sauté the zucchini until slightly tender then add the garlic and chilies. Drain the tomatoes and cut them into bite-size pieces.  Add the tomatoes to the pan and simmer for a few minutes.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Turn off the heat but keep the sauce warm.  The sauce must be ready by the time the pasta is cooked.

Set aside about one to two cups of the water used for boiling the pasta.  Drain the pasta then transfer it to the prepared sauce.  Simmer, stirring gently, until the pasta is cooked to al dente stage.  If the pasta looks dry, add some of the reserved pasta water.

Serve immediately.

L’Opera Ristorante Italiano is located at The Fort Entertainment Complex 26th cor. 7th Ave. Bonifacio Global City, Taguig. For reservations call +63 2 889 3963.  The group also operates Balducci Restaurant in Serendra and Trattoria in Shangri-la Plaza Mall.

For more culinary courses in The Maya Kitchen visit www.themayakitchen.com or email contactus@themayakitchen.com

Chef Paolo Nesi’s tips for cooking pasta:

  • Start with plenty of water.  When cooking pasta, the more water you use, the better.
  • After the water has boiled, add the salt. But since the salt lowers the temperature of the water, wait about one to two minutes before putting in the pasta.
  • One minute after adding the pasta to the water, stir it so that the noodles don’t clump together.
  • Cook the pasta al dente or just before the al dente stage—it must still be firm and have some bite.
  • You must have the sauce ready by the time the pasta is cooked.  Then add the pasta to the sauce and finish cooking the pasta with the sauce.  This lets the pasta absorb the flavors of the sauce.
  • If the pasta looks a bit dry, add some of the water used for cooking the pasta (hence reserve one or two cups of pasta water before draining the pasta).  The pasta water contains some of the gluten from the pasta, which will help make the sauce stick to the pasta.

Posted in Articles, Main Courses, Recipes, Tips, Uncategorized, Updates | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Spanish Tapas and Madrid Fusion Manila

With Tapas Night happening soon in Manila (on April 11), I felt inspired to make my own tapas at home for my DIY column in today’s issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Lifestyle Section.  Tapas Night will be the kick off event for Madrid Fusion Manila, slated April 24-26 in SMX Convention Center, Pasay City (near Mall of Asia).

IMG_5661: Spanish Tortilla with Potatoes and Chorizo

Spanish tortilla with potatoes and chorizo

Here’s my DIY column—and the recipe for Spanish Tortilla with Potatoes and Chorizo—as it appeared in today’s Inquirer(Lifestyle section, page C3). With potatoes and chorizo in the mix, this dish is rich and flavorful, yet simple to do.  You just have to master the technique of flipping a plate over the tortilla, then sliding it back into the pan. (See tips.)

MEMORIES OF SPAIN have me dreaming of Spanish food lately.  The paella, churros, gazpacho and turrones that I’ve had on previous trips were unlike any I’ve ever tasted and I’ve tried since then to recreate some of these dishes in my own kitchen.

As if by coincidence, there’s a Tapas Night that will take place on April 11 at the Green Sun Hotel, where seven of the best Spanish chefs based in Manila will prepare traditional as well as more contemporary versions of the Spanish pick-me-ups known as tapas. These chefs include José Luis “Chele” Gonzalez and Ivan Saiz of Vask Gallery and ArroZeria), Juan Carlos de Terry (of Terry’s Selection), Pepe López (of Ramblas), Carlos Garcia (of The Black Pig), Nicolas Diaz (of Barcino) and Pablo López (of Donosti).

Representing different regions of Spain, these tapas will be served with Spanish wines, cavas and other Spanish drinks. The event will actually be a preview of Madrid Fusion Manila, a gastronomic festival slated to take place on April 24-26 at the SMX Convention Center in Pasay City. During this event, renowned Spanish and Asian chefs will discuss the latest culinary trends and techniques.  In addition a trade exhibition will showcase Spanish and Filipino food products such as hams, cheeses, olive oils, wines, fruits and sweets. There will be tasting seminars and degustacion as well. Though the trade exhibit will be open only to professionals the first two days, the general public may participate on the last day. (Prior registration is required. Visit http://www.madridfusionmanila.com/ for more information).

Meantime while waiting for these exciting events to unfold, I tried cooking one of my favorite Spanish tapas at home: Tortilla Española con Patatas y Chorizo.  It makes a delicious first course or appetizer if you’re serving it at a party, but it’s good for a weeknight dinner as well. You can find very good quality Spanish ingredients such as olive oil and chorizo in specialty delis such as Terry’s Selection and Barcino.

To make a complete meal serve the tortilla with bread and Spanish olives.  My favorite drink to go with this? A cold glass of fruity Sangria.

Spanish Tortilla with Potatoes and Chorizo

5                      large  potatoes

4                      tbsp  (1/4 cup) olive oil, divided

1                      medium onion, chopped

2                      cloves garlic, peeled

3                      c water

1 – 2                 whole Spanish chorizo, cut into cubes

6                      large eggs


Peel the potatoes and slice them into thin wedges.

IMG_5642: Spanish Tortilla with Potatoes and Chorizo
Heat two tablespoons of the olive oil in a large skillet and sauté the onions over low heat for about two minutes. Add the garlic and continue sautéing over low heat for about one more minute (use low heat and keep stirring the onions and garlic so they don’t burn).  Add the potatoes and pour in the water.  Simmer until the potatoes are almost tender, about 10 minutes.

Stir in the chorizo and continue simmering for about one to two more minutes.
IMG_5645: Spanish Tortilla with Potatoes and Chorizo

With a slotted spoon, transfer the mixture to a bowl. Wipe the skillet clean with paper towels.

In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs until well combined and fluffy.  Season with salt.  Blend in the potato mixture.  Heat the remaining two tablespoons olive oil in the same skillet.  When the oil is hot, pour in the egg mixture.  Let cook over medium heat until the bottom is set.

Remove the skillet from the heat. Place a large plate over the skillet then flip the plate and skillet over to transfer the tortilla to the plate so that the bottom side of the tortilla is now on top. Slide the tortilla back into the skillet so that the previously top side now becomes the bottom.  Cook the tortilla in the skillet until the eggs are fully set. (See tips.)

Transfer to a serving plate and cut into wedges.  If desired serve with bread and Spanish olives.
IMG_5676: Spanish Tortilla with Potatoes and Chorizo

Cook’s tips:

*Make sure the eggs have set fully at the bottom and partially on top before inverting the tortilla onto a plate. Otherwise the eggs might spill.

*Instead of inverting the tortilla onto a plate, you can invert it onto another skillet of equal size to the first skillet. Brush the second skillet first with olive oil to keep the tortilla from sticking.

* For more information on Madrid Fusion Manila, visit:http://www.madridfusionmanila.com/

More Tips:

*Tortilla is best served when newly cooked.

*A green salad (with your favorite dressing) will also go well with the tortilla.

*For an easy way to make tortilla, get a pan such as EasyCall pan, which has two surfaces.  Instead of flipping the tortilla on a plate, you just close the pan then flip the whole pan over.

* For more information on Madrid Fusion Manila, visit: http://www.madridfusionmanila.com/

Posted in Articles, Main Courses, Meal Starters and Side Dishes, Recipes, Uncategorized, Updates | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Ice Cream That Pleased the Pope

After you eat this ice cream, you won’t so easily be content with other ice cream brands.  Here’s my story on Carmen’s Best ice cream, and how it came to be served to His Holiness Pope Francis aboard the Philippine Airlines flight that took him back to Rome. (Published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Lifestyle Section, page C4, February 26).

WHEN PHILIPPINE AIRLINES ASKED HIM  last December if he could supply them with Carmen’s Best Ice Cream, Paco Magsaysay thought why not?  After all he had previously provided the airline with ice cream for chartered flights where President Noynoy Aquino would be on board. Carmen’s Best was by then already a brand that PAL was familiar with.

IMG_3929: Paco Magsaysay

Paco Magsaysay

In early January Magsaysay received another call from PAL, this time asking him to supply 280 packs of single serve ice cream. He then prepared 140 single serves of malted milk flavor and 140 of brown butter almond brittle.  Feeling generous, he rounded up the order to 300, adding 20 packs of pistachio ice cream.

Little did he know that the ice cream would be brought on board the flight that would bring Pope Francis back to Rome after his papal visit to the Philippines—and would be served to His Holiness.  When Magsaysay found out that the Holy Father had tasted—and in fact had two servings—of his beloved ice cream, Magsaysay was floored.

“Just the idea of the Pope touching the cup of ice cream and eating it–!” Magsaysay exclaimed.

But even before Carmen’s Best went onboard the papal plane, some members of the Vatican had already had a taste of it.   A few days earlier, Magsaysay’s cousin, Brother Michael Valenzuela, FSC, who’s on the board of some La Salle schools and is institutional animator at the College of St. Benilde, had asked him to supply ice cream for the papal entourage and the Swiss guards who were billeted in Hotel Benilde (which is owned and operated by De La Salle).  Paco obliged with 30 free pints of his most popular flavors; reports have it that the papal entourage loved the ice cream.

Perhaps no other ice cream deserves such a high honor as to be served to His Holiness.  Carmen’s Best, after all, is to ice cream what Kobe beef is to steak:  the highest grade, the most luxurious, the most coveted.  Where other brands use UHT processed milk, Carmen’s Best is made only from pure fresh cow’s milk and cream sourced directly from the family’s dairy farm.  Moreover, says Magsaysay, they don’t pump air into it.  They also don’t add water and other additives.

Indeed, the word “tipid” is alien to them.  For vanilla, only the finest vanilla beans from Madagascar are used.  The pistachios come from Sicily, the malted milk from England, the chocolate from Switzerland.  If the flavor is supposed to contain almonds, there is sure to be an abundance of almonds in every tub.
IMG_2642: Carmen's Best Ice Cream

The result is ice cream that’s dense and creamy, with no rough edges.  Every spoonful has a roundness, like a fluid, well rehearsed symphony that starts and ends seamlessly.

The brand has certainly come a long way from its humble beginnings in 2011, when Magsaysay first dabbled in ice cream making. At first he only wanted to maximize the milk production in the dairy farm of his father, former Senator Jun Magsaysay (son of the late, beloved president Ramon Magsaysay).  Using a small ice cream machine, he began with the three basic flavors: vanilla, chocolate and strawberry.  When the ice cream turned out to be good, he realized he could do something more and began expanding his production and experimenting with other flavors.

Magsaysay’s first customers were his neighbors in Alabang.  But word soon spread about this artisanal ice cream that was so lush and velvety it was unlike any other ice cream in the market. To fill customers’ need, he established pick up points in Alabang and Makati, aside from making customized ice cream on special orders. To update his skills, in 2013 he took the Ice Cream Short Course in Penn State University—and finished with the top prize, the Keeney Award.

Today, Paco continues to raise the bar in ice cream production. Strict food safety measures are observed and fresh milk and cream continue to be the prime components that give the ice cream an incredibly rich texture and mouth feel. IMG_2654: Carmen's Best Ice Cream Magsaysay says he even monitors the food that the cows eat because it affects their milk production. And though he knows he has sufficient milk supply because of his father’s farm, he is honorable enough to pay the proper market rate and keep his payments updated.

From the three basic flavors, Carmen’s Best now comes in 40 flavors that include both the traditional and unconventional: from pistachio almond fudge to baklava, from salted caramel to Brazilian coffee, from cookie dough to Nuts About You, a maple-based ice cream with pecans, walnuts and almonds. Likewise, from two pick up points, the distributorship has expanded to include major supermarkets such as Rustan’s and Pure Gold. He’s also thinking of exporting to Southeast Asian countries soon.
IMG_3936: Carmen's Best
Not surprisingly, Carmen’s Best has won a number of awards. It has been given Best Choice Artisanal Ice Cream Brand, was overall winner in Our Awesome Planet’s Ultimate Taste Test and cited in the Manila Survival Guide’s Five Best Artisanal Ice Cream Brands.

Awards and recognition aside, Paco uses Carmen’s Best not just to make the best ice cream in the market but also to continue the Magsaysay legacy of giving to the community and helping others.  Since first starting its operations in 2011, the company has been donating part of its proceeds to the PGH Medical Foundation. Today, its contribution has reached P100,000.

Pope Francis will surely be pleased.

Carmen’s Best Ice Cream is available in Metro Manila in some branches of Rustan’s Supermarkets, Pure Gold, and in Centrum Building, Ground Floor, 150 Valero Street., Salcedo Village, Makati.

Posted in Articles, Behind the Scene, Tastes and Impressions, Uncategorized, Updates | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment