THE ZAM­BALES REN­DEZVOUS

In this char­ity din­ner, the coun­try’s cel­e­brated chefs, artists, and de­sign­ers of­fer some­thing un­ex­pected on the ta­ble

Northern Living - - FEATURE - TEXT DEVI DE VEYRA PHO­TOG­RA­PHY TAMMY DAVID

Sooth­ing mu­sic from a wind and string ensem­ble wel­comed guests to the gar­dens of Casa San Miguel in early Oc­to­ber. The event was a char­ity cham­pagne luncheon for the ben­e­fit of vi­o­lin­ist Coke Boli­pata’s Cuer­das Cu­a­tros com­mu­nity arts pro­gram.

“This pro­gram started in 1996 with me and my sis­ter, Plet, teach­ing lo­cal kids un­derneath mango tree,” Boli­pata re­counts. Since then, the com­mu­nity out­reach project has pro­duced five gen­er­a­tions of teach­ers, “and the most num­ber of mu­si­cians dis­trib­uted among or­ches­tras,” Boli­pata proudly con­tin­ues. The project also ex­panded in Tondo with teach­ers men­tor­ing 24 chil­dren in the area. The event’s pro­ceeds will go to planned ex­pan­sions which in­clude pur­chas­ing in­stru­ments, har­ness­ing more teach­ers, as well as ren­o­vat­ing an at­tic space to add more teach­ing cu­bi­cles.

For the char­ity event, Boli­pata called on a fel­low Zam­baleño chef, Vic­tor Magsaysay, to craft the menu. Magsaysay spent sev­eral years in Paris man­ning the kitchens of Ja­panese tapas bars Ito Iza­kaya and Ito Chan, and be­fore that, he worked as a chef at Sake­bar, a sis­ter restau­rant of Miche­lin-starred Sola. He gave a lot of at­ten­tion to the de­tails, draw­ing a stel­lar cast of cre­atives for the ta­blescapes, say­ing, “the to­tal ex­pe­ri­ence was de­lib­er­ate be­cause, to me, hav­ing din­ner is like hav­ing mass—it’s al­most re­li­gious.”

The repast’s high-con­cept pro­file starts with a starkly sim­ple menu printed on brown pa­per—its cover de­signed by cel­e­brated artist Elmer Bor­lon­gan with the cui­sine writ­ten at the back. Fash­ion de­signer Vivien Ram­say, a Zam­bales res­i­dent her­self, cre­ated the out­size linens which were meant for re­use as a neck scarf or pocket square. The gi­ant prawn on the ta­ble nap­kin—silkscreen printed in­di­vid­u­ally with

tal­isay leaf paste—was “an im­age that would sig­nal a feast,” Ram­say shares. “I chose the pig­ments be­cause the har­mony of indigo and am­ber makes you feel both calm and hun­gry,” the de­signer con­tin­ues.

New York-based flo­ral de­signer Joji Duque gath­ered pieces from Mia Casal and Eric Paras for his ar­range­ments to evoke the prov­ince’s ter­rain, dis­play­ing cone-shaped vases crowned with lo­cal flora set on wa­ter-filled trays that he dec­o­rated with moss. Plet Boli­pata’s cro­cheted fishes dot­ted Duque’s as­sem­blages. And just to make sure ev­ery­thing ran smoothly, Magsaysay brought Dou­glas Senes on board. The French­man is a restau­ra­teur, and he trained the staff of Casa San Miguel on the high art of wait­ing.

As guests set­tled in their seats with Duque’s daz­zling scenog­ra­phy be­fore them and Ram­say’s linens urg­ing

their ap­petites, the mood was set to sam­ple Magsaysay’s pre­sen­ta­tion of Zam­bales fla­vors. For the chef, the event was an oc­ca­sion to re­dis­cover lo­cal food af­ter be­ing away for so long, fur­ther say­ing that “I went away as a de­signer and here I am back as a cook. Even if I grew up with th­ese veg­eta­bles, spices, etc., I now taste them with a new ed­u­ca­tion about cook­ing.” The menu was the­mat­i­cally di­rected with the chef ’ s home prov­ince in mind. “The way I cook right now is very much in­formed by the move­ment in Paris. Mod­ern French cui­sine is very sim­pli­fied with a lot of in­flu­ences, es­pe­cially Ja­panese in­flu­ences,” Magsaysay ex­plains.

From start to end, the dishes would re­veal the chef ’ s art and re­fine­ment. Magsaysay in­tro­duced an un­usual fu­sion of spices, so del­i­cately aligned that it leaves the palate chas­ing af­ter the fla­vors. His com­mand of his method is ev­i­dent, not just with the taste and tex­tures but in the vis­ual out­come.

The repast starts with a ref­er­ence to the chef’s child­hood fa­vorite, the sugar-coated tin­udok­tu­dok sold in the mar­kets of his home­town, Castille­jos. Magsaysay pre­sented it as a sa­vory starter. The round gluti­nous balls skew­ered on bam­boo sticks look fa­mil­iar but a bite into the morsels re­veal an ex­otic twist. In­stead of sugar, the gluti­nous orbs are dusted with toasted co­conuts mixed with palapa spices from Maguin­danao. Magsaysay’s ce­viche is a more del­i­cate take on the tra­di­tional ki­lawin where the chef re­placed the ro­bust taste of onions, gar­lic, and chili with sub­tle hints of mint, guava and red radish.

The babay­ote (or bar­racuda) was a fa­vorite among guests. While most would have sim­ply fried or cooked the fish as the stan­dard sini­gang, Magsaysay chose to smoke it in guava leaves served with a side of singka­mas stewed in tapuy (a lo­cal brew), seaweeds and a dash of soy sauce. The fish was served with a mound of fish roe soaked in squid ink, its form al­lud­ing to the la­har that man­tles swathes of the Zam­bales land­scape. “I like to put black in my plat­ings,” Magsaysay says. “It pro­vides a con­trast and high­lights the other el­e­ments of a dish. It’s like eye­liner,” the chef says with a laugh.

The chef ends the seven-course de­gus­ta­tion with a sim­ple dessert of vanilla ice cream, with just a trace of lime rinds. “It used to be com­pli­cated, but now ev­ery­thing is sim­pler and more direct,” Magsaysay ex­plains. “You know what you’re eat­ing and what you’re get­ting.”

Af­ter the hearty de­gus­ta­tion, guests wan­dered off to the con­cert hall where Boli­pata treated his pro­gram’s pa­trons to mu­sic. Plet and Bor­lon­gan also opened up their pri­vate space to tours. For those who wish to lend sup­port to Boli­pata’s ad­vo­cacy, there will be an­other farm-to-ta­ble fundraiser slated for Jan­uary 2016. This time, Magsaysay will be look­ing fur­ther North for in­spi­ra­tion. The menu will be de­signed by Paris-based Ifu­gao artist Gas­ton Dimag, and the fare will be cen­tered on the up­land prov­ince’s pro­duce. With good mu­sic, and Magsaysay’s de­light­ful cui­sine, it’s some­thing that all en­thu­si­asts of cul­ture and culi­nary shouldn’t miss.

Chef Vic­tor Magsaysay, with the help of restau­ra­teur Dou­glas Senes, put to­gether a luncheon for the ben­e­fit of Cuer­das Cu­a­tros com­mu­nity arts pro­gram.

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