A lesson on spontaneity from a gracious host
As Julie Alegrado proves, the basic principle of hosting is to let spontaneity have its way
“I have crazy friends, so we normally have crazy dinners,” says Julie Alegrado, once she’s done setting up a table where immaculate white touches meet native ornaments, the arrangement betraying none of the mayhem she has just implied.
At the Bluewater Maribago Beach Resort, which Alegrado helms, the dining table with a view of clear waters, partially veiled by thin white curtains, may well be your classic caricature of calm. She protests, however. “It isn’t usually like this. Normally, it’s crazy. It’s just lechon in the middle and we [ eat with] our fingers,” she says, laughing. From her unusual food pairings to her spontaneous dinners by the sand bar, Alegrado’s charm lies in her candor and her penchant for all things crazy.
What do you mean when you say you want to be the ambassador of what Filipinos are all about?
If you’re familiar with the John en
Marsha series, John and Marsha would give up their bedroom [ when they have people over]. John would sleep on top of the refrigerator because they’d given up their bed for their guest. That’s very Filipino for me. [ Here at the resort,] we do all to make sure that Filipinos are comfortable. Filipino is everything from how we treat our guest to how we love our children.
How often do you host dinners?
Normally, my hosting is done by the beach. We take out boats and go to a sand bar. We’d have a feast on the boat— a boodle on the boat! The lechon will be the centerpiece. We’d jump into the water, swim, go back, and have some more food. That’s how I host normally. You can get this [ usual table setting] in Manila and anywhere else, but if you take guests to a sand bar, on a boat, with a boodle where you eat with your fingers, that’s an experience they won’t forget in a long, long time.
And you prepare champagne there like you do here?
Yes, of course! I bring a lot of champagne. That’s my drink of choice. Champagne, bubbly—I like Hava. I like wines [too]. My favorite now are the Bordeaux wines.
You said you don’t really cook. Do you get someone to plan the menu?
I don’t cook, but I do play around in the kitchen sometimes if I’m in the mood. I invented—well, I thought I invented it— the chocoron, which is chocolate-covered chicharon. [It came about when] I [was eating the] chicharon in a buffet and then started eating the chocolate cake with it, and it tasted so good! I called my pastry chef and said, “Can we put these two together?” Voila!
What kind of food do you usually serve? Is it all Filipino?
Of course, being Cebuano, my favorite of them all is lechon! I love sinful food. A good friend of mine set up a healthier, all- natural type of business: Pili and Pino. We ventured into jams, and now we have granolas. I experiment a lot with food. I usually come up with crazy stuff [ even if I] don’t cook. The chocoron was really a hit. The other one, before it became popular, is bacon with chocolate. Recently, Human Nature wanted to do something different like a trail mix. I dried some rice, puffed it, [ mixed in the]
dilis, the fried fish, and added some beans and [ slivers of ] dried mangoes. It’s the Pinoy Trail Mix. I think that’s the craziest thing I’ve done.
What are rules a good hostess has to follow?
If there are vegetarian guests, know their preferences before serving dinner—or at least have choices in the menu. Food is really important; I have to make sure that the people around me are enjoying what I serve them. Also, invite people who are fun. If I invite strangers, I should know the personalities of each one. I should know who will get along well with whom around the table. When everyone’s having fun, you’ll be more relaxed.
What is the perfect gift for a hostess?
When people ask me that, normally I just tell them to come. Their presence alone is a great gift. But if they bring wine along, hey, even better!
“Filipino is everything from how we treat our guest to how we love our children.”