Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Kitchen Vaudeville - and Other Crooks

Sometimes I wonder that if I were in any way as pretty as Catherine Zeta Jones, I wouldn't have much problem in the kitchen or dealing with men in general. Looking at such beautiful face in the mirror everyday might be enough to tell you that the gods are kind after all. And, for all that beauty promotions in the media, you won't have any difficulty choosing what to put on your face..because... because you are already naturally beautiful. You bun your hair, slip on that kitchen jacket and start working on the sauce. You never had to worry who's going to ask you out for a Saturday night.

Would you have this babe cook for you?

But whether or not you look like Zeta Jones, the kitchen life is full of dramatic incidents- such that your own life is like a vaudeville of flavors, dramas, funny and awkward moments...toss all of these together and there you've got a nice movie stew. Funnier, because you happen to be a woman working with a bunch of unpredictable men- swinging from genial artists to mad scientists doing kitchen experiments in the stock room.

To further illustrate our topic, I am presenting to you the colorful cast:

1. Javert - Four years my senior, he does French- Mediterranean cooking. Has a habit of sleeping in the kitchen office, taking a bath in the sink, and smuggling fancy ingredients home. A true kitchen genius, he has a talent for making women melt in their kitchen clogs. You'd wonder if that was just a natural charm, or if he was charmed by you as well... those stares across the kitchen, those nuzzling on your neck when you are peeling potatoes... Opening the kitchen once, I caught him slouched on the couch in his chef's whites, snoring after a long night of booze- and god knows what else. "I ain't no womanizer! I swear!" - he said, jerking from sleep, and swearing that he looked like a turkey so early in the morning. I nodded. Dangling from his backpack - with his knives- was a lacy red bra. Beware, though, when Javert cooks, you will really levitate.

2. Pablo - Has worked at Portuguese and Chinese kitchens touring all over Asia. A quiet and laid- back guy, he could toss vegetables in a wok which will remind you of Jet Li. Continuously asking for your number from the other cooks, you might mistake him for a stalker- sending you emails that are enough to make you choke on a banana. "I am shaking whenever you walk in the kitchen, chef. I swear. I adore you." He will beat around the bush to get your attention- talking from the perfect Portuguese tarts to yakiniku - the end of all is that he just wants to have a date with you.

3. The Sugar God - A non- cook, but has a great power over our supply chain. Keeps you up late at night talking on the phone, and, if you are not firm enough to keep your guards up, you might book plane tickets and fly to his place the following day. Owning acres of lands, he would talk about how his farmers would smuggle fertilizer in the black market; talks about taxes. When I gave him pain au chocolat once, he put it in the microwave and the chocolate filling splattered all over the machine. "I'm not gonna eat this thing again."

4. Foodhuntress - Main task besides cooking and doing maths, is to be fully composed when steams rise. From mediating between two men about to stab each other (true story, a day ago) to working on the recipe manual, to hiring and firing people, to talking to contractors, to research on market prices for supplies - probably it is because of such busy- ness that she forgets she is in a vaudeville after all.
Status: Currently not dating.
You can walk into a room feeling like a hot babe, and just as you thought that lovely women don't have any difficulty with men, you might think more than twice. Sure, you might not put 100% attention on what you put on your face, but you have to deal with crazier things with those creatures from Mars.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Food- and Poetry From a Deserted Island

My favorite hobby on a quiet night. Poetry by the lamplight.

somewhere i have never travelled

somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond
any experience, your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully, mysteriously) her first rose

or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully, suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;

nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility: whose texture
compels me with the colour of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens; only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands

e. e. cummings

If You Forget Me

I want you to know
one thing.

You know how this is:
if I look
at the crystal moon, at the red branch
of the slow autumn at my window,
if I touch
near the fire
the impalpable ash
or the wrinkled body of the log,
everything carries me to you,
as if everything that exists,
aromas, light, metals,
were little boats
that sail
toward those isles of yours that wait for me.

Well, now,
if little by little you stop loving me
I shall stop loving you little by little.
If suddenly
you forget me
do not look for me,
for I shall already have forgotten you.

If you think it long and mad,
the wind of banners
that passes through my life,
and you decide
to leave me at the shore
of the heart where I have roots,

that on that day,
at that hour,
I shall lift my arms and my roots
will set off to seek another land.

if each day,
each hour, you feel that you are destined for me
with implacable sweetness,
if each day a flower
climbs up to your lips to seek me,

ah my love, ah my own,
in me all that fire is repeated,
in me nothing is extinguished or forgotten,
my love feeds on your love, beloved,
and as long as you live it will be in your arms
without leaving mine

Pablo Neruda

I Carry Your Heart

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in my heart)
i am never without it(anywhere i go you go,my dear;
and whatever is done by only me is your doing,my darling)
i fear no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)
i want no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it's you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root
and the bud of the bud and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;
which grows higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

e. e. cummings

Ode to Salt

This salt
in the salt cellar
I once saw in the salt mines.
I know
you won't
believe me
it sings
salt sings,
the skin
of the salt mines
singswith a mouth smothered
by the earth.

I shivered in those
when I heard
the voice
of the salt in the desert.
Near Antofagasta
the nitrous
a broken
a mournful

In its caves
the salt moans, mountain
of buried light,
translucent cathedral,
crystal of the sea, oblivion
of the waves.
And then on every table
in the world,
we see your piquant
vital light
our food.

of the ancient
holds of ships,
on the high seas,
sailor of the unknown,
by ways of the foam.

Dust of the sea, in you
the tongue receives a kiss
from ocean night:
taste imparts to every seasoned
dish your ocean essence;
the smallest,
wave from the saltcellar
reveals to us
more than domestic whiteness;
in it, we taste finitude.

Pablo Neruda


The Field
Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing,
there is a field.
I'll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase
each other
doesn't make any sense.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Foodhuntress's Baby... On The Way

We often hear from the metaphysics gurus that you are what you repeatedly do. Circumstances arise from mere thoughts; the physical world is made of pure energies that emerge from the abstract. We are what we create out of our lives, and all these creation arise from where else- but our thoughts.

I guess the same theory applies to me because of my repeated listening to stage plays. When we were growing up, my sister used to listen to Miss Saigon while "Do You Hear The People Sing" was a natural anthem to my ears. Now my sister literally got herself into "a strong GI's embrace"... for godssake.

I have to confess, I am almost bursting with the anxieties of birth. The checklists, the plans, the what-to-do's... this is my first time.

And while I stay late at night doing food costing on Excel,

Insolent boy!This slaveof fashion basking in yourglory!Ignorant fool!This braveyoung suitor, sharing in mytriumph!

Angel! I hear you!Speak -I listen . . .stay by my side,guide me!Angel, my soul was weak -forgive me . . .enter at last, Master!

Flattering child,you shall know me, see why in shadowI hide!Look at your facein the mirror -I am there inside!

CHRISTINE (ecstatic)Angel of Music!Guide and guardian!Grant to me your glory!Angel of Music!Hide no longer!Come to me, strange angel...

I am your Angel ...Come to me: Angel of Music ...

Listening to that music for years now has got something to do with my alleged... 'pregnancy.' But I am feeling a little guilty because I am into an affair ever concealed in the shadows, considering that the one responsible for my 'baby' is involved with someone else. Why, can I resist the intensity? Can I be a fool to fall in love? Could it be a big mistake to... to be responsive to one's passion?
Here's the analogy to that predicament. There is the reality and the real reality. Raoul, Christine's lover, is a creature of reality, the safer, easier choice. And there's the Phantom, the other lover, who's the rightful genius behind Christine's career. A glass-melting chemistry, a perfect merging... and yet, the wrong circumstance. So they meet at night. He makes the music, she sings.
The Phantom could very well pass as a figment of Christine's imagination, but such imagination materialized into a triumphant end: a fantastic music all for the world to hear. What could be a better end to a love affair?
In essence, you can choose to believe the reality you want to live in- the physical world that you see around you, or, you can choose to believe the reality that your mind chooses to see: all that is loving and creative. In this realm is where all creation takes place, whether it is of music, literature...
- and if you're a chef, could it be possible that your 'Phantom' provides the recipes... and you cook?
That is exactly how my 'baby' was conceived. The passionate meeting in the shadows.

On this site is where my 'baby' will be born.

Due: October 2009

Monday, June 22, 2009

...And Don't Forget Those Old Houses

I have a strange fascination for old houses- the kind that the early ilustrados lived in back in the days. In our community, there's just a lot of them we call 'haunted houses' - just because. Old kids' tales, if you ask me.
Foodhuntress circa 2005. That house behind me is a house of a landed family. Walking into the door, into the marbled halls, I was reminded of old parties of the Spanish family who used to own it. It was brought down in 2007.

Spanish house in Irosin, a town in Sorsogon. The occupants lived in the second floor while the ground floor is used as a granary or bodega (warehouse).

An old lighthouse.

This one is better- maintained than the ones I saw earlier. When you go inside these houses, you'll only be fascinated by the polished hardwood floors (which I like sooo much), the long dinner tables, the four- post beds with curtains...hmmm. I like. As a teenager, I would go with my best friend Frances, who has much of a Spaniard in her veins than Filipino, to one of her grandmother's old houses. Endless feasts took place on the grand tables, while all the preparation were done in the huge kitchens at the back. This is where I learned my basic Spanish cookery...cocido, embutido, callos, paella...

Church bells, too, I like. Where art thou, Quasimodo?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

A Preview: Enrique's Coffee Table Book

I hardly use this blog to advertise the two restaurants I opened this year but this one for sure is something that I should never miss.

Meet my brother Enrique . This kid is launching a coffee table book he has been working on the past months. I heard that the idea of the project sprouted during those beer sessions at the old apartment together with my sister Maria Victoria. Four bottles, five bottles... and genius speaks at its loudest. (You see, beeer is good for you.)

This is the first coffee table book to be produced by the province (I - we - grew up here, ok)- all aimed at promoting tourism and ecological preservation.

The front cover:

A few peeks at the inside pages...

Sorsogon Map. Sorsogon is down south of Manila... about 12 hours drive or just an hour by plane.

Mountains, rivers, and lots of fresh air. That mountain in the background is actually an active volcano.

Rice fields.

Life's a beach. With white sand.

Life is really a beach.

More beach.

And more!

A lagoon.

Old Spanish church ruins. A place called Barcelona. Strange, isn't it. We're 100% Asians with so much Spanish influence.

Kingdom of the King Crab.

Go diving with the whale sharks.

Food. Tropical fruits, etcetera...

Fish be with you...
Pili nuts and other whatnot. Souvenirs!

Back cover.
Coming soon!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Midnight Kitchen Workshop

It's 11 pm and you're up in the kitchen doing your thing. I love it.

If you live alone and you can't sleep (because of too much coffee sipped the whole afternoon), I think a nice preoccupation is to stay up at the kitchen in your sleeping gown and do something. I took out some argula and leftover smoked bacon and thought of a dish where I could put the two things together besides pasta or salad.

Not really knowing what to do with the two ingredients, I flipped through one of my books.

Madame Julia Child has been very inspiring with her cooking techniques. Every time I work at something derived from her writings, I could almost hear her "voice" in every word written there. I don't think there'll ever be any culinary female who could be as legendary as her.

Then I started getting my colored pencils to move.
Hmmm... HB Eggs on a Bed of Arugula... the left over smoked meat can be topped on the filling...
After a few minutes, your eyes start to droop. The caffeine is starting to subside and you want to sleep because you have to work tomorrow.
A few minutes more and you're in that REM... half expecting that Julia Child will spring to life and give you the trade secrets of grand cuisine.
Your clock says 1:09 am.
After placing the food in the fridge, you turn the lights off and fell on the mattress.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

When Steams Rise

Mood: Bored, anxious, confused, un- challenged, un-creative, low energy...

Remedy: Meditation. Zen- ness.

Friday, June 12, 2009

More (Pissed Off) Musings of a Kitchen Apprentice

Times like these - when I'm all slouched on my computer desk reading work- related mails is when I really think of my career life over. I get so bored at the on- going problems brought by too many little governments in our company... the operations, the marketing... the copycats (who I wanna tell- take your hands off my kitchen!) Has my life- and taste for fine food really deteriorated?

To go into the details would be like being a little too immature- I might get executed by my boss and other members of the board room who I know are reading my blog. This is a personal page and I am entitled to express everything... the devil may care.

Well this is my point. Much as I wanted my chefs to participate in the conceptualization of new ideas, I should have known that there's a peril to it after all. So true was the saying that too many hands ruin the cake. The other day, a leaflet landed on my lap and a stranger (who happened to be a chef) approached me, "You see that banner of yours over there? That menu was copied from this..."

I wanna scream. "You're nothing but second-hand, trying hard- ...!!"

I thought from the start that it was an original idea of a chef from the south. Now I realize that that menu was full of crap... you would know it at first glance on the recipe because baked macaroni is made with a crappy concoction. In a way I could blame myself for this. But I remember that at the time when such project was presented to the boardroom and I was making comments, the board room people were opposing my suggestions including my boss (who at that time I was into a heated argument with). So there you got it- you won't listen to your executive chef, and now you had your way. And the one who speaks against it - to me now- was a total stranger. Of course, the chef who made it won't go into the frontline of the war- I do. (I defend you all when things got screwed, helpless brats... Now, pay homage to Sun Tzu!)

Really, I wanna throw a chopping board against the wall.

I mused much about my kitchen life. Five years I have worked with a highly respected man in the business (which I really consider my true mentor) , whose sense of values and business ethics provided the true grounds of my career. All employees who underwent his tutelage enjoyed many privileges in the culinary world- the first choice of employers from everywhere. When I was having interviews, the interviewers asked all sorts of question of what the secret of Boss Mao* was. However, when I got here in the company, it was all too different.

God, Boss Mao's art of war was entirely passive. He didn't give leaflets to customers to come to him - he stayed put, made good food and the customers by natural instinct went to him. The marketing strategies of our company right now puzzles me.

If I didn't learn the other rules of the kitchen from Boss Mao, then at least I learned refinement, business ethics (utter professionalism in the truest sense of the word) and a pioneering attitude. Boss Mao was an originator of things, not a follower of them. That alone, even if your boss screams at you, is enough to earn your respect.

My current boss had sometimes told me that I can get all too cocky - speaking my mind and answering back when all the board room people are "yes- man". (I.e., "What makes you think you're better than anyone from the group?") I despise the free lunch with the board room people and stay in the kitchen with my cooks. I stayed at the kitchen in my chefs whites during the opening of our new restaurant (while everybody was rubbing elbows with celebrities) and looked over the food. I said, my place is in the kitchen and not in the limelight.

Times like this is when I look back at the great people who influenced my life. Sometime this week I sat in a monthly meeting of the managers. I wanna cover my ears at the exchange of words (i.e., the cursing, the labeling at the people who were not around, etc.). I sat there as an observer. I said, I'd rather have everyone think of me as snob, indifferent - throw any crap - but I am embracing the fact that I do not belong, and cannot belong.

Besides, Boss Mao also taught me to be bold.


If you want a taste of Boss Mao's creations (and see for yourself what I'm talking about- quality business that is), here's a preview. Click on this link and enjoy the menu. Or better yet, go to the branch nearest you.

*Name was changed? Oh, but you got it right there at the links.