Sylvia and Jill – teacher and student are now both masters

12 04 2009


I’VE ALREADY professed my love for Chef Jessie Sinsioco here.  This time, I’d have to do the same for two more artists of consummate skill in the arena of Philippine cuisine – Jill Sandique and Sylvia Reynoso-Gala.


I have been a faithful follower of Secrets of the Masters since it started, but quite obviously, I haven’t been able to write about what I think of each episode – of each chef actually – since I’ve been quite swamped at work.


But I just have to for these two ladies.  (And as you shall see towards the end, for Ms. Issa Litton too!)


CHEF JILL SANDIQUE’s episode is airing right now, as I write.  I first saw her as the special guest judge in a Ka-Toque cook-off (among the show’s resident chefs).  I haven’t heard about her then.  And she wasn’t giving highfalutin critique of any of the dishes that was presented to her.  I mean, she wasn’t speaking to “impress” the televiewers.  But I did feel already that she was a young force in the culinary industry.  How?  I could tell it from the way each Ka-Toque chef was painfully shy – a bit afraid even, I guess – in presenting to Chef Jill Sandique his or her creation.  It was a case of a barely discernable smirk or a slight pursing of the lips that could spell doom.  It was as if Chef Jill didn’t need to speak at all and they would already know if the dish would have better been left in the kitchen.


Tonight, she whipped up a menu that started with an appetizer, a salad, then a main course, and of course, a dessert.  My use of “of course” in the previous sentence is beyond the need for an adverb.  It is in the literal “as-might-be-expected” sense, especially since Chef Jill is well-known to be one of our country’s top pastry chefs.  Her cheesecake is the stuff of legend!  (eNTeNG’s Note:  I haven’t tasted it yet though.)


For the “first dish” a.k.a. appetizer, she made a Tomato & Chorizo Quiche Pinoy Style, served with baby arugula on the side!  Now, how can a savory quiche go wrong with my favorite greens on the side?!  Chef Jill and Issa agreed that the secrets to a quiche are the custard base and the crust.  Her salad course, Mesclun of Baby Greens with Dried Kamias Vinaigrette, takes the cake for creativity!  She used dried kamias – picked and dried by herself! – as the star ingredient that infused the characteristic flavor to her vinaigrette.  She didn’t put mustard at all because, in her own words, she wasn’t going for a classic dressing.  Undeniably, the salad fuses all the basic tastes into a melange of flavors that can only be truly Filipino!  Duck Braised in Basi Vinegar, Muscovado Sugar & Star Anise was in store for the main course, served with Stewed Fruits of dried mangoes, figs and raisins on the side.  I don’t really crave duck – except for The Good Earth Tea Room’s “Duckquitos” – but what Chef Jill prepared with a distinctive Ilocano flavor cooked in the Visayan way was really something.  The combination of the sour (vinegar), sweet (sugar) and fragrant (star anise) very well summed up that what Chef Jill was preparing could simply be a “Duck Humba.”  It sure looked yummy, and as always, Issa made a genuine assessment of the dish (I loved how she compared and contrasted duck and chicken meat!).  Mad brownie points for Chef Jill as well for showing two ways to prepare it – “isang pang-restaurant, isang pambahay” (one of the restaurant, one for home).  Capping off a fantabulous night, she made a towering “summer Christmas tree” that was her Mango & Walnut Torte, made of classic meringue kisses (baked from scratch – oh, can this be store-bought?), whipped cream, and fresh mangoes.  Crispy, chewy, sweet, and creamy all at the same time!


The one thing I really loved about Chef Jill Sandique was how sincerely and profusely she paid tribute to her mentors – the Ms. Glenda Baretto of Via Mare fame, and the Ms. Sylvia Reynoso-Gala who she called as her first teacher on professional cooking and baking.  It all the more made sense to me that her episode is coming right on the heels of Ms. Reynoso-Gala’s that was shown last week.


Clearly, the teacher and the student are now both masters!


CHEF SYLVIA REYNOSO-GALA’s episode was the most fun I’ve seen.  It’s just too bad I wasn’t able to write real-time then.  But I do remember that hers was the most family fun episode too as she brought along her very well-brought-up and very amiable children Chefs Morella (did I get it right?) and Ernest (whose column in the papers I follow).  For someone of her stature in the industry, it was very refershing to see her so warm, so motherly.  Without a doubt, a lot of wannabe chefs can take a cue from her on how not to be consumed with all the “celebrity.”  She also kept saying that she doesn’t believe in keeping her culinary secrets to herself.  She shares them!  Which I guess is the ultimate secret of her decades-long culinary school, itself an institution here in the country.  I loved it that her episode made use of one technique for all her dishes – cooking or baking in the oven.  The Roast Beef Wrapped in Bacon, the Roast Spanish Chicken (Pollo Iberico), and the baked fish dish were all mouth-watering!  And oh, I remember she made some kind of Greek or Mediterranean salad too.  She used feta cheese but also offered the tip to use our local “kesong puti” (cottage cheese) instead.  This cheese she said to be “lasang langit!” (heavenly divine).


The one thing that really jumps off from the screen the whole time I was watching Chef Sylvia was her humility in light of all the success she has had.  And yes, her very perceptible love for her family.  All I can say is that she is in the perfect profession to profess her love – for her work and for the people she nourishes with her work.



And now, something about the Issa Litton!

Issa Litton is really growing on me!  I guess that I’ve never seen her at her best as a host than on this show.  I like it that she has become really effective in putting into words the experience of trying each dish the masters whip up.  I have to say that hers is quite a very enviable position!  Hahaha!  On a lighter sidenote, she subliminally sends off the message that we can eat most anything and still look great – it’s all a matter of a holistic lifestyle.  And I guess, everything in moderation.  And one more thing, I like her hosting skills in the sense that she doesn’t allow any “dead air” on the show.  I mean, the master chefs sometimes get to be at a loss for words as they get all caught up in the execution of their art.  It’s on these instances that Issa articulates whatever’s going on – with perfect timing, almost impeccable enunciation, and never overdone.  She looks brainy, never at the mercy of a teleprompter.  Great job!