Only in Secrets of the Masters!

2 05 2010

I JUST caught the latest episode of Secrets of the Masters – this one with the tagline, “On the road!” – and I couldn’t help but feel a sense of pride, both for the wealth of culinary talent we have, and the sustainable bounty of the sea and the earth that can find their way to our dining table.  Chef Boy Logro was the featured culinary master and he did a wonderful job getting this message across.

The Taal Volcano and Lake

The show took me on a gastronomic adventure of Tagaytay City and the surrounding Taal Lake.  Chef Boy, together with a couple of guests from the Taal Vista Hotel, prepared a total of five dishes that put local ingredients on the spotlight, front and center.

He started with Al Horno Ostras Y Quesillo (Baked Oysters with Kesong Puti), an homage to the bivalves that thrive abundantly in the city’s nearby waters.  I like the potent mix of whirred greens (basil and spinach among others) that he slathered on to each oyster.  It’s so much better than a solitary, sad spinach leaf that makes it to a Rockefeller.

Pinausukan Yaman Taal ng Maliputo at Unsoy” (Steamed Maliputo Fish with Unsoy Herb) featured this fish that is indigenous to the Taal Lake.  The poaching liquid used was a heady mix of Chinese wine, oyster sauce, some kind of mushroom sauce, onion leeks, and pungent ginger, among others.  But the star flavor comes from the “unsoy” herb, also indigenous to Tagaytay.  I don’t think I’ve ever come across it – unless it’s some hybrid or derivative of the “wansuy” (fresh coriander).

The Taal Vista “Bulalo” (beef bone marrow in a ginger broth with fresh vegetables) by Chef Babes Austria brought this dish to a whole new level as her broth used coconut water!  I was also fascinated by her use of a whole vine of fresh peppercorns, but more so by her presentation of the soup in a coconut shell.

Crispy Taal Lake Tawilis with Tagaytay Micro Greens in Calamansi Vinaigrette featured yet another seafood that originated locally, the “tawilis.”  It was cleaned (gutted), then seasoned with salt and pepper before being dredged in flour and then deep-fried to a crisp.  It was served on a bed of the baby greens and dressed ever so lightly with the simplest of vinaigrettes – just fresh calamansi juice, salad oil, salt and pepper.

Herbs Aromat Crepe with Tagaytay Tinapa and Seafoods began with an “unsoy” herbed crepe.  Chef Boy swirled his batter to perfection on a lightly greased non-stick skillet that I scrambled for paper to take down the proportions of his “perfect” batter.  Each very thin herb pancake was filled with seafood – mussels, fillets of Maliputo fish, squid, and smoked tawilis – before getting nestled on a layer of bechamel sauce, smothered with mozzarella cheese, and then baked.

I’ve often wondered why Filipino cuisine hasn’t shattered the glass ceiling of international renown.  At some point I thought that probably its because unlike the Thai with their sweet basil and Tom Yum, the Vietnamese with their mint and pho, the Chinese with their peanut oil and dim sum, the Japanese with their miso, nori and raw fish, and the Indian with their curry, Filipino dishes aren’t yet defined by a unifying flavor or ingredient.

But one thing is for sure.  We come from an archipelago blessed abundantly by nature, with talent that is truly on a par with the best in the world.  Secrets of the Masters shows us exactly that.

Copyright © 2010 by eNTeNG  c”,)™©’s  MunchTime™©.  All rights reserved.

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!




I love Chef Jessie Sinsioco!

9 03 2009

I LOVE Chef Jessie Sinsioco!  I just really have to come clean and get that out there.  You will know why, shortly.


Last night, I was able to catch the third episode of QTV 11’s Secrets of the Masters.  Featured was Chef Jessie Sinsioco of Le Souffle fame.


Comfortably settling on the couch, with my laptop in tow (as I needed to work on some presentations), I was half expecting to not pay attention to the TV.  It would take a hell of a lot for the TV show to wrestle my eyes away from PowerPoint and my ears to tune out from the “key message bullets” queuing up in my head.  Having said that, I still had high expectations of Jessie Sinsioco, as she has got to be one of the country’s top chefs.


I have to say though that I haven’t tried eating at Le Souffle yet…  something about French cuisine intimidates me (hahaha!).  The farthest I had gone to being French was with croissants and onion soup.


And to think that as a popular book says, “French women (and probably men) don’t get fat!”


I sensed that Chef Jessie Sinsioco was a bit shy – though adorably at that – from when the vivacious Issa Litton introduced her.  Her declaration that, “I prepared a full course meal …” was enough to capture my undivided attention.  And didn’t I say Chef Jessie was adorably shy?  Because that alone was actually enough to demand my worshipful watching.  I shut off my laptop with one closing motion of the lid.


One thing I immediately noticed about Chef Jessie was that she was a bit uncomfortable being interviewed on TV by Ms. Litton (but she handled it well all throughout the show).  But the moment Ms. Litton hollered something like,  “Chef Jessie Sinsioco, take it away!”  “take it away” Chef Jessie did.  She took charge from that point on.


With her trusty knife on her right hand, and ingredients on the other, Chef Jessie transformed from an adorably shy, reluctant celebrity chef, to a master.  Her authority and conviction could now be sensed from the way she spoke.  She was sure of herself and in control – but someone who didn’t strike fear (in spite of her stature).  And while this was so, I got that feeling that I could just be in the same kitchen with her, and she could be my aunt showing how to cook.  And it wasn’t surprising to know that this was exactly how she got started in her now-successful career in making edible works of art and heart.


She started with a Salad of Grilled Black Tiger Prawns with Heart of Palm, Alugbati, Micro Arugula, Crispy-fried Indiam Papadom in an Arrenga Vinaigrette.  Whew!  That’s quite a mouthful.  I could cut its name short – and just say salad(?) – but that would do an injustice to Chef Jessie’s masterpiece.  I couldn’t wait to be able to source out all the ingredients needed for this salad  – the arrenga vinegar foremost – so that I could make a first-hand assessment.  But with what the TV afforded me, my mouth watered.  Really!  The presentation, with the bed of alugbati leaves nestling the “tower” of heart of palm, the prawns, the papadom…  was superb.  It had a play of colors and textures.  It had height.  I could imagine the crunch from the heart of palm (julienned per Chef Jessie), the peppery-nutty bite from the micro arugula, and the sweetness of the beautifully “ribboned” grilled black tiger prawns.  The use of arrenga vinegar for the dressing really intrigued me.  It was the first time I have ever heard of it.


I loved the soup course – Cream of Sweet Potato with Malunggay.  Yes, the ingredients are quite healthy to begin with, packed with naturally occuring nutrients.  But what I liked the most was that Chef Jessie’s procedure validated my own way of making chicken broth (miropaux, with turnips!)…  making the cream soup (all-purpose cream is the finishing touch)…  sauteing with a lot of onion leeks…


There was no preparing me for what Chef Jessie had in store next.  As if pulling from a bag of tricks, she declared, “Ostrich Bistek!”  In full, the dish was called Ostrich Bistek with Pickled Vegetables and Garlic Fried Rice.  She turned to Ms. Litton and opined that ostrich is the healthiest meat – no cholesterol, low in carbs and low in calories.  When her sous chef laid the piece of meat on the cutting board, I couldn’t help but notice how it resembled a fresh slab of sashimi-grade ahi (yellow-fin tuna).  She cut the meat into discs and pan-grilled them to medium doneness.  On a separate pan, she whisked together her ingredients for the bistek sauce (bistek being a loose Filipino term for steak…).  Still on another pan, she made the garlic fried rice.  The plating was perfection.  Ostrich meat discs spread out like a fan, topped with sweet onion rings, then doused with the bistek sauce.  On the side, she piled freshly made pickled vegetables (I’m keeping her recipe!) and the cone-shaped (she made it herself) garlic fried rice.  I died of envy when Ms. Litton started devouring the dish!


As Chef Jessie is actually a (French) pastry chef, she made dessert (and of course, she had said at the start it was a full-course meal).  I’m not one who adores macapuno or anything coconut, but I would probably give her Flambeed Macapuno with Jackfruit Compote and Mantecado Ice Cream.


Apart from her very creative dishes – she really seems quite inventive and confident with her choices and decisions – what I liked about Chef Jessie Sinsioco is the quiet, unassuming air about her.  She is articulate and sure of herself, without ever feeling the need to make a faux accent.  This just makes her more endearing to me.  And the way she ran the show, I sensed her control and the absence of any need to impress me (as the audience).  Without trying to, she actually managed to do it – impress me.


When she said towards the end that her secrets are hardwork and being grateful, I couldn’t agree more.  She has been extolled by many a lifestyle magazine or restaurant critic – time and again – but she has clearly never lost sight of what her purpose in life is.  I really admire her now.  There clearly is more to her than what I have read all these years.


And who knows, I’d probably give Le Souffle a try.  After all, now, I love Chef Jessie Sinsioco!