No Filipino welcome is complete without a feast. Yesterday evening’s welcome reception for the APEC Economic Leaders was no exception. Apart from a stirring cultural performance, delegates and guests were also treated to a sumptuous menu envisioned by Via Mare founder Glenda Barretto and Margarita—better known as Gaita—Forés of Cibo.
The dishes themselves were superbly executed, but the overall concept was simple. “We [presented] what is classic, national in taste,” says Glenda, “like flavors of adobo, tinola, kesong puti, itlog na maalat…” But the dishes were plated in a modern manner, Gaita adds. The dessert, for example, was classic maja blanca presented in a “very edgy, modern way”—with smoked coconut merengue and lambanog-poached mango.
The dishes also benefited from modern preparation techniques. Citing worries about texture consistency, Glenda shares that for the seafood soup they had to grind the lapu-lapu meat and the prawns, and prepare them into quenelles: “That way, even if we reheat it, the texture is still [the same], and the taste is really tinola.” Then there is the sous-vide method, which Gaita credits for the success of their beef entrée. “We’re all secure that the 700 guests [got] a wonderful, juicy, tender piece of meat that evening.”
This marriage between old and new, classic and modern, is also reflected in the chefs themselves, as well as their staff. “Tita Glenda has always been the master, premier in presenting our cuisine to a global stage,” Gaita says. “Combining the two of us…speaks of two different eras, but then we’re delivering one big message about what’s great about our country.” She also cites the age ranges of their teams, which have “very senior people” but also “a lot of younger ones now [who] are exposed to the new techniques.” Glenda, who catered for the APEC 1996 meetings in Subic, shares that four of her headwaiters from last night’s dinner had previously served as butlers for the 1996 Leaders—a span of almost 20 years!
All this diversity—in terms of dishes, techniques, and styles—added to Glenda and Gaita’s enjoyment of the whole process. Glenda says that she enjoyed preparing, testing, and tasting everything (“I think we both got fatter,” she joked), as well as collaborating with staff members, who contributed their own ideas.
Challenges, however, abound in any large undertaking. Some they had to consider were the venue—“That’s always a real challenge, to do off-site catering,” explains Gaita—security, and the large number of guests, several of whom have dietary restrictions.
Even so, for all the dishes they prepared, the ingredients they used were local, sourced from all over the country. “We have the best-tasting tiger prawns,” says Glenda, who used lapu-lapu and sugpo for her yamang dagat tinola. For the entrée as well, they used sigarilyas, pink heirloom rice from the Cordilleras, and ubod cooked with Davao blue cheese.
Gaita shares that they wanted to showcase the uniqueness and diversity of our ingredients. “All these…microgreens and herbs that we’ve taken for granted, that we thought were just weeds in the garden, are things that very important restaurants abroad have highlighted.” She explains that this is why they chose to use “provincial” vegetables like alugbati and sigarilyas. “It’s great that we realize now that all these [local ingredients]…are actually quite unique for [foreigners], things that they don’t have in their parts of the world.”