Can your househelp cook a truffle pasta?
A veritable explosion of liliums, yellow roses, calla lilies, hydrangeas and pine leaves, the floral centerpiece looked dramatic in an heirloom antique silver bowl.
The vivid yellow and orange, tempered by green and aubergine, recalled the wedding motif of businessman Roy and Rosario “Sari” Jorge. For their 18th wedding anniversary, they invited their entourage to celebrate a quiet dinner at home.
The size and height of the centerpiece was just right, giving the guests room for the buffet of roasted leg of lamb stuffed with chorizo and served with romanesco potatoes and mint salsa. The grilled prawns and salsa verde were set on a plate from Portobello Market in London, a memento from the Jorges’ honeymoon.
The truffle pasta matched the richness of the main courses, while the salad with soft-shell crabs, mangoes and apples provided a healthy alternative. The meal ended with custard fruit tarts.
The Jorges’ residence is a blend of rare Filipino antiques and modern furniture, thanks to style arbiter Leo Espinosa.
Recreating the presidential table, Sari adorned the 18th-century balayong table with a moss green table runner, decorated with liliums, hydrangeas and wispy pine leaves.
Candleholders, also from the 18th century, lent history to the decor. Orange candles echoed the wedding color motif. Instead of name cards, photographs of each member of the principal entourage were inserted in linen napkins.
Adjacent to the dining table, an 18th-century altar table became the station for the wines and Murano glasses. The faded wood of the antique table brought out the strong colors of the Federico Alcuaz abstraction, “Tapestry.”
The atmosphere was a collaboration between Sari and her household help.
“The maids follow the recipes and already know what to do,” said Sari. “Each was given a responsibility. One was tasked to do the preparation; another the sauces, while the other grilled and fried.”
From rich to restricted
A resource person for entertaining and recipes, Sari is better known for 25 Mushrooms, an informal school for domestic help, named after their home address in Pasig.
It offers courses on theme meals, table settings and service. Sushi-making, Thai, Filipino, Vietnamese and Spanish meals are the popular classes.
When the school announced a course on suckling pig, 90 students signed up.
Reflecting a food trend, ramen classes have become in demand.
“There are no shortcuts to making the broth,” she explained. “You need 10 hours to make the soup creamy.”
There are also requests for healthy cuisines such as Mediterranean food. For Cohen dieters, Jorge has developed recipes that are tasty despite certain food restrictions.
“The Cohen limits the salt and commercial broth cubes, so we teach them how to use spices such as paprika, cumin and herbs,” said Sari. “They can learn to make mock eggs Benedict from poached egg with vinaigrette with a spinach salad, cilantro grilled prawns and cinnamon apples with Splenda.”
For desserts she recommends pies and tarts since they are less complicated to learn than cakes. Panna cotta can be prepared the night before and served with fruits.
Sari’s school has attracted followers on Instagram (mushrooms_kitchen). Proud homeowners post photos on Facebook (25 Mushrooms Kitchen) of what their maids learned.
A spin-off of her classes is the successful recipe book, “Tastes of Home,” published by National Book Store. In English and Tagalog, the book compiles 50 recipes including kiddie meals and a guide to table setting. Two months after its launch, the book is on its second printing.
Coming from a family of good cooks—her mother, Martita Guinto Reyes, was a caterer—Sari studied at the International School for Culinary Arts and Hotel Management. She worked in the food and beverage department of Catalina Canyon Resort in California, where she learned the nitty-gritty of catering and entertaining.
Back in Manila, she began catering for friends and taught her mother’s waiters the fine art of service.
In time, friends married to expats began seeking her help, faced with the dilemma of short-term maids and planning menus for family meals and for special events.
Their help would go to the Jorge residence and learn how to prepare a menu that included chicken, beef or pork, salad, noodle and dessert. Sari taught precision in following the recipes, yet made them simple to follow.
News of the lessons spread by word of mouth. More and more househelp were sent to the Jorge residence.
In time, homemakers, local and expats started joining the classes.
The foremost concern of the hostess is food and wine. Helpers are taught the whole package, from hygiene and sanitation to formal table settings, napkin folding and from which sides to serve the food and clear the used plate.
What would she recommend for surprise guests? “Grilled steak and baked fish,” Sari said. “You don’t have to deal with the oils.”
Baked prawns can be easily cooked with butter, cilantro and garlic. Salmon could be quickly served with garlic, capers and anchovies.
Kiddie meals? Children love anything cream-based such as Sari’s smoked chicken sandwich and baked macaroni with four kinds of cheeses—gruyere, fontina, gorgonzola and parmesan—or a simpler baked mac with cheddar, cream cheese, salt and pepper.
One of Sari’s most memorable dinners in her residence was the 70th birthday of her mother. The living room was filled with tall floral and foliage arrangements in crystal vases.
The menu included pan-seared foie gras, mushroom turnovers with mango vinaigrette salad, and filet mignon with morel cream sauce.
Sari and her sisters brought desserts from the best bakers such as Baby Yulo’s strawberry shortcake and turtle pie, Mara de la Rama’s caramel torte, and Roshan Samtani’s lemon torte and Mexican trifle.
Sari underscored the importance of having a good mix of guests. “Everybody should know each other already. It can be awkward when they are not familiar with the other guests,” she said.
“A beautiful table setting means that the occasion is special,” Sari noted. “If you’re on a budget, you can buy attractive plates and silverware at Landmark or Dapitan. Don’t be scared to bring out the silverware. I don’t hide ours. We use our heirloom silver even on ordinary meals so that my children get exposed to them. They learn to appreciate their value.”
Although maids are trained for table service, Sari still suggests hiring one seasoned waiter for a stress-free event at home.
Classes are held in the clubhouses of Valle Verde 5, Pasig City and Merville Park, Parañaque. Call 6314822.
Tips for training maids
1. As cooking is a science, exact measurement is needed. Make them understand that not following measurements ruins the flavor. The future success depends on the exact replica of the recipe. Familiarize them with measuring tools, find substitutes for these tools. Insist on making them learn conversions.
2. Teach nuances. For instance, in pasta dishes, use wider noodles for heavy sauces and finer noodles for roasted vegetable sauces.
3. When ingredients are not available, cooks and maids avoid cooking the recipe. Always be ready with substitutes.
4. Recipes online are not always reliable, as some bring mediocre results. Invest in books published by chefs.
5. Teaching should not be a cut-and-dried rendering of measurements and steps. Make it a visceral experience. When sharing recipes of foreign dishes, talk about the country, the culture, the setting in which the food is prepared. Make them taste the ingredients. If they are learning truffle pasta, let them sample it.
6. In entertaining, engage the maids in role playing. They should know what it feels like to be a guest so they understand the latter’s expectations. Let them experience table service in a formal setting.
7. Food safety is taught, from marketing to serving, to avoid food-borne diseases. Maids should learn the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points standards from 25 Mushrooms, a method which prevents biological, chemical and physical dangers in food preparation. They should learn how to hygienically handle fresh produce, meats, poultry and fish.
In a graphic illustration, maids are shown how bacteria can contaminate food; they learn the dangers of leaving food at room temperature for a long time. They are also taught to use color-coded chopping boards to avoid cross-contamination.
“You’ve got to be very visual when you explain. This makes maids more attentive,” said Sari.
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