Cebu brings out its best for Apec 2015
As President Aquino said in his welcome speech for the Cebu edition of the ongoing Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) Summit, “I hope that, apart from my welcome, you will be able to feel the warm welcome of the Cebuano people, who are renowned for their musicality and hospitality. After all, you are in the Philippines’ Queen City of the South, and I hope you can take time off your busy schedules to enjoy its pristine beaches, its vibrant metropolis and most importantly its people, who are living proof that it is indeed more fun in the Philippines.”
The organizers and the Cebuano hosts took to heart the President’s words. Apec 2015 spared no expense in showcasing what Cebu and the Filipino people have to offer.
Here are eight things that wowed Apec delegates when they visited the Queen City of the South:
1) When in the Philippines, wear barong.
Senior Apec delegates got the rare chance to wear the barong Tagalog designed by internationally renowned Filipino designer Jean Goulbourn. “I’ve always been fascinated by old Filipino items,” said the designer, “such as our clothes, fashion, embroidery and weaving. But I believe sincerely that we’ve got to tweak it. Some of our wardrobes are very formal. I want to tweak it so we can wear it anywhere.”
Discussing the embroidery she fashioned with her team, Goulbourn added: “I got my ideas from very old wood carvings… for the patterns of the barong, the ideas came from Filipino warriors—the patterns carved on their shields, especially the Maranao shield.”
Some of the design patterns were also derived from native Filipino weaving traditions, such as the t’nalak of the T’boli tribe of South Cotabato.
To be sure, the colors of the patterns that Goulbourn used are more bright and upbeat, a reflection of her own ethos in design: playful, hip, but still timeless.
Other designs were distinctly modern and playful, like the barong patterned with little jeepneys.
“One of the requirements for the clothes was to make it look fresh and crisp since we are in Mactan,” the designer said. “So we went for resort dressing. They couldn’t really wear my other type of silk, which is the handwoven silk. That would be too hot. We resorted to linen which is airier, and cooler for the wearer.”
Senior representatives wore Goulbourn’s barong at the Sept. 11 Apec meeting at The Marquee in Shangri-La’s Mactan Resort and Spa.
It was in that meeting that delegates approved the Cebu Action Plan and unveiled the specially sculpted marker that would commemorate the historic event.
2) Toym Imao’s bronze sculpture
“When people ask me, ‘Are you an artist, a designer, a sculptor, etc.?’ I just tell them I’m a storyteller,” said sculptor Toym Imao. “I shuttle from one medium to another. I think the bottom line is storytelling, no matter what medium it is.”
It was Imao, son of National Artist Abdulmari Imao, who made the marker for the Apec summit in Cebu.
“The marker is four meters high (13 feet), the main sculpture looks something like a balanghay, like a sail, and also looks like a torch at the same time,” Imao pointed out, adding that he gave his design an Asian flavor.
“I wanted to do something that’s also, on a surface level, easy to perceive and understand, but at the same time having a discourse or a deeper meaning underneath,” he explained. “So, it’s basically a cross of a sail and a torch, and also is a representation of weaving together different fabrics, and at the same time representing the currents, the motion of currents within the region.”
The four granite pillars represent the four pillars of the Cebu Action Plan: financial integration, advancing fiscal reforms and transparency, enhancing financial resilience and accelerating infrastructure development and financing.
Dough direct from France
3) A taste of Paris in Cebu
Apec delegates and guests were treated to a luxurious French boulangerie and fine dining restaurant right in the heart of Cebu City.
La Vie Parisienne restaurant’s chic interiors adapted design elements from Sino-French motifs. Cebuanos are thankful to the Lhuillier family for bringing the restaurant to Cebu.
“We fly in our bread dough directly from France,” said Michel Lhuillier. “We created a little France in the heart of Cebu. Our macarons are a must-try. They come here frozen. There are no macarons in the country as authentic as ours.”
Its croissants are delicious. Lhuiller said that the European butter used in making the croissants adds to the flavor and extra flakiness of the pastry.
Lhuillier treated us to a wonderful meal to showcase his chefs in La Vie Parisienne. The meal started with appetizers of mango and mozzarella Genovese, creamy spinach soup and gravlax salmon—raw salmon, cured in salt, sugar and dill.
He also opened a bottle of red wine, a 2011 Bordeaux Chateau Fombrauge. It was exquisite.
The meal’s appetizer was fried foie gras with mango chutney. The foie gras’ salty-savory taste was a perfect foil to the mango’s sweetness.
The main course consisted of grilled scallops with vanilla sauce, served with mashed potatoes drizzled in white truffle-infused olive oil and ratatouille.
Dessert was chocolate fondant with mixed berries and granite mint.
Lhuillier gave us his opinion on Cebu as a global attraction. “Cebu has nice beaches, people are nicer, not as aggressive as those in Manila,” he said. “I’ve traveled around the world, but still, I love Cebu. My businesses are here. Of course I would like to see more progress. With Apec, I’m just hoping that the market would get bigger…
“The things planned by Apec are very good,” he added. It will create more business in Cebu. Then you’ll have more people moving here. From Mindanao, they come here. Manila is too congested, and it’s really a rat race. Here, it’s a better life. If the Cebu Action Plan, and the plan to make the whole Cebu an international hub, happens, and it’s done properly, I think it’s all good. Our market will become bigger.”
4) Paradise in Abaca
Apec delegates and guests experienced a bit of paradise when they visited Abaca Boutique Resort and Restaurant.
Executive chef Patrick McCarthy was on hand to tour them.
“Abaca is very unique in Cebu,” he said. “We have nine rooms, the guests get their own butler, our service is on par, if not better than Amanpulo. The quietness of the surroundings is well appreciated by the guests as well.”
The rooms are Oriental in theme, with strong Filipino interior touches, evident in the dark wood accents and woven rattan furniture and room accessories.
The restaurant in Abaca is well known. The cuisine has an international theme.
“The menu is Mediterranean-Californian,” said McCarthy. “We have homemade pastas, we’re also known for US Black Angus steak. We have a local bakery that supplies us with freshly baked breads daily.”
No. 1 hotel in Cebu
The popular travel website TripAdvisor has ranked Abaca Boutique Resort No. 1 among the 27 hotels in Cebu City.
McCarthy gave a sample of some of the best items in Abaca’s menu. There was a Cuban Sandwich Set Lunch: slow-roasted pork with cornichons, mustard aioli and roasted onions. The meat melted in the mouth.
There was also a homemade soup of asparagus with black truffle oil and organic salad with microgreens.
The Parma Pizza consisted of freshly sliced prosciutto with confit garlic, chili, arugula and parmesan toppings. The dough was freshly made in-house and the pizza, thin and chewy, was baked in wood-fire ovens.
Our favorite dish, something we would definitely go back to Abaca for, was the Pappardelle Pasta—braised veal with mushrooms, fine herbs and parmesan. The veal topping was rich and thick in consistency, but not overwhelming to the palette.
5) Ferimar’s accessories
Together with the spouses of Apec ministers, we visited the accessories atelier of Ferimar, established in 1989 by Iris Fernan Arcenas.
Ferimar is a leading manufacturer of handmade costume jewelry and handbags.
The company is known for using natural and recycled materials in its designs. Coconut shells, abaca, pandan, recycled seashells, newspaper and banana fibers are but a few of the materials used by Ferimar.
“We still continue to work with different brands in Europe,” said Arenas, “and we manufacture rafias, bags, shell products, whatever the buyers need for us to produce.”
She added: “We normally work six months before the fashion season, we get inputs from the fashion gurus, we consult trend forecasting, the works. We pick from different trends, and then design our collection from there using our design instincts.”
The Apec spouses were visibly impressed with the craftsmanship and quality of Ferimar’s products.
“The fashion market is gearing toward organic materials,” said Arenas. “And fortunately, our country has an abundant supply of them. Because of global awareness of the environment, more and more companies now look to us for designs, materials and finished products. With Apec and the continuing integration of markets abroad, our industry has a big edge.”
6) Walking tour of Parian
Georgia “Jaja” Chiongbian-Rama of the Cebu City Tourism Commission took the delegates around the old Parian district of Cebu City.
The place has been experiencing a revival in recent years; old houses and other historical sites are being renovated and reintroduced to the public as cultural gems.
Pocket activities cater to locals and tourists every Friday,
6 to 11 p.m.
The old Parian Street in Cebu City came alive with noise, the smell of barbecue, and the clip-clop of horse-driven carriages.
At past 10 p.m., everyone was transported to Spanish colonial times. The streets became congested not with vehicles, but with calesas and dancers in traditional Filipino clothing.
The tour made a stop at the oldest residence in the Philippines, the Jesuit House on Zulueta Street. A marker indicates that the structure was built in 1730.
The Jesuit House is now a museum called Museo Parian sa Sugbo 1730. The property and its surrounding areas have been wonderfully preserved.
Apec delegates were awestruck at the pristine condition of some of the areas of the museum.
As an interesting side note, one of the walls in the oldest part of the Jesuit House mysteriously “weeps” or becomes encrusted with salt during summer.
The beautifully preserved Yap-Sandiego House formed the backdrop for the Bisita sa Parian night activities. There was traditional folk dancing and singing in the streets fronting the ancestral house.
At the same time, guests could view the street activities from the airy second floor of the house.
The Yap-Sandiego house is a museum as well, filled with curios and trinkets from our country’s glorious past.
At the courtyard, we sampled Carcar lechon. Rama herself served the fabled dish known far and wide as the best lechon in Cebu. The sauce comes from the drippings, and the meat is tender and savory.
7) Fashion show in a historic house
Apec spouses and delegates watched a fashion show and partook of a degustation meal in the beautiful Circa 1900 restaurant.
The place is an old mansion-turned-restaurant. The sprawling grounds, typical of mansions at the turn of the 19th century, were a joy to behold.
The restaurant, with its high ceilings, wood carvings, white washed walls and dark wooden floors, was the perfect venue for a fashion show organized by renowned Cebuano designer Philip Rodriguez.
“It was a pleasure to showcase something very Filipino to the Apec,” said Rodriguez. “I wanted to show them a contemporary twist in classic Cebu fashion. So I mixed old and new design trends, so that the designs would go well with the ambiance of Circa 1900.”
He said he divided the collection into two parts: “First was the Old Cebu designs printed on the clothes. Second was the mountain farms, with all the flowers, also the subject of all the paintings in the venue.”
Manton de Manila
He added: “And, of course, I wanted to celebrate the 450 years of the Manila Galleon Trade. So I incorporated into my design, an ode to that early international cooperation.”
He pointed out that the Manton de Manila became popular in Spain because it was brought there by the Galleon Trade. “The Spaniards thought it was a thing from Manila, hence the name, but it was actually a Chinese shawl sold by Chinese merchants at that time, brought by the trade through Mexico to Spain. It was early global trading, so I showcased it in the fashion show.”
8) Meeting the mistress of chocolate in Cebu City
Cacao plants were brought to the country from Mexico in 1670, making the Philippines the first in Asia to grow cacao.
Cebu, being the oldest Hispanic province in the country, has a rich chocolate history.
Raquel Choa of the Chocolate Chamber Boutique talked about how her grandmother passed on to her the art of chocolate making.
“I’m preparing the chocolates I’m serving now the way my grandmother used to do it,” she said. “She would prepare my chocolate drink everyday before I went to school. I needed to cross seven rivers before I reached school, so my grandmother would always give me this drink to give me stamina. Her own mother always told her that a glass of tablea can go a long way.”
Apec ministers and their spouses were treated to authentically prepared chocolate batirol drinks, flavored with different spices.
The Chocolate Chamber Boutique itself has a wondrous selection of tablea rolls, chocolate pralines, Alfajores (soft delicate cookies), chocolate rice crispies, chocolate mango nuggets, ganache truffles, coconut chocolate truffles—the works.
It was the perfect ending to a global meeting of cultures and thoughts—just like the Apec.
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