Going to a friend’s condo unit, I was puzzled that a little boy was going the same way. He must have been puzzled as well because he kept looking at me. We both waited at the door and when it was opened, he was called out by name, Theo Marmonier.
And there Theo was again when his parents launched their new line of jams. Pierre and Andrea Marmonier welcomed me the same way they did when I went to their production place in Mandaluyong. That was two years ago, when I discovered The Fruit Garden line of jams. It was at a store and the packaging attracted me. The bottling was impressive, as well as the design of the logo. I think what lured me to know their story was that Pierre was French and yet he was doing his jams here.
Pierre used to work for a tobacco firm that brought him on assignment to many parts of the world. In North Africa, he felt that his family was safer if they lived here, his wife Andrea Allemany’s home country, so he asked to be assigned here.
The idea of producing jams harks back to Pierre’s memories of summers in France where his mother made jams from the cherries he picked from the tree in their yard. He felt it necessary to use the traditional way to make those jams. That included employing copper cauldrons, which Pierre explained doesn’t react with the fruit and distributes the heat evenly, preventing scorching in some areas.
Our grandmothers did have the same idea when they used the tacho to cook sweets, our own copper vat. But Pierre also uses current technology like a refractometer to check that the sugar content is just the right level (more sugar in a solution refracts light more).
While Pierre did the cooking, Andrea bottled the jams. The Fruit Garden jams are handmade in that sense. At the time, the flavors were divided into three basic fruits, then those were combined with other ingredients. Mango was mixed with ginger, spices and lavender; pineapple with mango and coconut rhum; strawberry with mint and banana. It was surprising to be told that lavender is available locally.
Since that time, The Fruit Garden has added new mixes to its line, and a lunch was prepared at The Chef’s Table at Bonifacio Global City, which employed the jams to create flavors for the dishes. Pierre had broached that idea during our first meeting when he said the mango-ginger jam could be mixed with coriander to stuff fish for grilling, added to pancakes and yogurt, and used to layer chocolate mousse with mango-lavander.
That idea was going to be realized by the restaurant’s owner and chef, Bruce Lim. Those who watch Asian Food Channel’s “Tablescapes” and “The Next Celebrity Chef” will find chef Lim’s big presence familiar. That day, he had four courses with the new jams all combined with mango on a table.
The starter was seared prawn salad with a vinaigrette using the Mango-Durian jam. I’m so glad that Pierre and Andrea were quite adventurous and added durian to their mixes. The durian’s aroma (I like the smell) dominated, but taste-wise the durian was rather muted. For those who like durian, this can put a smile on your face, probably for sheer audacity.
Chef Bruce made a perfect grilled pork belly that was previously marinated in Mango-Guyabano jam for five hours then wrapped in plastic very well, the pack simmered in water for a low-tech sous vide method. Again, you could discern the jam flavors, wonderful with the pork and the snow peas that accompanied it.
Mango-Langka was used to marinate prawns that were placed in banana leaf pouches and baked there. The technique is in the fashion of Panay’s tinuom, food in the pouches then steamed or grilled. While my tablemates didn’t want rice, I asked for it, the better to taste the sauce from the jam and prawns.
Jam in dessert is not a new thing. But chef Bruce cooked the saba bananas with the mango-langka jam and then had the jam also in the ice cream topping. Irresistible. You can imagine how delicious that was.
I hope Theo Marmonier continues his parents’ business and make new jams from our many local fruits.
The Fruit Garden products are available at Dusit Thani, Hyatt and Peninsula, at the Market Deli in Makati and True Deli in Timog Ave., Quezon City.