Since I missed the first two charity dinners called “Open Kitchen” at Nomama Restaurant, I made sure I attended this month’s. It featured guest chefs JJ Yulo and Namee Jorolan.
Nomama is a restaurant in Quezon City (Scout Tuazon cor. Scout Castor), near where I live. But the convenient location is just one of its qualities. More important, I like eating there, quite surprising since the food can be described as “fusion” and I don’t take well to a way of cooking that can cause confusion.
But when a chef like Him Uy de Baron is trained in the classical basics and has the work experience, his Japanese fusion can work. One of his ramen dishes, for instance, is infused with Thai green curry and for dessert, apple gyoza are really like small apple tarts.
For “Open Kitchen,” chef Him offers his kitchen as venue, and he and his staff to work with different chefs who create dinners and who indicate which charity the proceeds go to.
For June, chefs JJ Yulo and Namee Jorolan partnered in catering and adventurous events like tours and guerrilla diners, where people are directed where to go for a meal without a clue about the menu (Pinoy Eats World).
Jorolan belongs to the family that owns and runs Everybody’s Café in Pampanga. She took up culinary studies in Chicago and worked in several restaurants in Chicago and California.
Yulo studied in New York, then worked in restaurants.
Mystery dinners are too much excitement for my age, but when Him hinted that there would be spring lamb from a local farm, that was enough to make me curious.
Yulo and Jorolan were behind the counter of the, yes, open kitchen. They were assembling the cocktail pass-around pieces and how those tasted and looked augured well for the coming menu: cubed watermelon skewered with Japanese pickled ginger, tofu and pickled cucumber; crab cakes cooked with bacon and corn touched with wasabi; and fresh steamed mussels spiked with kimchi.
When diners were asked to take their seats, three kinds of tostadas were brought in, crisp chips with different toppings. There was smoked and fresh Chinook salmon from the clean waters of New Zealand where, I am told, the fish is not indigenous but apparently thrive in farms.
Another is Kitayama beef (wagyu raised in Bukidnon) with uni butter. And a salad of mushrooms sourced from a Lipa, Batangas, provider called Ministry of Mushrooms.
Salad need not be boring when strips of ubod (heart of palm) had grilled squid stuffed with crab and garnished with crab fat.
Then pork and prawn ramen was very Nomama in its Thai curry flavors.
Finally, the lamb sourced from a Negros supplier appeared in two styles: ribs were grilled and glazed and the more meaty part braised with beer. They were tender and tasty, ditto for the mushrooms, and because we were sharing this dish with our table, the pieces were gone in a few moments.
One tablemate said to expect good dessert. It was bread pudding, my comfort food that always reminds me of my mother. The different touch was that it was mixed with Vietnamese coffee topped with Pinkerton condensed milk ice cream (from Alexandra Rocha) and coffee jello.
I appreciated how locally sourced products were used as ingredients, including the drinks that evening: Vuqo, coconut vodka bottled in frosted glass, that was reported to have been included in the Oscars loot bag, and Don Papa Rum with its beautifully designed label. The latter smelled of caramel but mixed with honey that was too sweet for me and didn’t bring out the rum’s real flavor.
But the charity angle wasn’t forgotten in the heady and happily noisy dinner. Yulo introduced the beneficiary, Pangarap Foundation on Taft Avenue, that provides shelter and rehabilitates street children. For those who want to know more about the foundation, try their website—pangarapfoundation.org.ph.
It wasn’t just a delicious way to donate; it was an excellent way for chefs to cook together and share not only a kitchen but also ideas.