Sunday, March 10, was a sad day for the culinary world as Ed Quimson, one of the Philippines’ most respected and loved chefs, passed away due to heart complications. Gourmets and gourmands the nation over came together to mourn the passing of this huggable, lovable, always smiling chef.
He was smiling when I met him, and at that time he was bungi! My then-editor Chelo Banal-Formoso assigned me to review Ed’s then-restaurant Fino, and my pilyo friend who accompanied me said that it meant Filipino na walang ipin.
But Ed showed the world that one smiles not with one’s mouth, but with one’s soul! He was always a joy to be with. (Note though that just a couple of years later, he lost a lot of pounds and gained a Close Up smile, pogi!)
He was an advocate of really good Filipino food—the operative words being “really good.” Filos (then at the Fort) was what gave me my first impression of his already much-loved cooking.
I was happy to observe that his cooking “is an exploration of traditional Filipino food: its beauty, scents and aromas, roughness and tenderness, the desire to devour it, and the joy of sharing it. It is an appreciation of the most traditional and characteristic of Filipino foods through the eyes and careful study of this creative cook.”
He was a favorite of the pioneer Filipino food historian, writer and Inquirer columnist Doreen Fernandez. “I visited her at the hospital,” Ed said before Doreen herself passed away. “I made her soup. At that time she wasn’t eating solids anymore. But when she tasted my soup, she closed her eyes and said, ‘Sarap!’”
Ed’s cooking was edgy. And he could get away with it because he understood the basics very well. Of his kinilaw, my first impression was: “It’s a method of cooking that chef Ed clearly understands. He executes the kinilaw perfectly, to that stage when it is no longer uncooked, but the freshness is kept primal, although he also adds gata or coconut milk, as they do in certain provinces, because it absorbs the sourness caused by the vinegar.” But to the kinilaw he adds chicharon. Was it massacred? No. It was glorified.
It’s understandable, though, that he would have this kind of foundation because he was a lola’s boy. In 2008, I wrote his story in the Sunday Inquirer Magazine:
“Chiquito counted the seconds until the noon bell that signaled lunch break would ring. Five, four, three, two, ringgg! Chiquito would dash out of the halls of the Ateneo Grade School, climb the wall of the school grounds and jump into the street where his driver was waiting to take him to his Lola Consuelo. Lunch at her home in the village we now call La Vista included lengua, galantina, kare-kare… none of those sandwiches or other packed goodies his classmates had to bear while imprisoned in the school cafeteria.
“He did not know it yet but these would be among his most treasured moments growing up; memories that he would later share with the world, along with memories of Saturday afternoon family gatherings and growing up in the kitchen with Aling Deling, Lola Consuelo’s sous chef. He belongs to the Tuason family and Lola Consuelo made sure that they grew up not only well-bred but especially well-fed. ‘Whoever was the first one home would be stuck with Lola in the kitchen and help her cook… When I got too talkative while mixing (the pastillas) and stopped stirring, Lola would swat me on the head. We always had at least six dishes during meals, nothing less. We would eat lunch, then play mahjong and anticipate the merienda that would be served while we played… I started cooking when I was 8…’”
Later, as his own creations came to fore, he would introduce recipes that at first seemed odd, but once executed by him would result in oohs and aahs. Like his pinakbet sandwiched between bangus bellies. Or laing in creamy soup. Or what I remember most, his paella tinola. It was the “Quimsonization of Filipino food: a mastery of provincial cuisine, an amazing play with tastes and textures, and a refinement of traditional favorites.”
It was in his restaurant in Salcedo Village, the eponymous Chef Ed’s, where I received my Doreen Fernandez Writing Award as finalist back in 2005. It was where I met the food writing gurus Micky Fenix, Felice Sta. Maria and Erlinda Panlilio, and where I met food writers I admire: Ige Ramos, Joy Subido, Christine Nunag, among others.
His shoes will be hard to fill; his mark in the culinary world is as unique as his physique. On a personal note, I will always be grateful to chef Ed for encouraging us to follow in the footsteps of Doreen Fernandez and honor Filipino cuisine by writing about it devotedly (I’m sure I’m not the only food writer he encouraged!); for showing us the expanse of flavors of our own cuisine and getting us high on it; and for his smile—that charming, welcoming, sometimes naughty, often nice smile that encouraged you to laugh more and lafang more.
I’ve been having Delimondo corned beef every day as my little personal tribute to you, chef Ed. It’s an understatement, but let me just spell out again what resonates loudly in the food community: YOU WILL BE MISSED.