You know how it is when you’re too close to someone or something, such that you can’t see what others see? So it was with my mother Nora Daza.
When I was a kid, I didn’t realize the impact she had on our country. I just noticed that wherever we went, people looked at her. Then I remembered, she was on television.
She had the very first cooking show in the country, “Let’s Cook With Nora” on black-and-white TV. I remember going with her to tapings in the old ABS-CBN studios on Roxas Boulevard, Manila, and some TV personalities making sure to drop by to eat whatever she had cooked on her show. Dolphy was one of them, also Pepe Pimentel, Ike Lozada and a few others.
She ran the canteen of ABS-CBN then. To us kids, it meant free access to anything we wanted to eat.
In 1965, she opened the very first French restaurant in Manila called Au Bon Vivant. With a red-faced, chubby French chef manning the kitchen, the place and its fine cuisine offerings became a regular thing for me.
Having grown up with it and thus used to its presence, I didn’t fully realize how popular and upscale the restaurant was in its time.
I recall seeing a lot of prominent and popular diners there. My favorite entry on the menu was the Pâté Foie Gras for appetizer (even if I didn’t know what it was then), and, for the main course, a medium-well Chateaubriand Bearnaise with a side dish of our signature onion rings. For dessert, I’d have the Almond Mousse.
To this day, I get stories of couples, who were young then, having their fancy dinner dates at Au Bon Vivant.
Sometime in the early ’70s, my mom opened another restaurant, Aux Iles Philippines, this time to fancy French diners on Rue Pontoise district 5 on the left bank of Paris.
When the restaurant became popular, it had to move to a bigger place near the Pantheon, on a side street called Rue Laplace. It was here where it became so wellknown that one couldn’t come in unless he or she had reservations two weeks in advance.
Aux Iles Philippines became one of the top two Asian restaurants in Paris, the first being a Vietnamese resto called Le Neme.
You would have been proud of our food. But to us, the young and single Daza brothers, living in Paris meant having a lot of cash to go to the disco every night.
My mom was shuttling between Paris, Manila and New York at the time. Manila saw the opening of Au Bon Vivant in Makati City, while New York would soon see the opening of Maharlika restaurant, which in time would also be rated as one of the top 50 restaurants in that very competitive metropolis.
Mom also wrote the top-selling cookbook “Let’s Cook With Nora,” which has sold over 500,000 copies. It is a constant companion in the kitchen of many Pinoy families here and abroad.
Today, I clearly see what Nora Daza has done for Philippine cuisine. It once crossed my mind to nominate her as a National Artist in the culinary arts. But for that to come from me didn’t seem appropriate.
To us, her children, she was a loving and caring mother. I found comfort in just seeing her, knowing that she did everything in her power to make us comfortable and spare us of any hardship.
In the last decade or so, I saw my mom transform from an aggressive, go-getting woman into a mellow, soft-spoken mother. I saw the change when she started attending Bible studies in our church. Accepting Jesus as her Lord and Savior was good for her.
She lived with me in my house, and every time I came home, she was eager to listen to how well we did in our new restaurant, Wooden Spoon. She would create desserts for me to sample. I would often throw food ideas at her, and I realized how blessed I was to have this supremely creative mind working with me.
Many of my menu ideas at Wooden Spoon were derived from my discussions with her. She had a palate like no other. I remember trying an anchovy sauce with steak in a restaurant in Barcelona, bringing that sauce home and trying to recreate it with her. We got it. She was that good.
She loved to eat. Funny how her restaurant, Au Bon Vivant (which means fine living), describes how she lived. She was, indeed, ahead of her time.
I miss my mom. But God’s promise is, whoever has His son has access to heaven and that assurance soothes me that I will see her once again.
She will be a constant companion in many homes via her recipes. I am proud of what she has done, and now I see what others saw in my mom.
Visit the author’s blog at sandydaza.blogspot.com. Follow him on Twitter @sandydaza.