Dressed in sheer white linen tablecloth, adorned with elegant glassware and dinnerware, and festooned with the most delicious spread of comfort food, from Paella Valenciana and Prime Rib Roast to Callos à la Madrilene and Baked Salmon in Almond Cream, the table setup was a lip-smacking sample of the kind of “custom catering” created, prepared and whipped up by model-turned-entrepreneur-turned-caterer Trish Panlilio.
Despite the searing heat of the noonday sun, more flavorful dishes emerged from Panlilio’s kitchen—Prawns Thermidor, Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms, Crab Fat Paella with Chicharon Crumbles, Paella Negra with Garlic Aioli and Vegetable Lasagna—to the delight of her good friends and select media members who were invited to the lunch that officially marked Panlilio’s venture into catering services.
It also showcased Julia Morales’ beautiful monogrammed home and kitchen accessories (Oliver & Maude Home) that go well with Panlilio’s stylish catering.
Panlilio, at one time the Philippine representative to Tatler Asia’s Most Stylish Women, put up Nawwty’s Kitchen (actually spelled in small letters with T as the only capital letter) after friends and family prodded her to accept orders for her food creations, which had drawn praise in many intimate gatherings.
Nawwty (or nawwTy) is a play on the word naughty, which, according to Panlilio, is a term of endearment given by friends.
“The spelling was changed to incorporate the ‘aww’ and make it less menacing,” she says. “And, perhaps be a bit more charming.”
Cooking has always been a part of Panlilio’s daily life, but she says she never imagined herself doing it full-time.
“I have always loved to eat, and cooking was merely a hobby. Now, it has become a real business.”
She has no formal culinary training, and simply credits her love for good food and reading recipe books for her ability to create exquisite dishes. She also doesn’t follow any recipes, relying only on her taste buds.
She particularly likes Japanese food, especially teppanyaki, yakitori and anything aburi, as well as Italian and Spanish cuisines.
Among Nawwty’s Kitchen’s popular dishes are the paellas, including the Crab Fat Paella, Panlilio’s original concoction that has loads of chicharon bits for added texture to the bite; Osso Bucco, veal shanks braised with vegetables, wine and broth; Roast Peppered Lime Chicken, tender and juicy chicken with a refreshing, citrus-like finish; and Baked Salmon with toasted almonds, delicate and almost buttery in taste and flavor.
“Most items in my menu are favorites at home—mine and my children,” says Panlilio. In fact, she calls her dishes “homemade comfort food.”
“Our dishes may be common, but it is what one would remember and know,” she points out. “I wouldn’t say they are heirloom recipes, but some dishes are definitely part of my
childhood and growing-up years. Others are favorites of my late mom and dad (Fe Sarmiento-Panlilio and lawyer Jose Panlilio).”
“Perhaps, it also is the fact that they are cooked from home, not in a commissary or restaurant,” she notes. “It allows us to keep that touch of simplicity in our dishes while maintaining great flavors and tastes.”
Touch of elegance
Panlilio’s flavored butter logs (lime peppered jalapeño, herbed bleu cheese shallots, paprika smoked bacon, sage honey mustard and thyme porcini chardonnay) are her way of paying homage to her dad, who she says loved butter so much.
The flavored butters add a touch of elegance to any dish, garnishing simple roasts and sautés or livening up steamed veggies or plain pastas.
Most of her ingredients are freshly sourced and locally available. Panlilio says she wants to support local growers and merchants. She also has trusted people who help her run the business.
“I have an amazing cook, Charlene, who mirrors my food tastes and style, so we work very well together in the kitchen. I credit her equally as she has been amazing since Nawwty’s Kitchen took off. All the other girls—Crissy, Theresa, Daisy and Vangie—contribute in their own way, and we work as a team. They are part of my family.”
Panlilio makes sure she’s hands-on, from planning the menu and creating a dish to preparing and plating it.
“I’m known to be very particular with plating and presentation,” she says. “I go for something that’s not pretentious but has a rustic charm. There are little touches that only Nawwty’s can do.”
Nawwty’s Kitchen caters only to small groups, for a maximum of 60 persons. Panlilio says this allows for greater attention to detail, and better management of logistics.
Its first custom catering was a proposal dinner for two. Panlilio prepared her specialties. The very next day, she was awakened by a message from the guy: “She said yes and we loved your food!”
Nawwty’s has been catering at least once or twice a week since then. Sometimes, Panlilio opens her house for private dinners and events.
She is open to the idea of putting up her own restaurant, but she’s taking her time.
“Let’s just see where this will take us,” she says. In the meantime, “I’m really enjoying cooking and learning all the intricacies that come with it. It’s pure enjoyment and solace for me.”