THIS is the last issue of the Sunday Inquirer Magazine and the last column of Menu.
I still remember how I was invited to join the team. I got a phone call back in 2006 from Alya Honasan, SIM’s editor in chief at the time. I still remember the Nokia handset I was holding. The Magazine was being re-launched with Leica Carpo as publisher, she explained, and would I be interested to write about food. I jumped at the opportunity and immediately said yes.
I would be joining esteemed writers Eric Caruncho and Ruel De Vera so I had to work extra hard to meet their caliber of writing. I remember laboring for 10 hours straight just to write one article, researching on ingredients and processes, and triple checking facts.
Food writing, I soon realized, is not as easy as people think. Some are of the impression that it’s all about enumerating what you had for lunch or dinner, but that’s just scratching the surface. The craft involves understanding the restaurateur’s vision and appreciating the cook’s or the chef’s art.
More than that, it is also about discovering the origins of the ingredient, unearthing a recipe’s history and discovering its role in a community. Food is life!
Later, I also learned about the role of food in pop culture, thanks to the guidance of The Good Doctor, who gave me a copy of practically every food movie that was ever produced, mostly indie fims: from “Litsonero” to the Japanese movie “Tampopo” and the Danish “Babette’s Feast.”
But writing about food is also tricky because while few are true gourmets, it is a subject that some people think they’re experts on. Everyone’s a critic.
Yet it has also been a challenge to speak one’s mind. After an honest review of a legendary restaurant, one chef threatened to pull out his ads. Another review resulted in personal harassment from the restaurateur’s family and friends, who spread ridiculous rumors about me. And then there was the story on the Big Bad Blogger that blew up on the Internet. I am proud that this paper has always stood on the side of honesty, even in its Sunday magazine.
I am also proud that aside from being honest, SIM has always been fair. Restaurants were usually visited three times, not just once, before a review was written to ensure that the resto was not just caught on a bad or an extra good day. Like wine, restaurants should not be reviewed on its soft opening, but given time to breathe before being appreciated. Most importantly, SIM gave me a budget to enable me to always pay for my meals and go to restaurants unannounced, to erase that sense of indebtedness to the restaurant being reviewed. I was extremely lucky—not every food writer has editors who understand that there’s no such thing as a free lunch.
Yet while we allowed ourselves to criticize, we were not cold. We joined in the highs and lows of the food community.
We mourned the loss of true gourmets Nora Daza, Larry Cruz (of Abe), Julie Gamboa and Ed Quimson; of the most distinguished host with the most Teyet Pascual, and my own gourmet heroes Nana Meng and Louie Vargas.
We cheered on the triumphs of some of our restaurateurs and nursed hopes that in our small way we have helped push recognition for Philippine restaurants on a global level. We were there when Tonyboy Escalante’s Antonio’s was awarded one of the Top 5 Restaurants in Asia in the Miele Guide (I pity those who dismiss this achievement instead of supporting it). We watched Margarita Fores represent the Philippines in Italy’s Slow Food Expo Salone del Gusto and supported her in this new journey of bringing Casa Artusi to the Philippines. We shared the story of the Filipino students of the Alain Ducasse Institute making their mark in kitchens abroad. However, we will miss the arrival of top Spanish chefs in the country when the Department of Tourism brings in Madrid Fusion next year.
We also sought out Filipino chefs making their mark abroad and featured Jerrome Abustan, personal chef of Sean Puffy Combs in New York; Kristine Subido, who was popularizing Filipino food in Chicago even before she opened Pecking Order, and Karla Mendoza, the sharp Pinay behind Mario Batali’s Mozza in Singapore, to name a few.
The joys of being a food writer are immeasurable. First of all, you get to watch the culinary industry grow from the front row. And while you may have gained 40 pounds and 10 inches on your waist in the process—as I did—they’re a small price for what you get in return: good food and great friends, plus continuing education on gastronomy and cultures.
I am incredibly grateful for the privilege of having written for SIM—to be included among its roster of writers, and to be part of the team of Pennie, Ruey, Eric and Sharon. My eternal gratitude to LJM, Leica and Alya for the break. And to our beloved readers, especially those who collected issues of the Sunday Inquirer Magazine, thank you for sharing eight years’ worth of meals with me.
It’s the end of an era indeed but not the end of the world… we will continue to eat, drink and be merry! (Please check out the dining column Business Class on Sundays in the Inquirer Biz section.)
Happy Thanksgiving to all and Merry Christmas! May we all have a sinless albeit SIM-less, wonderful, bountiful, lechon-ful, chocolate-ful, paella-ful, cheese-ful Happy New Year! Cheers! •
Margaux Salcedo continues to write about dining in her column Business Class every Sunday in the Inquirer Sunday Business section. She will maintain her blog margauxlicious.com. Follow @margauxsalcedo on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook.