How many of us, especially those born in the city, can say that the vegetables on the dining table came from our own backyard, or that the chicken used in the tinola was earlier seen pecking at the ground?
Perhaps the closest thing to the experience is at the weekend market where some sellers say the pako (fiddlehead fern) grew in pots at their home, the hito (catfish) is from their pond, or the brown rice was harvested from their mountain farm.
Consider the background of renowned chef-restaurateur Alain Ducasse. In his 1998 book, “Ducasse: Flavors of France,” he recalled growing up in a farm in Les Landes, southwestern France, where the family vegetables came from a garden, and the foie gras from the ducks and geese his parents raised. Those were early lessons on the importance of natural produce.
Tribute to farmers
Farm-to-table food is what many restaurants boast these days. There is a need to identify the provenance of the ingredient, to pay tribute to the farmers who planted and raised them, as well as the artisans who turn the ingredients into natural processed food.
Taza, the new outlet of Taal Vista Hotel in Tagaytay, is a good example. Its name—from the Arabic word taaza which means “fresh”—must have been suggested by Walid Wafik, the hotel’s Egyptian general manager.
Middle Eastern mezze was first to be served. One can order each of the 10 offerings, enough for lunch or dinner.
For a full-course meal, however, the spinach and bacon jam, sautéed chicken liver and boquerones are nice choices as appetizers.
Setting the tone right was a cocktail of bignay (a fruit similar to cranberry) wine; it had a cool taste, none of the tartness of the local berries.
We remembered the story of how bignay trees were planted in the Malagos farm of Davao so that the birds would return—a sign that the environment is healthy. It took years before the birds came, and so the bignay had to be processed, hence, the wine that the farm makes.
Because Tagaytay has many vegetable and herb farms including the small patch at the hotel grounds, farm-to-table salad is a staple. This was tossed with goat cheese from Malagos, pineapple also from Tagaytay, pili nuts from Naga, and dried mangoes from Cebu.
Organic black rice
While waiting for the other dishes, we were told that in Negros, farmers have formed a foundation called Negros Island Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development. That is quite encouraging because it means farmers learn about best practices in producing the ingredients.
We tasted the organic black rice grown in the farm of Boyet Uychiat, president of the foundation; it was made more flavorful by cooking the grains in broth.
Jayme Natividad, the chef for Taza’s opening, travels around the SM Hotel properties to design and oversee dining concepts. Because he worked at Mario Batali’s restaurants in New York, his forte is Italian cooking; pizza and pasta are featured on the Taza menu.
Italian cuisine emphasizes simple ways of cooking with only the freshest ingredients. That redounds to the natural sweetness from newly harvested tomatoes. (Batali, however, vouches for canned tomatoes processed right after harvesting.)
Kesong puti and mozzarella, the cheeses used for the pizza at Taza, are from artisans in Laguna.
While the papardelle caccio e pepe (broad flat pasta with cheese and peppercorn) was being served, chef Jayme related how he sent a photo of the dish to his chef at Batali. From how the pasta looked, the chef told Jayme that he could improve the texture, giving him instructions.
The papardelle tasted light but kept its structure; it’s a must-order. It reminded us of the pasta made in the BBC show “Two Greedy Italians”—silk handkerchief pasta with pesto, where the noodle was so thin and light you could blow it off the table.
Duck with mushroom lasagna
There was also a more hefty-tasting duck with mushroom lasagna for those who want something heavy. The brown sauce was so rich and heady that a main course might prove too much.
The guests were asked to choose which protein they preferred, but we all shared our orders anyway. The tomahawk pork chop (so-called because the thick cut looks like an axe) and the pan-seared chicken were both tender with a rich sauce.
The lighter courses were grilled prawns from Iloilo and sole that was steamed in wax paper (en papillote).
Knowing where the ingredients come from is one tack of the farm-to-table concept; another is to have all ingredients come from the place where the restaurant is located. That may limit the menu at Taza.
But what’s more important is that the ingredients are fresh, from local sources known for their best farm practices and quality produce.