How I prepared birthday lunch for my grandmother, aka Imelda Cojuangco | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

KATOng, Hannah Pira, Him Uy de Baron, Jeremy and Jen Slagle; (seated) the author and Tata
KATOng, Hannah Pira, Him Uy de Baron, Jeremy and Jen Slagle; (seated) the author and Tata
KATOng, Hannah Pira, Him Uy de Baron, Jeremy and Jen Slagle; (seated) the author and Tata



I’ve always believed that when you send out kindness and generosity into the universe, it will come back to you a hundredfold. It’s true, after all, with my grandmother, whom we fondly call Tata, but known to everyone else as Imelda Cojuangco.


Early on in life, I knew she was special. I could see how people admired her beauty and her grace; even to this day you will never see her improperly dressed and with a hair out of place—even at home.


When she enters a room, she commands attention without asking for it. You will most definitely feel her presence and notice the class act that she is. It’s true—they don’t make ’em like this anymore.


But as I got older, I began to see beyond the glitz and realized that there was way more to her than image and impressions.


When grandfather passed away too soon, Tata focused her life on the Church and its ministries. And that’s when her legend transformed—from the glamorous lady with a swinging social life to one of God’s more hardworking servants.


She’s helped many people in many ways: putting deserving kids through school; supporting talented artists; secretly giving assistance to the sick and the less fortunate. That’s why she has amassed a whole army of people praying for her well-being as well.


My cousin once said she wished she could be half the person that Tata is. I see why. We’re given life on earth to give love, and to somehow make it better than when we first came into being. I think Tata, through her works, has done this and much more.


CHEF Him Uy de Baron at work
CHEF Him Uy de Baron at work


Truly special


So, it was but fitting that I volunteered to put together her birthday lunch. It was my way of giving back some love, hopefully representing, in some way, the many who’ve been recipients of her generosity.


There was no doubt about it—she deserved nothing but the best. But not that it didn’t have its challenges. Since it was a big bash, I had to come up with something truly special.


I took my cue from what’s most important to Tata: her family.


Apart from her home in Makati, Tata’s happy place has always been spending time with family and loved ones at her place in Palo Alto in California. On Sundays, we would drive to brunch there after hearing Mass, and enjoy each other’s company.


One of her favorite dining places is an American bistro called McArthur Park. It’s not exactly the best, but the restaurant is large, beautiful and bustling—the kind of place to accommodate my family.


We’d eat salads, the bountiful ones that only the Americans can really pull off; gnaw on ribs or burgers; and slurp on onion soup. By no means was this cutting-edge cuisine, just solid classic meals done well.


Formidable team


Jumping off from my personal memories of eating there, I put together a menu inspired by those memorable Sunday brunches. But to do it, I needed help. So I rang a couple of friends from the food biz and asked them if they could help me make this meal a special feast. To my surprise, they all agreed to help me; I couldn’t help but think that this was all happening because of the goodness of our Tata.


My team was a formidable one: Jeremy and Jen Slagle (aka The Deliciouses), a power couple in the local food scene and consultants and chefs of some of the city’s hottest restaurants; Him Uy de Baron, also a chef consultant who has many years of experience tucked under his belt; and Kat Ong and Hannah Pira of Enderun to round things up.


Our menu was full of fun food that lent itself to the occasion: a salad bar with the freshest organic greens, several dressings and condiments; a cold seafood platter with poached shrimp, cold smoked salmon and the sweetest oysters served with cocktail sauce and a mignonette; rack of lamb and ratatouille; ham, smoked and baked by the Slagles, served with homemade pickles and mustard; a killer seafood gumbo with lump crab bits and crispy shrimp by chef Him; and a spaghettini with tomato cream, basil pesto and burrata. Among other things.


Suffice to say, it was a meal fit for someone who dedicates so much of her life to sharing whatever she has, and all for the greater good.


God knows we need more Tatas in the world. Happy birthday, Tats!

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