Clinton Palanca was our voice of reason.
For many years, we relied on his experienced palate when making dining decisions. And though his words were biting and potent, his youthful presence provided warmth and welcome that’s far from discriminating. One wouldn’t expect his humble demeanor to disturb the peace, yet he managed to shake things up in his own silent manner.
On the last Wednesday of May, though, he gave us the biggest shock of all—not with a restaurant review, but with news of his passing.
It was heartbreaking for close friends and family, as well as the people he has touched in more ways than one.
I fondly remember the time we met for dinner, our last supper in Macau before flying back to Manila. By chance, we picked the same restaurant and ended up sharing a table.
Inevitably we talked about the food, which I dismissed as “not bad.” Surely, in his great mind, he had better words to describe it than just a sly grin.
We also talked about our hopes for the local food industry, how we can better play our part as writers, until we lost track of time. For him, it could have been just another meal to write about. To me, as a big fan of his work and his character, it meant much more.
Friends share their memories of him:
Restaurateur/chef Sau del Rosario
“In the ’90s, at the height and colorful years of Malate, Le Taxi Bistro was the place to be in. People patiently queued outside the restaurant just to try the food, thanks to this young writer who gave it a 4.5/5 star-rating restaurant review in a leading newspaper. Coming from an intimidating, feared food critic, I was overjoyed to be recognized and be given full credit for my hard work. I owe him big time.
“Two days ago, before his passing, I invited ‘chinito baby face’ (a name I fondly call him because he never grows old) to judge a cooking competition and I also planned to ask if he would write my book, titled ‘Oui Chef’ (memoirs of my life in France). But he declined last minute because something came up. ‘I owe you, Sau,’ he said.
“Clinton Palanca will be irreplaceable because he was the best at what he did, and the only person I could relate to.”
Tourism Secretary Berna Romulo-Puyat
“My first encounter with Clinton was when we became friends on Facebook. I knew his name and his writing. When we finally met, it was like we had known each other for a long time, like catching up with an old friend.
“Clinton was gracious, always encouraging, and was not stingy when sharing his ideas of what could be done for Filipino food. He was eloquent about his enthusiasm, and intelligent with his insights. He was also honest and damn funny.
“He was that person you’d always look forward to sharing a meal with. Though he was critical of the government, he was one of the first persons to congratulate me when I got appointed. I’ll never forget him. He will be greatly missed.”
Toyo Eatery’s Mai and Jordy Navarra
“I’m devastated,” says Jordy. “I have many fond memories of him, but what I’d miss the most are our funny conversations over food and his quick wit. It’s difficult to mention specific memories, because we always had little get-togethers and dinners. I enjoyed every moment.”
Mai adds: “Some remarkable memories would be our meals with Clinton and Lourdes, his witty remarks, his brutally honest but beautifully written reviews, his comforting and tight hugs when he greeted us hello and goodbye, and his deep admiration for his wife and their kids.”
Magazine editor Kristine Fonacier
“Clinton’s prose inspired many people to write, and (I imagine) a great many more to go out and eat. But he also had a great sense of humor, and I don’t know anyone else who is funnier than he is. He had a fine sense of the absurd. And so, when we were teens in college, we would play the most absurd games, like the game of never-ending questions—the goal was to keep asking questions and never give answers, except in the form of more questions.
“While riding in his red Corolla, we would baffle other drivers by jumping out of the car at stoplights and running around until the light changed again, in our variation of musical chairs. He knew how to have a good time.
“If you know, through his writing, how much he loved food, what lay under all that was a genuine curiosity, and a sincere love of the world.” —CONTRIBUTED