She may have stayed only four days, but American lifestyle icon and media and merchandising magnate Martha Stewart covered a lot more than your typical tourist.
The Emmy-winning TV host went to a palengke in Binondo, planted rice in Pampanga, visited Manila’s historical sites and landmarks, had her fill of lechon and other local fare, learned how to make pandesal, window-shopped at SM, and even bought pearls in Greenhills.
“The next time I visit, take me to Palawan. I’ve heard so much about the place. I can’t believe I’m visiting your country only now,” Stewart told Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat, who hosted part of her brief Philippine visit this past week. Stewart was speaker at a leadership talk sponsored by ABS-CBN News Channel (ANC) held last Tuesday. (See related story on C4)
It was in June when Stewart’s team reached out to Puyat’s office for a tour itinerary outside of the celebrity’s commitments with ANC. Stewart’s digital editor, Jocelyn Santos, is a Filipina.
“That rice planting? Martha really wanted to do that in Banaue, in the rice terraces, but we advised against it because she only had a few days here,” Puyat told Lifestyle.
“What’s so amazing is that I just asked friends from the private sector to help out—and I didn’t even tell them yet who was visiting—and they all readily agreed,” Puyat added.
Shipping magnate Doris Ho, who has common friends with Stewart, and entrepreneur Ricco Ocampo brought the American mogul to Pampanga.
“That’s a very Filipino thing that I’m so proud of,” said Puyat. “We all want to show our best and we band together. It’s a different level. Martha was so impressed. She was so pleased with how hospitable and generous Filipinos are—they were giving her gifts everywhere she went, they kept feeding her. I told her our love language is food.”
On Thursday, the last day of the visit, the Department of Tourism arranged for Stewart to meet with rattan weavers from Cebu, Pampanga and Metro Manila, at the Sofitel Philippine Plaza where she was staying. She had expressed fascination for the country’s weaving tradition that she wanted to see a demo, said Puyat.
Stewart, who’s at the helm of a billion-dollar lifestyle empire that includes eponymous lifestyle and home products, expressed her commercial interest in Filipino crafts, said Puyat.
When she arrived in Manila Monday morning, her first stop was SM Mall of Asia, where she visited The SM Store and Kultura. She marveled at the handicrafts, especially the piña fabric and the embroidery, according to SM COO Steven Tan, who toured her in the mall.
Puyat then hosted lunch for her at the National Museum of Natural History, a meal prepared by 2016 Asia’s Best Female Chef Margarita Forés. Pepita’s Kitchen and Zubuchon provided the lechon.
Stewart, a best-selling author, expressed her appreciation of the lunch venue, with its imposing center structure called Tree of Life, on her Instagram.
“Now locals are saying they want to see the museum, too,” said Puyat. “We take these things for granted, so it’s really nice that a household name like Martha can give them a push. She also loved the carved door of the San Agustin Church, which we also take for granted because everybody gets married there. It’s our only Unesco Heritage Site in the capital. She really insisted we take a photo in front of it.”
Stewart also toured Fort Santiago and Intramuros, on an e-trike at that.
On Wednesday, the Kapampangans laid out the red carpet for the TV host, with a veritable barrio fiesta, overflowing with local specialties served in the rural setting of Alviz Farm in Sta. Rita town.
In olive shorts and khaki top accessorized with bead necklaces and her blonde head shielded from the sun with a woven hat, the 78-year-old former model waded in the mud with a wide smile, her back bent to plant the bundle of rice seedlings in her hands—“something I always wanted to do,” she wrote on Instagram.
She also visited the ancestral home of a San Fernando family, where they served her more Pampango heritage dishes.
On Thursday, Puyat took her to Chinatown, where she partook of Binondo treats. On their way to Greenhills, Stewart asked if they could stop at a wet market to check out local produce, and they did, on Carvajal Street in Binondo.
They drove through Edsa on their way to San Juan, though Puyat said the traffic was manageable at noon. “We had warned her. Thankfully, it was uneventful… We offered to bring to her hotel the pearls that she so wanted to buy in Greenhills, but she insisted on going. She said she had heard so much of the place, she wanted to get a feel of it. She attracted attention and was surprised that people recognized her.”
One of Stewart’s final stops was Panaderya Toyo in Makati, where she stayed for a good two hours to watch the head baker, Richie Manapat, prepare pandesal and other breads. She was quite impressed with the self-taught baker’s techniques, said Puyat.
“That’s where she was most at ease because, finally, there were no more cameras in her face,” Puyat said with a laugh. “She was kind of shy with all the attention, but she said she didn’t mind all the phone cameras. She was used to it.”