Given the worsening traffic, rising costs of dining out and tightening finances, more people are choosing to entertain at home or in the office.
To meet the demand of a growing FTG (food-to-go) market, chef-restaurateur and caterer Madonna “Happy” Ongpauco-Tiu ventured into a separate business called Happy Platters.
Popular comfort foods such as baby back ribs, “pulutan trio” of sisig, ukoy and lumpiang shanghai and lechon belly are served on heatable and leak-resistant plastic and aluminum trays.
“Food-to-go platters are convenient especially for moms,” said Tiu. “Time-pressured clients want speed, value and quality without hiring a full-service caterer. Clients would tell me, ‘Since we’re only 10, we don’t need waiters. We’d like to order by the platter.’”
Although the demand for catering is huge in general, younger clients who enjoy holding potluck parties are defining the trend in FTG.
Entrepreneurship and cookery are in Tiu’s blood. Her father, Rod Ongpauco, is scion of the Barrio Fiesta restaurant chain. Tiu established her own business, Happy Concept Group, which runs 16 restaurants and a catering service. She also runs Private Dining, which deals in customized fine dining meals.
Happy Platters offers premium quality takeout foods without the fancy dining setup and waiters. Tiu partnered with Glad, an American brand specializing in food storage containers.
“Eating is a feast for the eyes,” she said. “If the presentation is unattractive, you could lose your appetite. I’ve had experiences with lopsided and burnt aluminum trays.”
Tiu said meals served in food containers are more attractive when styled on a bed of fresh leaves from the garden or displayed at different heights on the spread and embellished with foliage.
At a press conference and cooking demo at Pottery Barn at Central Square, Tiu shared two recipes ideal for potluck parties.
Pinoy paella is prepared with a rice cooker which is less intimidating than the conventional paellera.
Her recipe used saffron oil to cook the base ingredients of onions, garlic and bell peppers. Crab fat lent the yellow orange color. A bit of wine removed the fishy taste of the crab fat. Rice was added and then cooked in the rice cooker.
Topping the paella with butter infuses it with an umami taste, she said, but cautioned on overseasoning.
Tiu said cooking en papillote, (wrapped and steamed in parchment paper) is easy. She recommended salmon belly which is affordable. The marinated salmon, vegetables and seasoning are wrapped in parchment paper with folded edges. Parchment paper is a durable, nonstick paper that keeps the steam and the juices from the food inside. When the food is served, the parchment paper is sliced in front of the guest.
3 c white bomba rice (arroz bomba)
3 tbsp white onions, diced small
1 tbsp minced garlic
2 tbsp finely diced red bell peppers
2 tbsp finely diced green pepper
4 tbsp crab fat
4½ c vegetable or seafood stock
Sauté onions, garlic, bell peppers until translucent.
Add crab fat and cook for 45 seconds. Add rice and toast for four minutes.
Transfer the rice to the rice cooker and add the stock.
If you want additional toppings, sauté those with butter for the umami taste. Add garlic and olive oil.
When the rice is cooked, put dish immediately into the container and let it cool. Sealing the paella while it is still hot will make it soggy.
Separate the toppings from the rice when transporting them to another venue.
Salmon en papillote
400 g salmon belly for three packets
3 tbsp olive oil
3 cloves garlic
5 tbsp dill leaves
100 g asparagus
100 g cherry tomato
Salt and pepper
Marinate the belly in olive oil, salt, pepper and chopped dill for 30 minutes.
Put the belly, asparagus, cherry tomato inside the paper and wrap. Bake the packets at 375°F for 12 minutes.
For the sauce: heat 1 tbsp of butter and mix with dill and capers. Add cream, salt and pepper to taste.