This “birthday cake” isn’t the usual sugar and icing overload. Ridged tubes of pasta, called rigatoni, stand upright on a pie plate. A step-by-step guide explains how to prepare it. The torta (cake in Italian) is baked in the oven while the sauces are heated separately.
To add flair, the “cake” is turned over onto a large foil tray that comes with the delivery bag. The diner is supposed to slather it with full-bodied tomato sauce on top of the pasta cake and a creamy, melted mozzarella sauce on the side. You can embellish with fresh basil leaves and a little candle. All the ingredients, including the olive oil and parmesan cheese toppings, are packed in little containers. Serving the stay-at-home lifestyle, Cibo, the homegrown chain of Italian casual dining restaurants, is providing an out-of-the-box but fun solution to delivering fresh pasta.
“Life has changed,” says chef-restaurateur Margarita Forés. “Our customers have more time to dabble in the kitchen. We resorted to providing meal kits with frozen or bottled sauces and other elements. The order is not a hundred percent finished. You warm up the sauce and bake the pasta. Italians insist that pasta waits for no one.”
Cibo’s signature penne al telefono has been repackaged as rigatoni torta al telefono, a “cake” that celebrates the chain’s 23rd anniversary. The pasta recipe was inspired by a chef who took a phone call and left some mozzarella in a sauce pan. The gooey cheese melted looking like a telephone cord.
Another “cake” option, the spinach lasagna is a melding of Cibo’s much-loved spinach, gorgonzola and parmesan dip, oozing between layers of flat, wide rectangular noodles.
“We put a candle for people who want to celebrate with savory cakes instead of the usual sweet ones,” says Forés.
Despite the challenging times, Cibo has reasons to celebrate its anniversary. The public’s reluctance to visit restaurants and malls has created higher demand for food deliveries and pick-up orders. The efficient take-out and delivery operations, and bottled products such as its mayo dip and sauces, have helped the chain endure restrictions on restaurant operations.
People have sought comfort in Cibo’s finely sliced potato chips and mayo dip. As the shelter-in-place brought families closer, pizzas, panini trays and large servings of roast chicken and pastas become top sellers.
Responsible for putting authentic Italian cooking in mainstream Philippine dining, Forés stresses that pasta must be served right after it is cooked. She cites penne, rigatoni and farfalle as the reliable pastas that can withstand travel from the restaurant to the home. The pasta Bolognese comes with packed sauce and dry noodles for cooking. Cibo also provides pasta water so that customers can reconstitute the pasta to make it fresh. The salty, starchy water is also a good thickener for the sauces. To give work to its waiters, the restaurant chain developed Cibo Rapido, its own delivery service. Forés says with waiters as riders, customers are assured that the dishes will be transported safely and served fresh in their homes.
“We keep our products more secure,” she says. “We also know who is handling the order when it gets to our customer.” Forés and her cook started working on family heirloom recipes at Grace Park at One Rockwell, a restaurant which highlights local ingredients presented in a cosmopolitan manner. Home-styled dishes such as chicken with Vienna sausage and butter, oxtail stew, lamb kaldereta, cassava cake with parmesan cheese, KBL (kadyos, baboy, langka) or beans, pork and jackfruit with cotechino (large Italian sausage), and paksiw na bangus belly with vinegar made from palm sap are cooked in large batches.
Customers buy them frozen and cook these at home. Grace Park’s luscious avocado pie is the restaurant’s ultimate comfort dessert.
Forés has kept resilient by focusing on the little blessings. Her other restaurants such as Lusso at Greenbelt 5, Las Casas de Azucar in Quezon City and Lani at Karrivin Plaza have reopened.
Initially, the ban on large gatherings hurt the catering industry. However, her catering business is starting with small functions in private homes and extremely intimate weddings.
A perennial optimist, Forés is grateful for the commitment of her employees. “The food industry took a big hit,” she says. “We are happy that our staff has been willing to split their work hours and work less so that everybody can share the requirement of labor force when the demand is not high. Our managers offered to take pay cuts to help out the company.”With the lack of public transportation, some employees ride to work on motorcycles and bicycles while others take the company’s shuttle service.
More than ever, she’s constantly connected with her associates through Zoom meetings. “The productivity has increased. There is more time to work with the team.”
The lockdown forced her to do online workouts with her trainer six days a week. In four months, Forés lost 17 lbs through exercise and one big meal a day, shared with her son, Amado.
Even in quarantine, every moment is used in a worthwhile way. —CONTRIBUTED