Manuel Luis Quezon, the country’s second president, was said to have several favorite dishes as he dealt with all kinds of people. The Filipinos’ taste profiles were as diverse as the political viewpoints then as they are today.
“It shows that you can’t have partisanship, which is why you have many favorite dishes,” said the late president’s grandson, author and Inquirer columnist Manuel “Manolo” Quezon III, at the launch of a series of fundraising repasts at Samira, the casual fine dining restaurant of Anya Resort in Tagaytay.
The Presidential Dinners is a project of Anya and the beneficiary, the Fundacion Santiago, a nongovernmental organization that advocates historical appreciation and social development through entrepreneurship. Engaging, stimulating conversation about one of the Philippine presidents is the main course or the food for the intellect, while the dinner is themed around the honoree’s favorite dish.
“We helped in the research on Quezon and invited Manolo who shared more insights about his grandfather,” said Chaco Molina, executive director of Fundacion Santiago. The proceeds of the dinner will fund the Aguinaldo Shrine and Museum in Kawit, Cavite, which is included in the itinerary of Sa Aming Tahanan, a heritage tour series that will be rebooted in September.
The tour will feature guides, who will play the roles of the mother of Emilio Aguinaldo, the country’s first president; a veteran of the Spanish-American war; and a helper from the president’s household.
When the first Presidential Dinner was held during Quezon’s birthday last Aug. 19, Manolo talked about his grandfather’s legacy, political dynamics and a civilized prewar lifestyle.
He said that every Aug. 19, Letran, Quezon’s alma mater, would host a breakfast which served, among others, churros con chocolate. Quezon liked the chocolate so thick that a knife could cut through it. In the evening, the exclusive sports club Philippine Columbian Association would hold the Annual Quezon Night.
“The food we chose to remember is based on the memories shared with us. I found from research that a person in public life touches base with so many lives,” said Manolo.
Best enjoyed on weekends
Quezon shared the love of cocido (hot pot with meat and chickpeas) and pochero (stew) from the Spanish-speaking community and the Dominican priests, while his fondness for tapang usa (cured deer meat) reflected his provenance, Baler, the capitol of Aurora.
“Others insisted on sinigang na isda (sour broth with fish),” said Manolo.
He added that when his grandfather was about to undergo surgery, he was forbidden to eat adobo. Hence, he ate pochero.
Then there was the food from travels. “He ended up being addicted to sukiyaki,” said the grandson. “We have all these levels of food appreciation in each of us. That is so Filipino.”
Quezon’s penchant for cocido was an opportunity to showcase Samira’s four-course cocido menu designed by Spanish chef Chele Gonzalez.
During the cocktails, guests were treated to appetizers from the main menu—rice crackers with fish mousse, bacalao buñuelos (salted cod in fried dough with citrus mayonnaise) and bulalo tacos (a medley of bean purée, cabbage, shredded beef shank and pickled onions).
“Cocido is homey, farmhouse-style and substantial,” explained executive chef Chris Leaning. The starters used leftover beef, chorizo, chicken, blood sausage and pork for the pintxos, nibblers of meat and roasted peppers on crusty bread, and croquetas, fried balls of minced meats.
The cocido, a soup from the stock of slow-cooked meats and garbanzos, cleansed the palate. In keeping with the country-style eating, the paella, slightly wet from the slow-cooked meat stock, was complemented with the cochinillo, savory suckling piglet. Leaning balanced those diet busters with a light potato confit instead of the potato fries on the cochinillo menu and mixed green salad. A delicate Spanish custard replaced the burnt Basque cheesecake.
The cocido meal is best enjoyed on weekends. “It’s heavy and more people are sedated afterwards,” said Leaning in jest.
As customers worldwide are looking for sustainable and healthy offerings, plant-based menu options are becoming de rigueur in the hospitality industry. Anya has introduced the Soul Menu, which offers tasty vegetarian alternatives and eschews heavy oils and sugars.
Instead of cocido, our dinner started with creamy mushroom paté with gluten-free bread. The soup was a classic take on the curried butternut squash with fresh coconut cream. The main course was kangkong (water spinach) with grilled vegetables and mushrooms on white bean purée. The panna cotta was a light coconut cream held up by agar-agar and sweetened with fresh mango instead of the conventional thick cream and gelatin.
The executive chef added that Anya’s restaurants would gladly adjust to the dishes according to the diner’s dietary needs. Specific dishes or meals are suggested to guests based on their medical assessments at the European Wellness Retreat center at Anya.
Leaning cited that one of the plant-based menu’s star items was the burger with protein-packed lentils, walnuts and mushroom patty on a healthy bun. The mayonnaise is made with avocado rather than processed oil. Tofu is the alternative binder of the egg. A cholesterol level reducer, nutritional yeast likewise serves as a binding agent.
In the end, my dinner may not have been themed around a specific historical detail, unlike the others. Nonetheless, the wholly customized guest experience was as memorable as the storytelling about Quezon. —CONTRIBUTED