I’ve had tea to go with sweet snacks and sandwiches. But paired with a whole meal? I don’t think I’ve ever had that luxury—until I got an invitation from my good friend, Aleth Ocampo, who lured me not just with a tea-paired lunch, but one that was laid out inside Salcedo Auctions, surrounded by the artworks of Ferdie Montemayor as well as the ceramic works of Ella Mendoza, Marco Rosario and Jezzel Wee, among many others.
It was the third installment of her “Les Plats Somptueux,” an event she started back in October 2018.
“Some time in July that year, I had lunch at the Pettyjohns’ and asked Jon, the father of contemporary ceramics, and his wife Tessy if they were open to the idea of me preparing a multicourse meal to be served using ceramics we made, and then selling them after,” Aleth, who is a chef and a ceramicist herself, recalls.
“Jon told me he had the same idea 10 years ago but it never happened. When I asked if he was willing to do it with me and several potters in our group, he said yes.”
So, she had a party of artists over at her house to try a menu she curated, as well as give inspiration to create the wares. Months later, they pulled off a successful dinner that celebrated art in two forms—culinary and visual.
In September 2019, the second edition had three younger potters showcase their craft. “Even before the dinner started, I already had guests in my kitchen reserving the wares they wanted by marking the undersides with their names! I had to shoo them away so I could prepare and start serving the food. It was a fun experience for the guests to be able to interact with the artists. Jon and Tessy joined them at the table, while the rest of us acted as servers.”
Due to the pandemic, she had to postpone her next event and wait until people were more open to dining out. Aleth also had to look for a venue that was more accessible other than her house to welcome more people. She reached out to Richie Lerma of Salcedo Auctions, who was very receptive to her crazy idea.
Last June 24, “Les Plats Somptueux” was back in action. It was extra special this time around because for the first time, Aleth, along with daughter Gabby, did a degustation and paired it with teas selected by Sheryl Ebon-Martinez, a tea sommelier. They were also able to host more people, 60 to be exact, a far cry from the 16 guests they had previously.
Aside from serving each dish with tea, Aleth also incorporated the steeped drinks into her food. The salad course, for example, was a mix of greens with strawberries, Mandarin oranges and shaved almonds tossed in a matcha dressing infused with Japanese vinegar for a light and refreshing taste.
Pork was braised in pu’erh tea until tender, then wedged in a steamed bun, while salmon was soaked in sake, cured in salt for two days then seared on the day of the event and served on a bed of fluffy Japanese rice, topped with furikake, wasabi and crispy salmon skin. In lieu of dashi, warm genmaicha tea was poured over the rice tableside.
For desserts, she took Western favorites and gave them an Asian flair: matcha madeleines using French butter and scented with lemon zest, houjicha tres leches trifle topped with crushed amaretto cookie and da hong pao oolong tea dark chocolate truffle topped with pink Himalayan sea salt.
It was beautiful to see how the two featured artists worked together, a testament to the friendship they share. Like Aleth, who took up pottery to create vessels for her food, Sheryl became a ceramicist to make wares for her tea. They first met at a demo by Pablo Capati III held at Joey de Castro’s studio and started hanging out after that.
“I always believed that a perfect meal is a multisensory experience,” says Aleth. “It is not limited to the taste of the food but how it is presented, the ambience of the venue and of course, the company one shares the meal with. Salcedo was the perfect venue because the exhibit by Ferdie Montemayor complemented the tea pairing and ceramics show event.”
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