Chef’s sweat and rust-flavored pastries, anyone?
Manila Chef of the Year, 29-year old Michael “Miko” Aspiras whipped up weird but pretty sweets, distilling the essence of two “inedibles” for the sheer fun of it.
To his credit, Carlos “Charlie” Cojuangco, youngest son of kingmaker and business tycoon Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco Jr. didn’t even wince when asked to taste Miko’s avant garde creation onstage on day two of Madrid Fusion Manila 2016.
The young chef has a penchant for playing with colors, textures and tastes. Most of all, “I like to tell a story with food and I’ve always believed desserts shouldn’t just be an afterthought.”
So, in the silence of his empty kitchen before workers arrived, he tinkered with layered flavors like a child, extracting nectar from 1,500 santan flowers to sweeten his frozen meringue perched atop marbled sheets of rust-flavored chocolate and dribbled with drops of caramel sauce distilled (with the aid of a machine) from the salty taste of his own perspiration.
Then he plated seven flavors of “polvoron” (shortbread), stirring in Bukidnon Pili nut butter, Oriental Mindoro green honey and “carabao” (water buffalo) milk in corn flour, packing off the mix in a mousse mold. After chilling, he arranged the finished product over little ceramic slabs shaped like the Philippines islands.
Miko made black “polvoron” from squid ink – more of an appetizer, he explained. A variant consisted of ground “tuyo” or salted dried fish – bones and all. His other “polvoron” flavors consisted of Calamansi and “Malunggay” (Horseradish Tree), pulverized strawberries and milk, Pili with corn flour, Adlai flour with “Guyabano” (Custard Apple) jelly.
He made them look like yummy cabochon gems in red, emerald, ebony, lilac and pink.
To be honest, I’m no connoisseur when it comes to food. I don’t think much about the taste of things as much as the energy I’m supposed to get out of it. For me, it’s how long can I last on my feet doing what I want if I eat it, not about how delicious it tastes or how beautifully it’s presented.
And while I layer colors as an artist, I never thought about layering flavors, experimenting with textures and such.
Until then, I never realized food can be so sexy.
This gastronomic congress was such a revelation to me, aside from being a feast.
I watched chefs’ cooking demos and listened to them talk about food as art, how cuisines tell you where you are in this planet, how taste gives you the best insight into the culture of a people, their history and origins – then too, how limitless the human imagination can be when re-inventing familiar menus to look so different without losing their essence.
Needless to say, I was bowled over when chefs showcased their take on traditional Street Food during the Regional Lunch.
Chef Denny Antonio and Chef Nicco Santos de-constructed the “Balut” – boiled duck egg with day-old chick in its shell. They came up with a charcoal-colored uni – briny sea urchin innards – and prawn cracker reminiscent of brittle chick bones, beak and all. On this cradle, they piped on creamy, reconstituted “balut” egg yolk, topped off with apple caviar.
They also re-interpreted the “Empanada” as brioche biscuits with a sliver of liver terrine, “longganisa” (native pork sausage), mango jam, cilantro root, with dollops of laksa mousse.
Chef Adrian Cuenca simmered pork in lemongrass and spices before frying it twice with “bagoong” (shrimp paste) and tomatoes to come up with his “Crispy Pork Binagoongan”.
Chef Gab Bustos turned “Mais con Yelo” into a mouthful of milk-steeped frozen sourdough to simulate crunchy ice, with tongues of tangy uni tossed in with sweet corn puree. He also re-invented and glamorized “Kwek Kwek” – orange quail eggs dipped in batter and fried.
Chef Margarita Fores offered dirty Cervesa Negra ice cream in sourdough Pandesal dusted with barquillos powder topped with calamansi mustarda and chicken liver pate, garnished with Cadena de Amor buds.
Chef Carlos Garcia whipped up Coconut Flan Taho filled with pineapple and coconut meat marinated in rum and lime paired with Dynamite Lumpia stuffed with Crispy Pata.
I also sampled Chef Adrian Cuenca’s “Lugaw” (porridge) and Chef Robert Bolanos’ “Banana Turon”– diced fried banana in crisp mini cups topped with whipped cream.
And there’s Chef Robert Bolaños paired Binatog – boiled corn with “latik” (toasted shredded coconuts) and Buko Pandan Daiquiri – coconut infused rum with Pandan syrup and Pandan “Gulaman” (gelatin).
At the other end of the taste spectrum, I tried Pamana’s “Nilasing na Mangga”(drunken mangoes), a combo of pickled green mangoes dipped in beer – Cerveza Negra and seasoned with chili or sampaloc candy salt, as well as nuts cooked in the broth of “sisig”, “adobo” or “sinigang”.
There’s durian curry, mini dishes of fried milkfish accompanied by a scoop of rice topped with fried quail egg, “Tortang Talong” (fried eggplant on beaten eggs) bedded on rice, the finest cuts of tuna, “Binaki”, Durian Hopia, Baked Curacha, “Inasal” Sausage. “Quesa Sisig”, Sampaguita (Jasmine)-flavored “Sapin Sapin” and chocolate truffle-coated “Suman”.
After lunch, I browsed through the booths of Spanish wines, cheeses, Pastillas, painstakingly handcrafted chocolate, chocolate with pomelo bits, Espasol made from freshly ground coconut crisps, turmeric teas. Of course, I can’t resist sampling the Jamon Iberica and other cold cuts offered though I skipped the wine tastings.
Curious about the “Food Tunnels”, I sampled three. The first proffered “Dulce de Leche” – milk candy – sweetened milk cooked slowly for three hours, on little crepes. The second showed off about a dozen native sausages “Langgonisas” – from my favorite Lucban to Alaminos and four types of rice – risotto, red, black and white. The finale was a Coconut-themed tunnel which served up “Buco Pie”, “Suman” dipped in coco sugar, fresh Buco juice in the shell and coco biscuits.
In all, Madrid Fusion Manila gave me such exhilarating food for the mind, body and soul.
I’m looking forward to the next Fusion. I hope it goes on year after year.
Then we can all eat happily ever after.