In Lisbon, I appreciated the far-reaching goals of Chef Myrna Segismundo’s culinary mission of promoting unique Filipino ingredients to a global market. It took one firecracker of a Chef to round up the feast and add in the finishing touches to a new way of cooking, borne out of this cultural diplomacy.
The Mission was to showcase Filipino ingredients and cooking for “Sabores Das Filipinas,” a Food Fest sponsored by the Philippine Embassy in Portugal, at the Altis Avenida Hotel’s Rossio Restaurant. A week-long activity, we found ourselves serving buffet lunches, cocktails and formal dinners for the embassy.
The Lasap Filipino team easily warmed up to Rossio’s Head Chef, Joao Correia. Eager and outgoing, he greeted each day with a “What’s up happy people!” that we instantly felt at home in his kitchen and with his staff. His love for food was so infectious that we excitedly said yes to his 10-course degustation dinner invitation, replete with pairings from the region’s best libations. Philippine Ambassador to Portugal and the brainchild behind “Sabores Das Filipinas”, Celia Anna Feria, took time from a busy schedule to join us.
During dinner, Chef Joao picked Myrna’s mind and challenged her with what Filipino ingredient could be used to enhance each Portuguese dish prepared. From this little game of think and twist, our indulgent dinner became a playground for creativity and collaboration amongst us Filipinos and our Portuguese hosts.
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This roast quail complimented with a sauce of port and mushrooms and foie gras was made more flavorful with a reduction of Don Papa rum and coconut sugar.
Grilled squid with lion’s mane mushroom served with roasted peppers and basil pesto got an extra kick from calamansi.
The red wine sauce for the osso bucco was enhanced with the adobo sauce’s distinct hints of salty and sour.
To the garlic and watercress emulsion of this seared sea bass dish, coconut and crab fat sauce was added. Surprising!
To Chef Joao’s dessert of white chocolate, port, muscato and strawberry sherbet, Pastry Chef Jil Sandique added (of all things) crushed marie biscuits, coco sugar and dried mangoes.
Food tripping around the streets of Lisbon (L – R Chef Myrna Segismundo, Chef Asst, Tippy Benedito, Cehf Raul Ramos, Chef Anne San Diego and Chef Joao Correia)
We could eat and talk about good food all night! Midnight basement dinners with Chef Joao (L – R Pastry Chef Jil Sandique, Chef Myrna Segismundo, Chef Asst Tippy Benedito, Chef Raul Ramos, Chef Joao Correia and Chef Anne San Diego).
That’s what a little imagination can do to Filipino grocery finds. It blew Chef Joao’s mind.
The Filipino pantry holds a wealth of ingredients that lends itself to extraordinary combinations. Chef Joao was quick to spot the opportunity for a mashup--familiar Filipino salty, sour, bitter and sweet flavors with unfamiliar Portuguese cooking techniques. The result was an innovative meal, some nights after, that tickled the taste buds of embassy guests. I did not expect a side mission to all this, to learn from each other and explore the possibilities.
Such was Lasap Filipino’s Portugal experience, a week of heady yet absorbing banter on developing flavor profiles, creative tweaks to cooking methods, and new ideas for traditional dishes and of one another’s food culture. Be it in the kitchen, in the dining room, out on the streets of Lisbon and specially during daily midnight dinners with the kitchen staff at the hotel basement.
“Sabores Das Filipinas” not only featured Chef Joao’s fusion of Filipino and Portuguese flavors, it was also another opportunity to showcase, yet again, our very own. Our adobo, kinilaw, kaldereta, guinataan, maja blanca and turon menu was reinforced with the addition of new favorites, lumpia, pancit bihon guisado, lechon kawali and even arroz caldo for breakfast.
Ironic that I had to step out of our country to have my eyes opened and truly appreciate Filipino dishes and ingredients.
I was taken by how people in this side of the world take to our adobo, undoubtedly the flagship dish of this journey. Like Filipinos, they found it to be hearty and soulful with its bold combination of salt, sweet and sour flavors. The pancit was deeply satisfying. Wherever we went, people would express a craving for it. The lumpia was a standout. Tasty and exotic to their palates, they were eaten faster than we made them. Even kids ate them like French fries!
A Filipino meal wouldn’t be complete without the “sawsawan” to delight tongues. So, the patis, toyo, vinegar, bagoong and calamansi as condiments were made present at the buffet and dinner tables. Teaching them on its use turned quite hilarious when one night we saw dinner guests sprinkle calamansi on everything, even rice, and loving it. But, that is how we would have things. The Lasap Filipino team could now sign off saying, mission accomplished.