Celebrating Filipino flavors

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Chef Miko Aspiras’ Ensaymada wih Flambeed Morada and Rosella.

Ever tried Kare-Kare that’s made with crispy pork belly instead of beef and macadamia instead of the traditional peanuts? How about Sisig that’s not served sizzling on a hot plate, but in the form of paella? Or lechon stuffed with goat cheese and chocolate or with mango and chili? And for dessert, you’ve probably never tasted French macaron with a savory twist, a keso de bola filling. Or ice cream that incorporates an assortment of sweet leftovers in the pastry kitchen—syrups, purees, cakes, cookies, fruits and more.

These, and more, are what diners can expect at the lunch or dinner buffet at Diamond Hotel Philippines’ Corniche until July 1. Two extremely talented chefs, Chef Sau del Rosario and Chef Miko Aspiras, collaborate in a grand celebration of Filipino flavors that’s perfect for the month of June.

The Filipino food festival is called Filipino Culinary Pride, and Chefs Sau and Miko happen to be two of the best Filipino chefs in the country today. Chef Sau, who owns and runs Café Fleur and 25 Seeds in his hometown Angeles City, Pampanga, never stops surprising people with his reinvention of classic Filipino dishes and constantly promotes Filipino cuisine via food festivals around the country and abroad. Chef Miko, the brains behind Le Petit Soufflé and Scout’s Honor, among others, is an award-winning pastry chef whose sweet creations taste as good as they look.

Joining hands for Filipino Culinary Pride, Chef Sau takes care of the savory items, injecting quite a number of Kapampangan dishes into the menu cycle, while Chef Miko creates all the ingenious desserts that diners delight in every day.

The culinary journey at Corniche for the duration of the Filipino Culinary Pride food festival begins with interesting appetizers, such as Prawn Ceviche (fresh prawn kinilaw with avocado, palm vinegar and coconut cream), Tamales Pampangueña (chicken, salted egg, chorizo, annatto and coconut cream), Chicken Galantina Roulade (boneless chicken stuffed with sausages, ham, cheese, dried raisins and nuts), and Sinigang Flan (gelatin of sinigang with seafood). True to Chef Sau’s genius, these dishes offer familiar flavors but in unique forms. Prawn Ceviche, for example, incorporates a unique ingredient, avocado, into the kinilaw. Chef Sau’s Tamales Pampangueña is not wrapped in leaves but made into a mousse, what traditionally is an oven-roasted whole stuffed chicken called Chicken Galantina now takes the form of a roulade, while the hot and sour sinigang soup has been transformed into a gelatin flan.

This element of surprise continues on in Chef Sau’s hot dishes, which include Crispy Pork Kare-Kare Macadamia, a signature dish by the celebrity chef that never fails to impress. The crispy pork is lechon kawali served with kare-kare sauce cooked in truffle oil with, no, not the usual ground peanuts, but with macadamia nuts. In the hands of Chef Sau, classic kare-kare gets an upgrade not only in ingredients but also in presentation.

Another signature dish of his which he has included in Diamond Hotel’s menu cycle is Sisig Paella. The Kapampangan in Chef Sau comes alive when he cooks local dishes like sisig, but his creativity adds another dimension to it when he converts it into Sisig Paella. He has presented this dish in Filipino food promotions he had abroad, and now everyone gets a taste of it in the Filipino Culinary Pride food festival.

Positioned beside the Sisig Paella in Chef Sau’s “specialty corner” for the duration of the food festival is Bringhe. It is another classic Kapampangan dish. A yellow rice dish similar to paella, Chef Sau’s Bringhe incorporates native chicken and longganisa, topped with mussels on half shell.

Then there is Salted Eggyolk Prawn Rebosado, where the traditional camaron rebosado gets elevated to gourmet level by coating it with salted egg and serving it with aligue aioli.

Instead of the regular chicken or pork, Chef Sau’s adobo makes use of lamb. He calls it Lamb Adobo with Garlic Confit. He cooks the lamb in vinegar, soy sauce and peppercorns until fork-tender, so that it is fall-off-the-bone in tenderness and bursting with flavor. Chef Sau also has Duck Confit Adobo, which is another gourmet version of the national dish.

At the carving station, two dishes are the stars of the buffet—Salt Crusted Salmon with Calamansi and Coconut, and Lechon in the form of Porchetta rolls. The Porchetta comes in three fillings that represent the three main islands in the Philippines—Buru for Luzon, Chili Mango for the Visayas, and Malagos Tablea Chocolate and Chèvre (goat cheese) for Mindanao. Yes, chocolate works in lechon!
Speaking of chocolate, Chef Miko Aspiras’ dessert creations for Diamond Hotel’s Filipino Culinary Pride food festival feature quite a number of very interesting treats that incorporate chocolate. His fruit series—Mansanas, Dayap, Mangga, and Cherry—simulate the form of the fruits that they represent, but they are actually desserts made with different ingredients. Mansanas is Dulce-Cinnamon mousse and Granny Smith apple compote dipped in red glaze with chocolate leaf and twigs décor; Dayap is coconut mousse with dayap (local lime) curd dipped in praline cocos; Mangga refers to mango mousse with passion fruit and mango sauce insert, mango coulis, dipped in gourmet glaze; and Cherry is layers of chocolate sponge, cherry mousse and cherry Chantilly. Everything looks too good to eat, but once you decide to take a bite, you will not be able to stop until you have finished the whole ‘fruit.’

Chef Miko also laid out spreads of Mandarin Cheesecake (Mandarin orange cheesecake with a Graham crust base and fresh orange segments for topping), Grape Choux (choux pastry filled with blueberry and Mascarpone Chantilly and blueberry compote) and Keso de
Bola Macarons (red French macarons with a keso de bola filling).

There is also an Ensaymada live station at the dessert area, where the giant Ensaymadas are sliced upon request, plated and served with flambéed Morada and Rosella.

But Chef Miko’s most popular creation happens to be his Zero Waste Ice Cream. It is basically vanilla based ice cream that makes use of leftovers from the pastry kitchen. “It changes every day, because what goes into the ice cream depends on what is collected by the pastry kitchen of the hotel at the end of the day. The whole idea is to repurpose ingredients such as croissants and small vanilla muffins and breathe new life into excess products so that we minimize, if not eliminate, wastage,” Chef Miko says.

Diamond Hotel Philippines’ Filipino Culinary Pride is ongoing at Corniche for lunch and dinner daily until July 1.