Noche Buena on the go

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If you’re a couple living in that tiny avant-garde studio and are spending Christmas Eve together for the first time, having just gotten married a few months ago or you’re a family of three or four and you have been busy at the office and as a wife or mother, you wonder what to serve during Noche Buena (Christmas Eve dinner) or the next day’s Christmas lunch or New Year’s Media Noche (midnight dinner), you need not worry.

Merry couple Former Sen. Serge Osmeña and wife Bettina.

Something different, cosmopolitan and sophisticated that would make your family and guests believe you went out of your way to ensure they will be happy and feel loved

Bettina Lopez Osmeña, founder of Gourmet Corner and wife to politician Serge Osmeña. YUMMIE DINGDING

Gourmet Corner, with its main store at Plaza San Antonio in Forbes Park and its hole-in-the-wall branch at the Rustan’s Supermarket at EDSA Shangri-La Mall, has the kind of special food that you exactly have in mind — something different, cosmopolitan and sophisticated that would make your family and guests believe you went out of your way to ensure they will be happy and feel loved with the food you are serving them.

Natural choice
Gourmet Corner is a culinary-cum-entrepreneurial undertaking of Bettina Lopez Osmeña, wife of politician Serge de la Rama Osmeña, who is running for senator in the coming elections.

It all started for Bettina when she found out she had more time on her hands, her children having grown up, with two studying abroad, one getting married and only one still staying at home. What was there to do for someone whose paternal family (the Lopezes) has been known for their entrepreneurial acumen and whose mother (Chona) is recognized hereabouts for her personal specialties like callos, except start her own food business?

“I was thinking of friends who had difficulty finding good help, especially in the kitchen. It was quite a surprise, when I thought of it, considering that we have such a large population and yet, good household kitchen staff is hard to come by. Why not cook food, put them in a container and just enough for a couple or a starting family? Whether they need food on any given day, especially after coming from the office, or they need to entertain, why not make daily fare and party dishes available to them at a reasonable cost?”

That’s how Gourmet Corner started for Bettina, who has kept her youth despite admitting, “I will soon be a senior citizen.”

That homey feel
Bettina has not only maintained her innocent, relaxed beauty, which obviously comes from not trying too hard, she is also very friendly. She carries a good conversation and she makes you feel like you were visiting her at home.

And, of course, she shares with you which dish goes with what among the homemade foodstuff that are available in her store. She takes particular pride in a fridge full of all-vegetable dishes, claiming that she has put together in her store the best of the vegetarian dishes from different sources in Metro Manila. You don’t have to go far if you live in one of the villages in the Makati area. Bettina offers sauces and dips of all sorts that you’d normally find in top hotels and restaurants, except here, they’re a lot cheaper and you, of course, know it’s made in someone else’s kitchen, so the food does not taste pretentious or bland or too far-out.

Sweets also in menu
There are also all kinds of cookies, candies, sweets and other delectable goodies that one can bring to a party as a present for the hostess, as well as native delicacies, not found in ordinary stores and supermarkets, for balikbayans to bring home as pasalubong or gifts for friends and family back home.

When ordering party fare that Gourmet Corner offers, one should call up two days in advance telephone numbers 551-9562 or (0998)569-6849.

Daily Tribune had the privilege of interviewing Bettina about Gourmet Corner, its offerings and her life as a housewife, mother and entrepreneur:

Daily Tribune (DT): When did you start Gourmet Corner?
Bettina: I opened this in October 2016. It was the year my three children left home. My eldest child got married. My two girls decided they wanted to be independent and they moved out of the house. My kitchen was so used to being busy with the kids and their friends eating at home.

DT: Are you hands-on in the kitchen?
Bettina: Yes, but our kasambahay (household staff) naman know how to cook. But, of course, before the food is served, I get to taste it first.

DT: So, you found out that you had more time in your hands?
Bettina: I had nobody to cook for anymore nga.

DT: Did you really plan to have several products or just yours?
Bettina: No, I really had to have other products. I decided it wasn’t going to be enough if I filled the store with my products only.

DT: What comes from your kitchen?
Bettina: Mostly the frozen food. The others are really sourced.

DT: So, where do your customers come from?
Bettina: Since good help is hard to come by, a lot of people in the surrounding communities have problems with their cooks. So, many housewives and matrons come here to buy cooked food already. They just reheat it. There are also couples. Also young professionals who have no time to cook anymore. Besides, if you’re only two, why would you still hire a cook? Their apartments are so tiny and have no room for stay-in help. They barely have proper kitchens now, only kitchenettes where the best they could do is reheat food that they buy outside.

DT: So, this isn’t just about serving the gated village set.
Bettina: The idea is to expand the business. There’s good food to share with the larger community out there. I love to expand and I have to expand, but I can only expand in very high-end malls.

DT: I am looking at the fridge, and I think if I do not cook and I want an elegant, delicious Noche Buena (Christmas Midnight Dinner) or Media Noche (New Year’s Midnight dinner), I could just come here and take my pick.

Bettina: Yes, of course, especially if you’re only a couple or you’re a family of four. When you need a larger platter, you need to order at least two days ahead of pick-up time.

DT: What did you finish in college?
Bettina: Business Administration. In Assumption.

I was thinking of friends who had difficulty finding good help, especially in the kitchen.

DT: Tell me about your children.

Bettina: My eldest is a boy. His name is Jose Lorenzo or Joey. He is the only boy followed by three girls. He is now taking his masters at Columbia University. My second daughter is a food writer for Pepper.ph. My third child is Danielle who is now taking fashion design in London, but she is coming home for good the day after Christmas. And my youngest, Andrea, is a student in UP taking Industrial Design.

DT: What is your mothering style?
Bettina: I am strict. When they were growing up, there was a lot of discipline. You know what? It’s worth naman, eh. None of my kids got into drugs. They’re good kids.
DT: So, aside from cooking, which of course started out as a hobby and part of your duties as a housewife and mother, what else do you do?
Bettina: I used to exercise, watch movies, read books. Guess what, I don’t have time for all of those anymore. I am just so tired when I get home.

DT: So, how do you and Serge relax?
Bettina: We watch television, movies on Netflix. We stay home a lot.

DT: Is Serge mabait (kind)?
Bettina: He is, but as a senator, he is tough. Like he’s known as someone who fights against misdeeds. Although it is not found in the dictionary, the word that they use to describe him is “fiscalizer.” I’m sure he has made a lot of enemies because he speaks his mind. He is very frank. That’s why when he runs, he is always an independent. He ran in 2001 as an Independent. He ran in 2010 as an Independent, and then in 2016. Although Serge in the earlier years was always part of the National Union of Christian Democrats with Raul Manglapus. So, they were the ones who adopted Fidel Ramos who didn’t have a party.

DT: What do you serve Serge for breakfast?
Bettina: You know what? He starts his day with oatmeal. Then, he gets hungry so he goes for a second breakfast, which is Filipino like tapa, longganiza, kesong puti, that sort of thing.

Serge is easy to feed because he does not like fancy food. He only likes Pinoy food.

DT: So, what’s a typical Sunday fare in your house?
Bettina: Maybe like we’ll have cocido, which my kids really love. Maybe that’s also the time we have steak and paella. We have more special food on Sundays except that my daughters, who are freelancers, have gigs even on weekends. And that’s even if they worked the whole week. So, we seldom meet on Sundays although they come to the house on another day, as long as they’re free. What is difficult is to get everyone together on a Sunday. They have their sidelines on weekends.

ROAST turkey P8,500 good for 20 persons.

DT: What is your favorite food?
Bettina: Good vegetarian dishes. As I am getting older, I’m having a hard time digesting meat so I am always cooking vegetables now. I’m the only one with a full freezer that is full of vegetarian dishes. That (points at a refrigerator) one over there is 100 percent vegetarian dishes. That’s because of my frustration because my maid doesn’t prepare vegetarian dishes.

I was looking for a place that has vegetarian food and there’s only one. This one is in Belair. It is the Corner Tree Café owned by Chiqui Mabanta. So, she supplies me and I started to consolidate these vegetarian restaurants. One of them is Denise Celdran who also supplies me with mushroom-based food.

DT: So, do you also cater?
Bettina: Yes, I am starting to expand now to catering. But I don’t like to do it for more than 30 people. Then, the quality might suffer.

Spaghetti Vongole priced at P2,200.

DT: You must be very busy this year.

Bettina: Oh, yes, that’s why this year, I decided not to do my Christmas Eve dinner. I’ve been hosting for about 25 years, but my son won’t be here until the 27th, my daughter is flying in from London on the 26th so I decided I am doing my family Christmas dinner on the 27th.

And on the 24th, the real Christmas Eve, we will just have a potluck in our friend’s home where other friends are also joining us.

DT: But if you’re all together, what would you usually serve during Noche Buena?
Bettina: Roast beef is a standard. And then ham too is a standard. My husband likes Majestic Ham while I like the Plaza Ham. And then, callos and it’s my Mum who brings it because it is her specialty. And then, lechon (roasted pig). The staff always has a whole lechon. This year, they’re having turkey para naman maiba (for variety). Gourmet Corner is getting to be known for its turkey so I told the staff naman this year, turkey tayo (we’ll have turkey).

DT: It’s nice so they can taste it too.

Bettina: Yes, of course, I make sure of that. They’ve been busy cooking the whole year.
DT: You must be busy when it’s December.

Bettina: My kitchen gets busy starting on the 15th. Before the 15th, it’s pakonti-konti (roughly translated “little by little”). Like one day, I prepared two turkeys for two different customers.

And of course, our party platter business is doing well. A bestseller is Truffle Mushroom Canneloni. I am known for that, so that’s pretty standard.

DT: Did you take cooking lessons?
Bettina: Yes, but not abroad. Here only, like with the Reynoso School.

DT: Did your Mum require you?
Bettina: Yes, just so we would have basic cooking skills. And that evolved as we got older. Up to now, I am almost 60, I am still learning. And I still attend classes. I go to Reggie Aspiras.

Like three or four times a year. They give us schedules in advance and if I see something interesting, I still go. I like Reggie’s recipes. She’s really good. And she’s really passionate.

DT: So, what is your personal specialty?
Bettina: Maybe the callos, like my Mum, too. Another best seller here is Iberian Chicken, which is whole roasted organic chicken deboned and slow roasted with lots of garlic, peppercorn, herb de provence and unfiltered olive oil. Our customers like our pasta sauces too. Like what I said my truffle cannelloni is my specialty.

DT: Serge, as a politician, has his causes, particularly economic development. How about you? What are your causes?
Bettina: I am active with I Can Serve, which promotes awareness of breast cancer. We raise funds because we’re into information campaigns. So we’re encouraging women to have their annual mammogram because early detection is cure. We have signed up with memoranda of understanding with three municipalities — Tagum, being one of them, because of Margie Moran — we just tell them we will give you the technology know how and we will train your barangay health workers how to examine. We also ask these municipalities to take care of constituents who have breast cancer because you have the means for their operation and medicine. So, that’s basically my cause.

DT: What about your store? Are you promoting something or a cause?
Bettina: Well, you might have noticed the way we pack the food. We are slowly switching to cornstarch containers which totally decompose after 150 days. But, of course, it’s double the price of plastic but never mind, our environment is more important. Gourmet Corner is now trying to get out of the use of plastic even if gradually.

DT: What is your Christmas wish?
Bettina: My Christmas wish is for my husband, Serge, to win in the coming senatorial elections.

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