I have visited chef Reggie Aspiras through time, eaten with her, watched her prepare food and observed her teach her students a new dish, and she would always spring a surprise.
As the expression goes, there is never a dull moment in chef Reggie’s class. “Anyone who cannot do this had better go into gardening, or play cards, or watch movies,” she would tell her students, who always laugh, never mind that they often hear that funny statement.
Chef Reggie admits that once upon a time, she was a culinary snob. She took for granted Filipino food. This was in her growing-up years, when she loved to bake cakes and cookies and took pride in her pastas and sushis. She learned this first hand because theirs is a traveling family.
Her father, Sunshine Joe, as he was called by everyone for his joyful mien, was the Secretary or Minister of Tourism. When he attended international conferences representing the country, Reggie and her mother would join him when it was school break. For a brief period, Reggie studied in Spain. On her own, or in the company of her family she enjoyed a generous sampling of European culinary fare. She just did not eat them, she learned how to cook them.
Never the same dish
To Reggie, taste is what matters. Food has to be delicious. “It all boils down to the taste,” she says. “One can have a beautiful dish visually, but if the taste does not make you happy, everything else that went into making it look beautiful and inviting is useless.”
“Reggie is generous with her culinary secrets,” one student affirms. Which is to say there are no secrets, because Reggie shares them generously. She gives her students tips on where to buy the right ingredients. And if they are not sold locally, she has a stash in her pantry. Her salt is especially made for her, and her olive oil comes from Italy, and it is brought in regularly for her cooking classes.
Variation is what makes a Reggie Aspiras dish special. For example, she cooks her lechon in many ways. Her adobo has taken on different personas, this by the mere fact of adding a different relish to it.
Reggie points out, “If I were to repeat it in the same class, that dish will never be the same. That’s probably why I don’t have a restaurant. I’m not good at repeating a dish, and my customers, who may want consistency in their lives, will wonder, how come it doesn’t taste the same? But I like change, I like to play, I like creating what’s in front of me.”
Recreating Filipino dishes
When Reggie cooked up the idea of presenting a recipe book, Notes from My Kitchen, what she had in mind was to share all the dishes that she had concocted, revitalized, reinvented and adapted to suit changing tastes and wants. These dishes are deeply rooted in Philippine culture, and yet, they have evolved as Reggie has constantly recreated them.
“It is my homage to Philippine cuisine,” she emphasizes. “My aim is not to present the original, pure and faithful. Others do that and I respect them. Instead, this is me as a Filipino in my food.”
This book is about Reggie and her persona in the kitchen. Her theme is Filipino because, as she declares, “I am a Fiipino and I am proud to be one.”
The Notes from My Kitchen ebook by chef Reggie Aspiras will be launched on 18 September and will be available through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Apple Books and Kobo.