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When you meet Chef Reynaldo Lim, he comes across as bigger than life. And I’m not talking about physical size, mind you. Although he is rather like a tall and happy Buddha with a bouncing belly to match. But I am actually referring to his large and ebullient personality — he has a childlike charm and infectious vivacity, you just want to hug him. And he is a joy to watch in the kitchen, sometimes serious and stern but most of the time laughing and having the time of his life. His Dom Deluise-ish character and the great fun he derives from cooking is deliciously expressed in the food he serves. Aside from reigning over the kitchen, he also oversees the table decor, choosing the right floral arrangements and decorative touches and even the plateware for the occasion.
The Grub Club had the privilege to have been the beneficiaries of his fabulous food. We could tell how passionate he is about his food because every time a course is served, he would come out of the kitchen and hover over us, checking to see if we were digging in, if we liked the food or not. And if he caught one of us pausing, chatting, and generally not giving due attention to the dish before us, he’d loom over that person and ask “Why aren’t you eating? Don’t you like it?” Which gets that person promptly shoveling the food in his or her mouth and nodding approvingly, mouth too full to speak. If satisfied, Chef Lim would take a generous sip of wine and smile appreciatively. Fortunately, every dish was superb and sumptuous. But the scene sorta reminded me of a Mother Superior standing guard over students during final exams and saying “No talking! Eyes on your own paper!” Hilarious!
Chef Rey’s cuisine has been described as Continental/French with a strong Asian influence. He prefers to describe it as “Western comfort food with Asian overtones”. Just imagine fresh king prawns with aligue (crab fat) and pineapple relish, served atop a hefty serving of Arroz a la Cubana. Or his dessert of Zucchini Cake with Lychee Buttercream icing. He learned his craft at the Culinary Institute of America in New York and apprenticed with David Bouley at his restaurant in Manhattan. From there, Lim was everywhere — on the Today Show, with Lufthansa as its Star Chef, and for more than a decade, in Beijing’s premium dining spot The Courtyard. In 2010, he left the Courtyard and is now part of the team of chefs of Tjioe Catering (pronounced “chew”) with his friends Edwin Tjioe Tan and Chef Jeff “Jaine” Teh. (Find out more about them at their website — http://tjioethecaterer.ph/)
No doubt, Chef Rey Lim amused my bouche no end. Chef Rey Lim reigns supreme!
I first met Chef Seiji Kamura way back in 2009 when he had a small and cozy Italian bistro called Don Eduardo’s at the Valuepoint Building in Legaspi Village, together with his partner Ms. Bingbing Santos. The restaurant was named after her father.
Back then, I wrote of Chef Seiji as an uncharacteristically tall and broad-shouldered Japanese who not only looks Pinoy, but even sometimes talks like one. The tanned and soft-spoken Chef Seiji has been working and living in the Philippines for almost 20 years now, starting as the Executive Chef of Tsukiji at the Century Park Hotel in Malate. I first enjoyed his innovative culinary creations when he had his Japanese-fusion restaurant Joan Miró on Pasay Road way back in the early 90s. Aside from his decades of experience in Japanese cuisine, he had also undergone a 2-year stint in France training with the great master himself, Paul Bocuse (one of the proponents of nouvelle cuisine and for whom the international culinary competition, the Bocuse d’Or, is named). I remember teasing Chef Seiji that time: “How international can you get! A Japanese from Yokohama who trained in classical Japanese cuisine AND French nouvelle cuisine cooking Italian in the Philippines!” He was pretty amused himself.
Just this year, Chef Seiji opened his restaurant Seiji along Pasay Road (now called Arnaiz Avenue). He prepares the most masterfully-done traditional Japanese dishes — with ingredients air-flown from Japan such as scallops, sanma (Japanese mackerel pike), wagyu beef — as well as exquisitely inventive and unexpected dishes, our favorite of which was the Foie Gras and Unagi Salad with Aged Balsamic Vinaigrette. Chef Seiji himself will welcome you as you enter and oversees his staff and sous-chefs to make sure everything is just so. In fact, up to now, he wakes up every day in the wee hours of the morning to go to market, usually the Baclaran Seaside Seafood market, to select and buy the freshest ingredients himself, as he has always done since he started working in the Philippines. Although you can order from a selection of premium sakes, he also even makes his own home-brewed sake, flavored with fruits like grapes and pears. And the true professional chef that he is, he holds tasting sessions for his staff so that they can knowledgeably describe to customers what they are like or made of.
For sure, my bouche was more than amused. So much so that Seiji merits a return or two or three…
Seiji Restaurant is located at the ground floor of the Cedar Executive Bldg on 1006 Arnaiz Ave, Makati (across Ayala Center). You may call 478-7550 for reservations.
What is it about the cold weather and the pouring rain and blustery winds that make one’s thoughts … and tummy… turn to soup?
Here are just a few of my favorite potages. What’s yours?
When my niece and nephews were very small, I made them try latô. They looked doubtfully at this strange-looking, green bunch of tiny “nodules”, but I told them they were grapes that grow in the sea. “Ah, grapes”, said their young and innocent minds! Their vegetable police has outsmarted them again. At first, the briny taste weirded them out… but they liked it. They loved how the tiny “grapes” would pop in their mouths and would explode with the amazingly delicious flavor of the sea. And that’s how I got them to like latô.
Latô, also called arorosep in the northern provinces, is a seaweed that grows deep in the ocean, in intertidal zones near mangrove forests. Living in the city, getting your hands on really fresh latô is not easy. They are usually packed in seawater to keep them as crisp and fresh as possible in their trip from the sea to the market to your table. It’s incredibly delicate, too. Those teeny-weeny grapes can melt into watery nothingness if banged around in your shopping bag or even washed with tap water long before you eat it. To keep it crisp, rinse it quickly just before you eat it.
I like my latô as a salad, combined with sliced tomatoes and onions. NEVER pour dressing or sauce over the entire salad — they will melt. I dip the salad separately in a sauce of Bagoong Balayan and kalamansi. Some prefer to use local vinegar, like sukang Iloco, as dipping sauce. They make a healthy and perfect side dish to fried or grilled fish.
In texture, flavor, and the aroma of the ocean, it’s a winner! I love latô — Definitely amuses my bouche!
He first introduced his now-famous panizza at his restaurant, C’Italian, in Angeles City, Pampanga. But metro-foodies don’t have to travel all the way there now — Chef Chris has opened My Kitchen at the Oasis Paco Park Hotel right in Manila! Of course, he serves his panizza as well as other fine Italian dishes. He also makes his own Italian sausages and deli meats.
The Panizza is a thin yet pliable pizza that one rolls up for a pop-in-your-mouth eating enjoyment. An original creation by Chef Chris, it comes in several flavor variations. It comes conveniently sliced into strips which you then top with fresh arugula or rocket, some alfalfa sprouts, and a drop or two or three of chili oil. Then you roll it all up and bite! The deliciously crisp dough gives way to all the amazing tastes and textures inside! Chef Chris Locher’s Panizza always amuses my bouche!
The Oasis Paco Park Hotel (beside Paco Church near Old Swiss Inn)
1032-34 Belen Street, Paco, Manila You MUST reserve (it is almost always full) : +632 521-2371 to 75 Check out https://www.facebook.com/mykitchenbychefchris