When I was a boy, I wanted to be an astronomer. I must have missed a beat in my prayers; some half-deaf biggie up there turned me, officially last Monday, into a gastronomer. What a gas.
Well, you can also say “gastronome” or “gastronomist.” The English language tries hard to accommodate everything French, since that culture takes precedence, especially when it comes to culinary excellence: read the feasting table.
Why, even the matter of spit-roasting had been raised to the level of science as early as the 13th century. C’est incroyable!
In 1248, King Louis IX established the Guild of Goose Roasters, which generically became the Chaine des Rotisseurs and flourished for over 500 years until pheasant-hungry peasants stormed the Bastille so they could eat cake and make heads roll. All guilds were abolished in the name of Liberté, Fraternité, Egalité! It wasn’t until 1950 that the Chaine was re-founded in Paris.
And now, after 60 years, the worldwide organization called Confrerie de la Chaine des Rotisseurs — which unites both professional caterers and amateur gastronomes who enjoy good food in general and that cooked on the turning spit and silver grill, in particular — enjoys a membership of 30,000 “foodies” in 123 countries organized into National and Regional Balliages.
Here, we have a Balliage de Manille and a Balliage de Cebu, from where our national head honcho comes — Michel J. Lhuillier, Bailli Délégue National and Membre, Conseil Magistral. His spouse Amparito Llamas-Lhuillier is Bailli de Cebu, meaning she heads that chapter. For Manila, it’s the dashing Federico S. Borromeo Jr., my friend since we worked together on a coffee-table book for the Rotary International or was it Makati or both.
My tocayo Freddie had invited me to attend a couple of dinners with the Chaine, and on both occasions he must have appreciated the manner in which I burped most discreetly, apart from expressing my admiration for the level of imagination and creativity that went behind the preparation of special menus, particularly those that were paired with excellent wines and/or more robust alcoholic drinks, such as single malt whisky.
Last Monday, March 14, new members were inducted into the Chaine. And my goodness, I happened to be one of these, together with my rock-‘n’-roll and broadcast buddy Harry Tambuatco, among several others.
Each one of us was called onstage, given a sash and medallion crafted in Paris, and made to hold a saber, with its point down on the floor, and then received not exactly whacks but taps on our shoulders with a sword blade, as conducted by Monsieur Lhuillier. Then the handshakes and congrats, the signatures executed on parchment sheets that now said we were Chevaliers of Chaine des Rotisseurs, Balliage des Philippines, as well as Membres Gourmet Desgustateur of the Ordre Mondial des Gourmet Degustateurs. The latter, I believe, has to do with liking spirits of the glasses as much as calories found on plates.
This ceremony was not the only highlight of the long evening that was billed as “Tryst with Madame Ning” and held mainly in the Rigodon Ballroom of the Manila Peninsula Hotel.
It all started with cocktails at Salon de Ning, that ode to decadence that wonderfully mystifies and mythifies the concocted character of a Ms. Ning of Shanghai who becomes a Madame and celebrates her fabled status with thematic collections — such as of shoes and boxing paraphernalia — displayed with art deco panache in nearly horror vacui resplendence.
A large screen that served as the stage backdrop flashed images of a culinary narrative that brought everyone from, say, Brandenburg, Germany to Peshawar, India, as introduction to the next course, titled “Kundan, Lal Gujral / Graf Von Zeppelin” and composed of tandoori prawn and scallop with pickled vegetables and raita, washed down with Max Ferd Richter Mulheiner Sonnenlay Zeppelinlabel 2008.
An intermezzo of lychee and raspberry sorbet followed, the plating so aesthetically pleasing. Then the “August Escoffier” that harked to Monte Carlo, France — beef tenderloin, pumpkin risotto, asparagus and cepes sauce — with yet another glass poured by the kitchen attendants who marched in dramatically with each new plate, this time from freshly uncorked bottles of Louis Legin Santenay ler Cru La Comme Rouge 2005.
The next course evoked Milan, Italy, with parfait of gorgonzola and mascarpone cheese plus raisins, garden greens and toasted brioche, the paired wine the sweet bubbly G.D. Vajra Moscato D’Asti 2008.
A tribute to Baron Ferdinand von Richthofen and “The Silk Road” followed, with exotic spice-roasted pineapple and peppered mango sorbet, paired with Salon de Ning Champagne Rose Brut.
Coffee or tea came with “Assorted Mignardise” — so brightly pastel-colored one wanted to preserve them as sala decor.