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Westin Manila kicks off series of culinary collabs with vegan chef

Westin Manila executive chef Rej Casanova (center) with chef Mimi Vergara-Tupas and her son Uno Tupas. Handout

MANILA -- Westin Manila’s first edition of CuiSCENE, a series of culinary collaborations, kicks off with a plant-powered team-up with Davao-based certified raw vegan chef Mimi Vergara-Tupas.

CuiSCENE was conceptualized by Westin Manila’s general manager Alexander Dietzch and executive chef Rej Casanova as a series of collaborations where they invite food professionals to share their knowledge and food with the hotel. 

Raw vegan chef Mimi Vergara-Tupas. Handout

Vergara-Tupas said she has often found the plant-based options wanting when eating out, particularly in hotel buffets. She eventually started cooking with this philosophy at home and became so dedicated with it that she flew to Bali, a known plant-based cuisine haven, to explore what the region had to offer with the hopes of bringing them back to Davao. This is also where she attained her plant-based culinary certification.

Her whole family is a testament to the plant-based lifestyle. Vergara-Tupas cooks plant-based food for her kids to bring to school to the point where the kids themselves actively look for salads and healthier options. Uno, the eldest son, lost weight because of this, and even followed his mom’s footsteps and was certified in Thailand to join the business where he is now culinary manager and culinary director.

For the family, it will be the first time their food will be showcased in Manila. Vergara-Tupas is set to conduct a plant-based culinary intro class for the hotel, and cook with her son Uno.

Buffet selections. Jeeves de Veyra

While Casanova has existing plant-based options in the hotel’s all-day dining restaurant Seasonal Tastes' buffet, a special section was set up for the guest chef’s entrees such as vegetable skewers, tempe (fermented tofu popular in Indonesian cuisine), mushroom adlai, and rosemary olive oil cake for the whole month of July.

The highlight of the collaboration will be a dinner where Clean Café’s and Made Simple’s best-sellers will be paired with biodynamic wine.

Organic farming methods and grapes planted according to an astronomical cycle produce biodynamic wines with notes ranging from the friendly to the funky. On the chiller were reds and whites from French wineries Le Mazel and Domaine Henri Milan.

The meal opens with a series of starters paired with Le Mazel Cuvee Charbonnieres -- mushroom pate and vegan butter made with coconut. Make sure to spread some of the garlic confit.

How do you level up cabbage? Chef Uno cooked this in a vegan bagna cauda, and torched the sides so it can be eaten layer by layer with the crispy walnut ash.

This was a nice use of watercress as a health shot. This is a thick hearty soup with truffle paste, shimeji confit, and buckwheat instead of bread croutons.

The panzanella salad uses day-old bread to get that hard chewy texture and near-overripe marble tomatoes to get them soft and sweet. The dressing is a bit light but nothing a sip of wine won’t fix.

Best to crumble the chia and flaxseed cracker then mix in with the burnt heirloom cherry tomato, paprika oil and vegan ricotta cheese made with oat milk.

The mains were a multistage course. These look like grilled scallops, but a bite reveals the firm texture of oyster mushroom stems.

The enoki bouquet could be the next big thing in snacks! Though eat this with utensils to get the plant-based aioli and nori strip hiding below.

Chef Mimi’s slightly sweet Rosemary Olive Oil cake wraps up the meal.

The CuiSCENE wine pairing dinner with Made Simple's Chef Mimi Vergara-Tupas will be held on July 11 at 7 p.m. at Seasonal Tastes priced at P4,500 nett/person.