MANILA -- Chef Miko Aspiras considers fellow chef Sau del Rosario "the pasty chef mentor I never had."
“Even though we come from different parts of the kitchen, he helped me develop my palate as a pastry chef,” the award-winning dessert wunderkind behind Le Petit Soufflé acknowledged.
Aspiras still remembers how they first met. “Chef Sau was one of our favorite judges during culinary competitions when I was in La Salle. In one competition, he came up to me and said that if I won that, he would hire me,” he recalled.
The two chefs have since kept in touch and now the mentor and the mentee are teaming up for the Diamond Hotel's annual Filipino food festival -- their first collaboration since Del Rosario hired Aspiras straight out of college.
Dubbed “Filipino Culinary Pride,” the festival offers the teacher’s greatest hits and his student’s vision of the future.
This is Del Rosario’s third time to be featured as the Diamond's guest chef and he describes this as a deeper journey into his interpretation of Filipino food.
His signature dish at his Pampanga restaurant Café Fleur, the Sisig Paella, is one of the featured dishes at the Corniche buffet. (Make sure you get the crispy slightly burnt bits to thoroughly enjoy this dish.)
His Duck Adobo still has crispy skin and just a splash of the adobo is needed to temper the meat’s gamey flavor, while the Talangka Tamale adds the richness of crab fat to the humble Kapampangan boboto.
Del Rosario also has a unique take on sinigang as he turned the sour soup into gelatin.
1 - Sisig Paella. Jeeves de Veyra
2 - Duck Adobo. Jeeves de Veyra
3 - Sinigang Gelatin. Jeeves de Veyra
4 - Talangka Tamales. Jeeves de Veyra
5 - Malagos Chocolate, Guimaras Chili Mango and Buro Lechon Belly. Jeeves de Veyra
The LuzViMinda lechon belly trio, meanwhile, is a tribute to ingredients found in Luzon (buro), Visayas (chili Guimaras mango), and Mindanao (Malagos dark chocolate), each imparting their distinct flavor to the fatty pork. In my opinion, the buro lechon belly is the best of the bunch as the ingredient’s sourness is truly unique.
But perhaps the crowd drawer on the savory side of the buffet is the Macadamia Nut Kare-Kare. The usual kare-kare uses peanuts but Del Rosario’s decadent version has sweeter notes from the macadamia nuts used for the sauce’s base that melds perfectly with crispy pork slices and a bit of bagoong.
“The nice thing about food is that food is narrative. All dishes have a story. Some are recipes from my mother and grandmother. Others are new recipes developed from my consulting jobs in Cebu and Davao. These are my greatest hits,” Del Rosario said.
SWEET AND GREEN
For his part, Aspiras bravely defied expectations of a Filipino dessert spread, which usually features traditional kakanin, cakes, and leche flan. “I didn’t want to do normal kakanin. My strengths are petit gateau and French desserts,” he explained.
Apart from the Queso De Bola macarons that put him on the radar of local foodies, Aspiras served a variety of mousse made from local ingredients like mango, passion fruit, and dayap coated in fruity white chocolate shells.
His desserts are definitely a feast for the eyes and the sweet tooth.
The Mandarin Orange Cheesecake is neither too light nor too heavy -- just right enough to let the orange’s sweet sourness take center stage. Black Forest may seem out of place here but Aspiras swears that the combination of chocolate, cherry and alcohol agrees with the Filipino dessert palate.
People troop to Diamond Hotel’s Cake Club for the gigantic Ube Ensaymada. With the hotel’s blessing, Aspiras made his own version, tweaking the baking process. The result is an even more gigantic yet fluffier version of the much-loved specialty.
This is strategically placed near the crepe station, so feel free to have it flambeed with butter, syrup, fruits and whipped cream for a one-of-a-kind dessert.
The Zero Waste Ice Cream is a testament to Aspiras’s creativity and environmental awareness. This creation was borne out of a desire to make use of unused ingredients and baked goods from the hotel breakfast buffets. Hotels usually have guidelines as to the limited shelf life of these ingredients and there is a narrow window as to when these have to be thrown away.
While these are often broken down and turned into bread pudding, Aspiras leveraged his quirky dessert sensibilities to make something really special. He sautéed all of the unused fruits in his own honey-balsamic vinegar, mixed it with croutons made of repurposed muffins and breads, then swirled it into vanilla ice cream.
The result is ice cream that can be stored in freezers for longer periods of time. As a bonus, the Zero Waste Ice Cream that you eat today can have totally different flavors from the one you’ll eat tomorrow or the day after that as batches are totally dependent on what ingredients were available that day.
The “Filipino Culinary Pride” lunch and dinner buffet at Corniche of Diamond Hotel along Roxas Boulevard, Manila runs until July 1.