MANILA – For Filipino chef Jessie Sincioco, the opportunity to prepare meals for Pope Francis was an "experience of a lifetime."
"I was so nervous that when I see him I freeze. He was really different, really something. There's a certain magnetism in him that you stare at him and feel like hugging him," she said.
And she did just that not only once, but about three times. "I wouldn't miss that!" she said.
Sincioco was selected last September to do the papal menu for the duration of the Pope's Manila stay at the Apostolic Nunciature.
"I had to do research on his favorite food and Argentinian cuisine and I made Argentinian bread for him because I knew it's his favorite, the media luna. But he likes our ciabatta. He also loves rice," she said.
The chef behind the restaurants Chef Jessie at the Rockwell Club and 100 Revolving Restaurant in Eastwood, shared that she was able to craft the pope's four-day menu in just an hour.
"I was told that the menu has to be really simple," she said.
Sincioco, who is known for her fine dining menus, admitted that serving simpler meals was a challenge for chefs like her.
"For us chefs, the most difficult to prepare are the simplest things because it had to be done perfectly and at least I'm glad we were able to do it that way," she said.
The veteran chef said she not only wants to prepare the best meal for the pope, but to also make sure that he gets the energy to sustain him given his busy schedule.
"I want to make sure he has enough energy because his schedule was so hectic. He's non-stop," she said.
The pope, according to her, didn't want to waste food.
"When we served him our rice risotto, he really finished everything. And the chicken chimichurri, an Argentinian dish, I served that to him also. Ang sabi ng waiter ko, 'Mam, sinisimot niya!" What was left was the bone of the chicken," she said.
On the pontiff's final day in Manila, Sincioco said she received a rosary from the Pope. She then gave the pope a bamboo image of Saint Joseph, pistachio polvoron inside a coconut shell, and a shirt with a personal dedication from the entire kitchen staff.
She said that her stint at the Apostolic Nunciature did not just give her a rare opportunity to meet the pope, she also got a glimpse of his human side.
"Even the unguarded moments, he is so natural," she said.
In the end, Sincioco said the encounter with the pope was a rewarding experience.
"I'm happy that we were able to feed him well," she beamed. -- With a report from Caroline Howard, ANC