Sunday, March 23, 2014

Cignal's Feast of Colours Brings Iron Chef Geoffrey Zakarian to Manila

I remember enjoying brunch at The National at the Benjamin Hotel over by Lexington a few years back, sitting down with foodies and chefs to a big plate of Steak & Eggs and glasses of mimosas. The general manager at the time was Filipino - a classmate of Chef Laudico way back when, as it turned out. I learned the name, Geoffrey Zakarian, from my chef friends, who said he was the name to look out for in the next couple of years, as he an up-and-coming superstar in the industry. And a season of Iron Chef later, and yes, he is a superstar.

Geoffrey Zakarian's taste, style and passion for fine cuisine have defined his storied career as an accomplished chef that has presided over some of the country's top kitchens. The chef also has a heart of gold, as he came to Manila a few days back to whip up a one-of-a-kind five-course dinner gala for the most discriminating foodies in the country, held at Sofitel Philippine Plaza called "Feast of Colours", with the proceeds of the gala going to the victims of Typhoon Haiyan.

I may not have had an extra P10,000 in my pocket to join the gala dinner, but I was one of the lucky few to get invited to the media event earlier that day to try Chef Geoffrey's take on a classic Filipino dish.

At the Feast of Colours dinner gala, guests were treated to live music courtesy of the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra, with Broadway and West End veterans Isay Alvarez and Robert Seña, providing a surprise finishing number with a selection of show tunes that proved a perfect end to what turned out to be an unforgettable evening.  Fittingly, the proceeds of the event went to the Philippine Disaster Recovery Foundation (PDRF), the country’s first permanent, year round private sector vehicle for disaster management. How lovely.

Chef Geoffrey is such a sweetheart. He talked about how he's exposed to Filipino food a lot - his favorite being adobo - because the woman who takes care of his kids is Filipina and she makes adobo for the family all the time. Also, most of the front of house staff and kitchen crew at his restaurants are Filipino. Call me sentimental, but it makes me beam with pride to know that an Iron Chef and legend-in-the-making loves working with our kababayans. With all the culinary schools popping up in this country, I don't think he has much of a choice. Hehe...

His Pinoy dish of choice is the adobo, and Chef Zakarian’s Adobo had a very deliberate and harmonious balance of flavors. Apparently, to prepare for the event, he experimented with several kinds of vinegar to see which would produce the best result, and also played around with different pork and chicken cuts, eventually settling on pork belly. For a final twist, he added a few ingredients not typically found in Adobo, that he had found added something extraordinary to the flavor. The result is an incredible mix of evocative, well-loved flavors and textures mixed with new sensations that all at once seemed exotic and new, yet integral to rounding out the dish.

I was treated to his Adobo à la Zakarian during the lunch that followed the media event. The rest of our lunch was provided for by Sofitel.

Lunch started with Seared Scallops with a Mexican Salsa and Tortilla Dressing. The salad didn't need much, just a touch of lemon juice to make the scallops sing.

I could smell a hint of truffle oil in the Cream of Forest Mushroom Soup with Blue Cheese Crostini. The soup was thick and lovely, and the crostini made out of filo pastry was a nice touch.

The pièce de résistance was Geoffrey Zakarian's Adobo Spiced Pork Belly with a salad of endive, pickled mango, and calamansi lime juice on the side. The pork belly was fork tender and as soft as a baby's butt, with some crunch coming from crisped red rice sprinkled on top. I'd never imagine having my adobo with a tropical endive salad, but the bitterness of the green and the sweetness of the mango with the tartness of the calamansi just worked beautifully with the perfectly spiced porcine.

Dessert was a classic with a tropical twist - Baked Mango Cheesecake with Chocolate Stick. This was alright, but may have paled in comparison to the previous dish. This went nicely with a cup of Earl Grey.

Thank you to the folks at Cignal for putting this together! I am so happy to be a teensy part of it.

When mucking around Manila, do your part in helping our fellow countrymen who are still being affected by the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan, and join the efforts of the Philippine Disaster Recovery Foundation. So far they have started #helpPH, a global campaign launched together with Smart that is aimed at generating international support Yolanda survivors, donated P100,000 worth of tents to be used as temporary shelters to evacuees in Bantayan Island and Capiz, and fed 3,125 families with P250,000 worth of rice in both Samar and Leyte. If an Iron Chef can fly all the way to Manila to host one dinner gala (that is supposed to have raised P1M, by the way) because he sincerely wants to help, I'm pretty sure we can also do out part

Just mucking around Manila,
Follow @_muckingaround on Twitter and Instagram.
Like the Mucking Around Manila fan page.

You can help the PDRF by donating through the following Banking Institutions:

Land Bank of the Philippines - Makati Business Center
G/F Ayala Robinsons Summit Center
Ayala Avenue, Makati City
Swift Code: TLBPPHMM

Account Name: Philippine Disaster Recovery Foundation, Inc.
US$ Savings Account #1794003943
Peso Checking Account #1792103878

Banco De Oro - Makati Avenue Branch
G/F Locsin Building,
Ayala Avenue, Makati City
Swift Code: BNORPHMM

Account Name: Philippine Disaster Recovery Foundation, Inc.
US$ Savings Account #105310463721
Peso Checking Account #5310362054