Arts & Leisure

By Jasmine T. Cruz

Flavors of the Visayas

Posted on May 02, 2013

GRATING gata-coagulated tultul salt and infusing the peppery flavor of annatto (achuete) seeds, Chef Pauline Gorriceta-Banusing whips up Iloilo culinary treats for the Mandarin Oriental Hotel’s Flavors of the Visayas food festival, which will be held from May 6 to 12 at Paseo Uno.

Roxas oysters
Known to the hotel’s guests for her involvement in previous food festivals, Ms. Gorriceta-Banusing was a featured chef at the Captain’s Bar’s (now the MO Lounge) Ilonggo food festival “Manamit!” in May 2006. The following year she focused on the dishes of the Panay Islands, cooking classic meals such as steamed talaba (oyster), batchoy (a pork noodle soup), and chicken inasal (grilled chicken). In 2011 and 2012, she made mouths water by serving diwal or angel wing clams at Paseo Uno.

Trained at the Culinary Institute of America, New School of New York and at the Institute of Culinary Education (formerly Peter Kump’s New York), Ms. Gorriceta-Banusing’s kitchen skills enkindled a roaring business. She heads Gruppo Al Dente Catering Services -- a prime catering service in Iloilo City specializing in Filipino, Italian, Spanish, and Japanese cuisine -- along with several restaurants in Iloilo City including Al Dente Ristorante Italiano, Steps of Rome, 101 Luna Steak Room and Rooftop Brewery. She is also hired as a menu consultant.

She was named by the Iloilo Business Club as an Ilonggo Innovator in the Food and Beverage Industry. Her recipes were published in Estilo Ilonggo by Mike Santos, and she writes a regular column, “Pauline’s Kitchen,” in Panay News.

When most people think of capiz shells, they visualize old-fashioned windowpanes which let in a soft light. For the Visayans though, they think of a favorite dish -- the lampirang or bay-ad, the local names for capiz shells or windowpane oysters. Housed in hand-sized round shells, the orange oyster meat tastes like chicken, said Ms. Gorriceta-Banusing, but she also admits that for some it is an acquired taste.

By dry steaming the shells, Ms. Gorriceta-Banusing creates a tasty and healthy meal. “Sa amin (in our province), in one sitting, one person can finish 20,” she said.

Another appetizing ingredient that the chef introduces is tultul salt -- a chunk of grayish salt that is processed with gata (coconut milk). This salt is produced by only one family in Jordan, Guimaras. Despite her love for the salt, Ms. Gorriceta-Banusing was initially astounded by the price. She said that she pestered the owner, asking, “Why is it P300 a kilo? Why is it P300 a kilo?” Then she found out that one small block takes two months to process.

She became dedicated to promoting tultul salt when there was a sudden culinary interest in specialized salts. “Ang daming uso na salt (there are so many trendy salts),” she said, “salt from France, Dead Sea salt, what have you.” But the country also has interesting salts, so she realized that it was up to her to promote one local version.

Besides national pride, the chef also appreciates tultul salt for its taste. “When you use this (tultul salt), you don’t need to use Vetsin (MSG),” she said. “You don’t need to use Magic Sarap because it already has a hearty flavor.”

The classic Negros chicken dish is, of course, the inasal, and the secret to a satisfying inasal is simple. “Other people use tomato, or toyo (soy sauce), na-sha-shock ako (I get shocked). All you really need is good vinegar, calamansi (a small local citrus), and garlic.” She recommends marinating the chicken for 10 hours, then drenching it with chicken oil and grilling it right before serving.

Classics can be forgotten as well, and this is what happened to chicken pancit molo, said the chef. A soup of rice flour wontons and tofu, this dish is often cooked with chicken broth -- but this isn’t the right way to do it, said the chef.

“The original recipe is not just chicken broth but with shrimp and chicken broth,” she said.

“That’s how it should taste like,” she said as writers were trying it out during a press lunch at the hotel on April 22. “This is the original pancit molo.”

Compromising on quality wasn’t an option for Ms. Gorriceta-Banusing -- that is why she will bring in seafood and native chicken from the Visayas for the festival. The naturally oily black marlin, the managat or the Visayan snapper (also known as the mangrove jack), and the gingaw or local red snapper are some of the fish that Ms. Gorriceta-Banusing will serve.

Aside from all the fish, she will serve fat shrimps and large crabs in her dishes. Lukon na may aligue kag paho has prawns from Kalibo cooked with the savory goodness of sautéed crab fat and the tangy bite of green mango slices. Alimango na may ginisa na guinamos features crabs from Capiz which are deep-fried then mixed with guinamos, a rich orange Visayan bagoong or shrimp paste.

After gorging on copious amounts of seafood, the chef recommends that one eats desserts with muscovado (an unrefined brown sugar). “This is what we do para maalis ang lansa (to take out the fishy taste),” she said.

The piaya with muscovado (flat bread with raw sugar) is a must try. To make the dessert more authentic, the hotel will serve them hot from the grill. When piayas are heated, the muscovado becomes caramelized goodness melting in your mouth, thus ending your meal with a satisfying sugar rush.

The daily buffet is priced at P1,990+, and at P2,450+ for the Luxury buffet, which is available for dinner on Friday and Saturday, and lunch on Sunday.

On May 12, there will be a Mother’s Day lunch buffet where mothers will receive a pretty fan memento. If she comes with a group of four diners, she gets free access to a flower-arranging class at the hotel before or after lunch. The Mother’s Day lunch buffet is priced at P2,450+.

Mandarin Oriental, Manila is located at Makati Ave., Makati City. For details and reservations, call Paseo Uno at 750-8888 or e-mail