IN the months since the first announcement of community quarantine to control the COVID-19 pandemic, our dining and eating patterns have changed considerably. After the pandemic struck, there hardly seemed to be any reason to celebrate — or ways to do it, due to the ban on mass gatherings.
However, life always finds a way, and in the numerous birthdays and anniversaries that have passed in the months since the quarantine measures were imposed, Tarlaquena Catering saw a way forward through the simple but festive fare one tends to look for at birthday parties. The family behind the company, which catered to government agencies and staged private events before the pandemic, cut back on their more luxurious offerings and advertised party trays with familiar flavors: Beef Kare Kare Especial with Tripe, Boneless Chicken Inasal (BBQ), and Pork Tenderloin Salpicao (stir fried meat with lots of garlic). One memorable offering is a Callos a la Madrilena (a tripe stew) sticky from gooey gelatin and collagen, laden with chorizos and spices for flavor.
“Food has always been a source of pride and joy in our family,” said Arkel Mendoza, a third-generation member of the family who is in charge of marketing. According to Mr. Mendoza, his grandmother, Purita Mendoza, founded the business, and a lot of the recipes were passed down to her daughter, Dinna Tolentino. The business is now being managed by the third generation of the family, through Mrs. Tolentino’s daughter, Maria Luisa, and her cousins. For her part, Mrs. Tolentino has opened another venture, In The Mood for Baking, which offers baked goods, including the now-fashionable Burnt Basque Cheesecake, and a Gooey Chocolate Cake (P550 for a pan; heat it in the microwave for about 30 seconds for the chocolate goo to really flow).
Speaking about the safety measures they’ve adopted in the kitchen, Mr. Mendoza said, “We availed of rapid testing and sanitized our kitchen really well. We had to be really careful with the delivery and handling of our food. I guess that’s why the smaller business model worked for this one,” he said in an e-mail.
Speaking of size, Mr. Mendoza also talked about the difference between catering large-scale events — and paring down to fitting a party in a tray for six. “In terms of profit, bigger events bring better revenue,” he admits. However, “The joy in smaller food preparations is the personal touch you can put in your deliveries,” he said. “Also, since the ECQ affected our operations, the number of cooks we employed fit the demand as well. We can’t go [on] full blown [operations] due to sanitary and health precautions.”
It’s interesting to note that in such conflicted times, there’s the search for a tasty and tangible link to simpler times, or the search for reassurance that there had been another world, and we can still get it back.
As Mr. Mendoza said, “Good comfort food brings about hope. Each time you taste something good or you eat a hearty dish, you are reminded of the good and important things.”
Contact Tarlaquena Catering and In The Mood for Baking through their Facebook pages (@TarlaquenaCatering and @InTheMoodForBaking, respectively). — Joseph L. Garcia