The flavors of love

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LOVE ISN’T a simple affair to be conducted in silence and secrets at the Manila Hotel. For its Valentine’s Day offering, a concert-cum-dinner called A Taste of Love, love will be grand, shouted across the rooftops and sweeping lovers off their feet.

Singer Christian Bautista will be sure to make hearts sing with his performance, which will include five covers, including “Beautiful Girl” and “Ligaya” by the Eraserheads, and such romantic classics as “La Vie en Rose,” “That’s Amore,” “Because of You,” and “My Cherie Amour.”

The dinner itself is another affair altogether: it’s as well-planned and choreographed as a dance and a courtship.

At the prompt of the show’s director Freddie Santos, Manila Hotel’s Executive Chef Walter Konrad designed a meal of seven courses, each course representing a famous couple in history.

INGRID BERGMAN AND ROBERTO ROSSELLINI
The love affair between actress Ingrid Bergman and director Roberto Rossellini rocked Hollywood in the late 1940s. While working on the film Stromboli, the married actress, known for her virtuous roles in The Bells of St. Mary’s and Joan of Arc, fell in love with her director, and got pregnant as a result. She later said, “People saw me in Joan of Arc, and declared me a saint. I’m not. I’m just a woman, another human being.”

This relationship is represented in the dinner with this dish: Roses of Beetroot-Cured Gravlax, paired with a salad of arugula, balsamic vinegar, and rosemary focaccia. Trying the dish out during a press lunch, this writer learned that both are aggressive and powerful, waking up the tongue like a kiss that couldn’t help itself.




DIEGO RIVERA AND FRIDA KAHLO
The next course is a soup of Mirliton Squash, with a jamon tortilla crostini. The soup is surprisingly mild and calming, unlike the marriage of artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo which inspired it. The crostini, studded with goodies such as quail eggs, alfalfa and a salty ham, represents the artists’ palettes, and perhaps like their own work bled into their married lives, this crostini gave it a powerful kick.

ROMEO AND JULIET
The love affair between the two scions of warring Verona families, as immortalized by Shakespeare, was interpreted as a Duetto di Ravioli. One in green is shaped like the bust of Juliet’s statue in Verona, believed to bring good luck to those who touch it.

The pink raviolo, representing Romeo, calls to mind the caps worn by men in paintings of the period. Both are filled with wild boar (the feminine one filled with fat; the other with lean). The dish is given a bit of gravitas with the wild boar and truffles, calling to mind the Italian countryside, while the young, foolish, and eventually tragic love exemplified by the pair is given some representation in the Szechuan peppercorns, which made the truffle cream some youth and liveliness.

FERDINAND AND ISABELLA
The normally staid and obedient Isabella of Castile eloped with the heir to the throne of Aragon, the future Ferdinand II. The marriage, uniting the crowns of the territories in the Iberian peninsula, gave birth to modern Spain. The pair’s ambition and power also drove them to sponsor Christopher Columbus on his trip purportedly to the West Indies, reaching America instead. This spurred on the Age of Exploration, and enabled products from the New World to reach Europe.

This ambition is represented in the dinner by a sorbet of frozen chocolate and chili — both the products of the New World. It had a delightfully velvety texture, and tasted exotic: it’s almost like tasting it the same way Ferdinand and Isabella might have.

JOHN AND JACQUELINE KENNEDY
“He knew I loved him and did everything I could,” said Jacqueline Kennedy, reminiscing about her years in the White House with her husband. Mrs. Kennedy reformed the White House in the 1960s, bringing to it a cosmopolitan flair that would be talked about for decades. Mrs. Kennedy hired French chef Rene Verdon, who would serve as the White House’s first executive chef (a title created for him). She also changed dinners from grand, stifling affairs to simple, tasteful, more intimate ones, changing the settings from large U-shaped tables to small rounder ones, the better to initiate conversation.

To represent the Kennedy years in the White House, Mr. Konrad looked into state dinners and came up with a rack of lamb with an herb crust, an interpretation of the main course served during the state visit of Prince Rainier and Princess Grace of Monaco. The dish is, not surprisingly, dripping with elegance and finesse; the lamb having an excellent texture, separating from the bone with little effort.

ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA
From political allies to literal bedmates, the romance of the Roman leader and the queen of the Nile would change history. Their defeat at the hands of Octavian, Antony’s rival, and the future emperor Augustus, would form the Roman Empire as we remember it today.

Their spicy love affair is represented by a Heart of Velvety Ricotta Mousse with Strawberry Jelly. The heart shape calls to mind the plant silphium, an early form of birth control which the lusty Romans consumed to extinction. The kunafa pastry, a staple in Macedonia, calls to mind Cleopatra’s Ptolemaic lineage, and the whole thing is scented and flavored with rosewater, making it sweet, luxurious, and undeniably romantic.

NAPOLEON AND JOSEPHINE
One of the world’s greatest generals would be constantly defeated by love. As he won great victories abroad, Napoleon feverishly wrote to his wife, the former Josephine de Beauharnais, who gave soothing replies, but still kept him at arm’s length. Despite their marital problems, Napoleon would elevate her to the rank of Empress when he crowned himself Emperor. He would later divorce her with deep regret, to marry Marie Louise of Austria, in an effort to produce an heir to solidify his empire. She would remain the love of his life, murmuring her name in his death throes.

This marriage is represented by macarons, popularized after Napoleon came to power in France. Chestnut cream and chocolate represent Napoleon, in reference to his Corsican roots (chestnuts were a popular product there). Meanwhile, rose-colored macarons represent Josephine, who was known as “Rose” in her previous marriage, before Napoleon began addressing her by one of her other first names, so that he could call her truly his. The rose-colored macarons, also a recall to the roses she cultivated at the chateau of Malmaison, are filled with pineapple rum cream, bringing to mind her roots in Martinique as the daughter of a plantation owner.

Manila Hotel’s Marketing Communications and Multimedia Manager, Regina Troy Barrios, has no qualms pronouncing the Manila Hotel as the city’s most romantic hotel. “The Champagne Room is very dramatic,” she said about the hotel’s restaurant, with her noting its long history, as shown in its decor.

“It has the most number of proposals. We have an average of three marriage proposals a week.”

The Taste of Love Valentine Dinner with Christian Bautista is priced at a range of P4,000 to P6,000. For inquiries, call the hotel at 527-0011 or e-mail concierge@themanilahotel.com. — Joseph L. Garcia