WHENEVER celebrity chef Bobby Chinn (host of a TV cooking show who runs restaurants in Vietnam and London, England) is in Manila, he makes sure he gets in touch with his Filipino friends, particularly his London schoolmates Henry Palacios and brother Hans and celebrity chef Gene Gonzalez. He chills out with his Filipino friends at Chef Gene’s Café Ysabel in between official schedules, and they have great fun catching up with each other’s lives.
No wonder he also did the same during his third and most recent visit to Manila. In town for the observance of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)-declared Coral Triangle Day in the country, he took time out from his busy schedule to be with his friends, who surprised him with a special dinner in his honor. Bobby was surprised, since he expected to just conduct a cooking demo at the Center for Asian Culinary Studies (also owned by Chef Gene and is housed on the ground level of Café Ysabel in San Juan) and interact with the students and then have a quiet dinner and a few drinks with his friends. He was surprised to find the entire function hall of Café Ysabel dressed up for a special sit-down dinner that included his closest friends, the faculty of CACS, his WWF family, some media personalities, and foodies.
So, after an animated yet very informative demo of Seafood Ceviche and Tuna Tartare at the main hall of CACS, he went up to Café Ysabel and enjoyed a good dinner.
On the table was a bread basket served with Fried Olives and Almonds, Foie Gras Terrine in a glass jar, and spreads of Rillettes of Pork, Bacalao and Confit of Guava.
Then came the soup course, Roasted Crustacean Mousseline with Market Shrimps in Leek Crème Soup, which set the mood for the special dinner. It was a lovely leek crème soup with a smooth and flavorful crustacean mousse on a slice of sesame-crusted baguette in the center, crowned by a shrimp. The flavors melded together beautifully.
After the soup course, the lights were dimmed, much to the surprise of the guests. It turned out to be a pleasant surprise, though, as two of Café Ysabel’s chefs came out bearing platters of flaming salt-crusted fish flickering in the dark. “It’s a coral grouper or red grouper baked in a salt crust. We smoked the salt before baking the fish,” explains Chef Gene.
After Chef Gene presented them, the platters were taken back to the kitchen and then the Lapu-Lapu Crusted in Smoked Salt was served in individual sit-down portions with Whisked Brown Lime Butter and Whelk Croquettes, paired with a glass of Auqui Sauvignon Blanc.
Main course for the special dinner was Buffalo Tenderloin with Green Peppercorn Sauce Smothered with Japanese Mixed Mushrooms and Financiere Vol Au Vent. Chef Gene surprised everyone by saying that the dish came with puree of popcorn. Puree of popcorn? Experimental – so Chef Gene – but it worked. You’ve got to give it to Chef Gene to think up such a unique idea. It went well with Carmen Carmenere.
Dessert was yet another palate-pleaser. It was A Progression of Calamansi, a platter of all calamansi bites: Calamansi Marshmallow, Calamansi Macaron, and Calamansi Cheesecake or Semifreddo with Calamansi Curd.
Bobby enjoyed himself in the company of his friends, Chef Gene and the Palacios brothers. Chef Gene’s family – son Chef Gino with wife Chef China Cojuangco and daughter Lucia; and daughter Giannina, whose boyfriend Chef Francis Roman headed the kitchen team that prepared the food that evening – joined other celebrity guests, which included CACS graduate Chef Janice de Belen, senior faculty member Chef Junjun de Guzman, Ramesh Trading’s Hiren Mirchandani, Top Model Allison Harvard, TV personality Tim Yap and newly-weds Karylle and Yael Yuzon.