WHEN the San Miguel Pure Foods Culinary Center celebrates a special occasion, especially with its media friends, it celebrates in style and leaves no stones unturned in ensuring that the event turns out to be successful. So when it recently hosted its Christmas party, it decided on a French-inspired Christmas theme, called it Le Réveillon, and went all out to live up to its theme and create a truly French experience for its guests.
How does the land of wine and cheese celebrate Christmas? Well, it starts with a totally French inspired house and a full-fledged French menu, and the San Miguel Pure Foods Culinary Center team, led by San Miguel Pure Foods Company Inc. culinary services manager Llena Arcenas, chose The Domaine in Silang, Cavite.
The Domaine is a French restaurant owned and operated by Chef Robbie Ripalda, a talented Filipino chef who finished culinary school at the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu Paris and trained in French in a number of French restaurants in France before finally coming home to Manila in 2012 to open The Domaine a year later. The restaurant and venue place occupy a beautiful house set against a sprawling garden, where al fresco dining is possible.
For the San Miguel French Christmas dinner, which began with a comfortable ride from Manila in the late afternoon, a charming long table was set in the garden, with canopies of sheath drapes providing added ambiance to the occasion. And as dinner was being prepared by Chef Robbie in the kitchen (assisted by the chef-owner Chef Lawrence Zafra and students of the Atlas Culinary Institute in Dasmariñas, Cavite, where Chef Robbie teaches) and the buffet spread was being set up in the indoor dining room, the guests were serenaded with Christmas carols by three lovely young ladies in elegant white dresses. The waiters passed around canapes and hors d’oeuvres—Rosemary Tuilles with Bacon Cream Cheese (savory cookies filled with cream cheese and crispy bacon), Chive Cream Cheese Profiteroles (Parisiennce profiteroles filled with chive-flavored cream cheese), and Chicken Rillettes with Caramelized Onion (rustic flaky chicken appetizer cooked in olive oil and presented as crostinis), with glasses of Orange Lemongrass Mocktail.
But not before everyone already had fun playing a little game, which was a slight variation of the French La Fete des Rois, which is celebrated every Epiphany or Three Kings on the first Sunday of each New Year. The original La Fete des Rois has a classic French pastry called Galette des Rois served. Within it are figurines of a small doll, shoe or bean. The pastry is sliced and served to members of the family, and whoever finds the charms get to be king or queen for the day. In the San Miguel celebration, we had small boxes of chocolate truffles on the service plate. Everyone was asked to open his (or hers), and whoever found a charm in the box of chocolates got to be king or queen for the day. Angelo Comsti of F&B Report, Raoul Chee Kee of Philippine Daily Inquirer and Bernadette Lunas of Manila Standard found the hidden charms in their boxes of chocolates and got crowned. As kings and queen for the event, they led the French Christmas tradition of burning the Yule log by the outdoor fireplace of The Domaine.
Then, one by one, the dishes filled the buffet table—Black Olive Brioche, Sesame Country Bread and Soft Wheat Rolls, with spreads of Beurre Deux, Beurre au Pesto and Beurre au Epice for starters; Pork Trotter and Parsley Terrine (a French favorite from the Champagne region), Freshly Shucked Oysters with Classic Condiments, and Pate Grand Mere (with marinated pork and chicken liver) from the cold kitchen; Traditional Cassoulet (a classic bean and sausage stew from the Toulouse region), Ox Tail Pot-au-Feu (a hearty soup from Il-de-France, made from ox tail served with root vegetables) and Smoked Fish Beignets (from the Cote d’Azur region) from the hot kitchen; and Smoked Jamon Royale with Sauce Maltaise Pomme Dauphine (smoked and served with a traditional Parisian sauce and soft puffed potatoes), Chicken Ballotine in Sauce Supreme, Roasted Root Vegetables & Glazed Chestnuts (a Christmas staple from Le Sud-oest, Les Lands region, served with a rich, delicate cream sauce and root vegetables from tagaytay), and Beef Shank ala Bourguignonne, Red Wine Sauce (a Burgundy feast of brick oven braised beef shank served with vegetables).
Also prepared for the occasion were 13 Christmas Desserts, which is another French tradition. The dessert buffet offered Rose Buche de Noel (rose and white chocolate Christmas log cake), White Chocolate Passion Fruit Buche de Noel (white chocolate and passion fruit Christmas log), Gingerbread Tartlets with Dark Chocolate Bavarois (dark chocolate and gingerbread decadent tart), Grand Marnier Madeleines (shell-shaped moist cake made with Grand Marnier and hazelnut brown butter), Rose Madeleines (shell-shaped moist cake infused with rose), Croquembouche a la Noel (choux pastry stacked into a cone or Christmas tree shape, flavored with caramel and gingerbread), Peanut Butter Nutmeg Chocolate Truffles, Barako Coffee Chocolate Truffles, Ginger Cardamom Chocolate Truffles and Fresh Fruits. Served at the tables are Verrine of Kesong Puti Ice Cream, Verrine of Strawberry Red Velvet Otap Ice Cream, and Verrine of Sili con Tsokolate Eh Chocolate Ice Cream.
So, this is what a French Christmas celebration is!