Buon Appetito! An Italian dinner treat from the country’s brightest fledgling chefs
Antipasto. Pizza. Pasta. Pesce. Panini.
The words above are in Italian and to anyone who has dined in an Italian restaurant may know, these are the headers in an Italian restaurant’s menu. But like most Filipinos, the Spanish language is more familiar (owing to our 300 year colonization of the Spanish) and Italian may as well be Greek—in terms of comprehension, that is!
But regardless of whether we understand the language or not, Filipinos understand and love Italian food likely attributed to the delicious meals served by the great chefs behind Caruso, La Grotta Cusina, and Cibo, among others. The cuisine has taken a bit of a backseat with the rise of Japanese food—think tonkatsu, ramen, and udon—but it has never really left our hearts and minds.
A Revival of Italian Cuisine in Manila
Actually…just in the past year or so, Italian cuisine is currently experiencing a revival in Manila. Italian restaurants are opening left and right by some of the biggest names in the food industry: Wildflour’s Wildflour Italian, Bistronomia’s Osteria Daniele, and Elbert’s Pizzeria of Elbert’s Steakhouse fame, are some of the newest additions to Manila’s dining scene. And you know Italian cuisine is really getting big again when “Let’s Eat” runs an issue highlighting Italian cuisine in Manila!
Ok, enough of that winding introduction. I’m writing to talk about an invitation that our team received in the mail last week. An invitation from CCA to attend the culmination of this year’s European Cuisine class. The theme: Italian.
CCA: Fulfilling Culinary Dreams
If in case you haven’t heard of CCA—are you certain you are Filipino and that you love food? CCA stands for the Center of Culinary Arts and is the first culinary school in the Philippines and the Asia-Pacific region to have programs accredited by the prestigious American Culinary Federation Education Foundation (“ACFEF”). The school adheres to international standards and though its modern curriculum, ensures that its graduates are the most sought-after in the culinary industry. I quote an excerpt from the invitation:
[Tonight’s dinner] serves as the final examination for the European Cuisine class for our students and a simulation of actual restaurant operations with real paying customers. CCA’s mission is to provide excellent culinary education and social and leadership values among CCA communities and its vision is to fulfil culinary dreams. Being the pioneer culinary school in the Philippines, this simulation event is also a special venue to showcase the skills and talents of our students which strengthens the values of CCA. We go the extra mile by allowing our students to undergo outdoor activities like competitions, catering, grand buffets, degustation and etc. guided by the American Culinary Federation standards. This in turn will help graduates with their culinary career and be more confident when handling culinary opportunities
CCA and its students are serious about serving guests a good meal and there was definitely excitement around this year’s final examination held at Lemuria in bustling Bonifacio Global City.
This evening was surely tense for everyone! A quick look at the students’ faces and you can feel both anxiety, joy, and worry.
A 5-Course Dinner Treat at Lemuria
Guests were led and seated at Lemuria’s dining area on the second floor. Each table was lit by candlelight and shown what to expect for the evening’s 5-course dinner. Each course was given an Italian name—my take on why this was done was to describe the mood for each dish that came out of the kitchen.
- A deep and formal buonasera (good evening) to describe the flavors in a simple bowl of pea puree.
- A friendly greeting of ciao! (hello) to describe the light and refreshing.
- The beginning of a conversation, come va? (how are you), to mark the play of flavors in the spinach and ricotta tortellini.
- Piacere di conoscerti! (Nice to meet you), a phrase that both marks end of the current meeting and the beginning of a budding friendship—a mark of conversation gone well, to describe the anticipation one would have leading up to the main course of the evening.
- While addio. (goodbye.) describes the bittersweet end of the evening service
Buon Appetito Appetizers
Ciabatta, heavily infused with olive oil and rosemary and to be dipped in a mixture of olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette, starts off the evening meal (while not on the menu, an Italian meal is not complete without the usual bread basket that marks the beginning of the dinner service). Lemuria is known for their pre-meal breads and I had thought that this came from the restaurant so imagine by surprise when I was told that this was prepared by the CCA students.
A bit past 8 and the first dish came out, a soup made with garden pea puree, truffle oil, black pepper cream, topped with sweet potato croutons and a sprinkle of freshly ground pepper. This was my absolute favorite dish for the evening—the flavor of peas played perfectly with the truffle oil and while the ‘croutons’ were definitely not bite-sized, they were a happy and playful variation and addition to the dish!
Shortly after, the salad came out next. Served with a light spray of balsamic vinaigrette and parmesan cheese, heirloom mixed vegetables—squash, beans and cucumbers, cleaned away any residual flavor from the first course. Good or bad? That is debatable. I was expecting stronger notes of sourness from the vinaigrette and more sweetness from the fresh vegetables but some enjoy cleaner flavors for their salads.
Mains at Buon Appetito
After two relatively light dishes, the Buon Appetito mains were finally up next. Pasta is much more complex than just spaghetti, and the Italians have lasagna, macaroni, farfalle, tagliatelle, and rigatoni, to name a few. This evening’s pasta of choice was a rich tortellini filled with spinach and ricotta cheese and accompanied by chicken, mushrooms and asparagus…which I unfortunately did not have the chance to enjoy. In the time I needed to take a photo of the dish…the dish had already gone cold! Lemuria was particularly cold that evening (with the rainy season coming in too), and the chefs in the kitchen probably did not take that into account when they served out the dishes—an understandable omission which is improved once they’ve mastered the skill and art of live kitchen operations.
The Secondo took a while to be served…it was almost 10:30 when the dish arrived at our tables. But the wait was well worth it! My request of a medium rare ribeye steak was perfectly prepared—it was tender and juicy, and the accompanying polenta was the perfect match to round out the lemon juice. My only grievance, if it can be considered a grievance, is that the serving was much too big and if I had finished the entire plate, I would not have had enough room for dessert.
To close the long but enjoyable evening service was a plate of Tiramisu; an apt representation of a bittersweet farewell. The flavors of Walnut brandy playing with the fruity notes of strawberries and mangoes together with 70% dark chocolate and arabica coffee—sweet and bitter. Buon Appetito!
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