June 26, 2004  (STAR) KITCHEN SPY By Heidi Ng  -  Many consider theter actors as the most talented in the performing arts. For many theater actors, rehearsals often last all night, and they have to sing and dance live. There are no take-twos during shows, and they need to have major lung power to be heard in the theater.

One actress considered among the most talented in this field is Filipina Jenine Desiderio. In 1988, Jenine auditioned for a new musical that was to be called Miss Saigon, which was to premiere in London. There were only two audition days; the first day was purely by invitation, with the likes of Lea Salonga, Monique Wilson and Isay Alvarez invited for the session, while the second day was open to all hopefuls. Jenine, who was then a pre-med student, had a part-time lounge gig at the Grand Boulevard Hotel. She was one of the unknowns who auditioned for a part in the musical.

She still remembers that day vividly. Although her call time was at 6:45 p.m., she reached the Cultural Center of the Philippines, where the auditions were being held at 7:30 p.m. She only learned later that she was the second to the last person to sing that night.

The taxi didn’t have change for her fare, and one of Cameron Mackintosh’s staff offered to pay for her, while someone hurriedly whisked her inside. They were already preparing to close the audition hall. The panel that was auditioning applicants was already busy preparing to leave. The pianist had already left and Jenine had to sing her audition piece, the torchy Macarthur’s Park, with a small cassette recorder.

The panel was composed of Mackintosh himself, the man behind such hit musicals as Les Miserables, Starlight Express, Phantom of the Opera, Cats, among others, lyricist Alain Boublil, composer Claude-Michel Schoenberg and director Nicholas Hytner, as well as the show’s voice coach and choreographer.

Jenine must have wowed them with her singing, even if she did show up late and was admittedly overdressed. When she was asked for a call back the next day, she was requested to appear sans the heavy make up, teased hair, bangles, big earrings, skin-tight leggings and thigh-high boots.

She recalls, "Mukha talagang bird’s nest ’yung ulo ko. This was the time of Madonna, Tina Turner and Zsa Zsa Padilla, so my hair was talagang fried look and naka-spray net! I was so young then. I was only 18. So, I really dressed up according to what was uso."

When she returned the next day, no one recognized her. It was only when her name was called that they realized she was the ’80s girl from last night’s audition. With her fully transformed look, she was told that there was a possibility that she could play the role of Kim. The panel originally eyed her for the role of Gigi, but when they saw how sweet she could look without makeup, they changed their minds.

Weeks after the audition, she heard on the radio that Lea Salonga and Monique Wilson had already been tapped to play Kim and were scheduled to leave for London soon after. To her surprise, she got a call a few days later from Dong Alegre, who was the production’s liaison in Manila. She was informed that she was chosen to understudy for the roles of Kim and Gigi.

She was delirious about the news, but was saddened when she learned that she would have to sign a 14-month contract. She was so much in love with her then boyfriend that she promptly turned down the offer.

But Dong was insistent. She finally changed her mind and agreed to go to London after turning down his offer three times. Later, she would learn that she was the only female hopeful chosen from all the applicants who came during the free-for-all day.

She performed in Miss Saigon from 1989 to 1993, earning the honor of becoming the longest running Kim at the Drury Lane Theater Royal.

One of her fondest memories during her stint in Miss Saigon was meeting theater grand dame Chita Rivera. She came backstage, raved about her performance and even had her photo taken with Jenine. She found it so surreal.

She says, "If you put your heart into your dreams, you can achieve them. I was really driven, although I did not realize the magnitude of Miss Saigon. I had no idea it was going to be a big hit. And I am blessed to have been part of something really great."

When she returned to Manila after her stint in Miss Saigon, she appeared in countless TV shows and even got to record her first solo album. She also represented the Philippines at the Midnight Sun Festival in Lahti, Finland, where she emerged as a finalist. She even had to learn a song in Finnish.

Currently, she is working on her album, writing songs and doing corporate shows. Jenine likes to experiment a lot. She has just wrapped up doing one of the voices for the Korean telenovela Four Sisters, which will air over ABS-CBN.

Her love for being different also shows in her cooking. Instead of making the usual spaghetti with meat sauce, she excitedly cooked for us her longganisa and kangkong spaghetti. In fact, her greatest fan when it comes to her cooking is her six-year-old daughter who asks her to make omelets every day.

She started experimenting in the kitchen when she was 10. The first things she learned to cook were popular Filipino dishes, such as adobo, sinigang and nilaga. She gets her inspiration from her Pampangueña mom, who bakes wonderful cakes aside from cooking well. Her dad also cooks. In fact, they would make their own burong babi, which is the Kapampangan version of tocino.

She likes making beef with mushroom and baby corn and squash and broccoli soup, though she sometimes uses eggplant instead of broccoli. She also makes tinampalaya, which is tinapa and ampalaya blended into a pate, as well as her own version of beef stew with pork and beans, chorizo, carrots, potato and grated cheese. She also uses oxtail instead of beef brisket for this recipe.

There was a time during her stay in London when her roommate, Isay Alvarez, declared that she missed leche flan so much. Jenine surprised her by making leche flan. She improvised by using milk cans for the steamer.

Longganisa And Kangkong Spaghetti

5 skinless Pampanga longganisa

1/2 stalk kangkong leaves

2 Tbsps. olive oil

1 Tbsp. chili sauce or hot sauce

5 cloves garlic

1/2 kilo tomatoes (cut into wedges)

dash of Italian herbs

2 Tbsps. Parmesan cheese

200 g. spaghetti

1 cup water

1 Tbsp. soy sauce

Fry the skinless longganisa. Slice then set aside. Cook spaghetti until al dente. In a saucepan, sauté garlic and tomatoes in olive oil. Add one tablespoon soy sauce. Add the sliced longganisa. Season with chili sauce and Italian herbs. Add the kangkong leaves. Cover the pan for a few seconds. Pour over the spaghetti noodles and top with Parmesan cheese.

Spanish And Broccoli Soup

1/2 kilo squash (peeled and cut into squares)

1/2 kilo of broccoli

3 cloves garlic

1 onion, small

1 Knorr shrimp cube

all-purpose cream

dash of cinnamon

1-1/2 cups water

1 Tbsp. oil

Sauté garlic and minced onion in oil. Add peeled squash and 1-1/2 cups water. Add the shrimp cube. Cover and allow to boil. In another container, steam broccoli.

When squash is cooked, remove from the fire and blend until free from lumps. Return the blended squash back into the pot, and add the broccoli. Season with salt, pepper and sugar. Serve in a soup bowl with a swirl of cream and a dash of cinnamon.

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Special thanks to Don Henrico’s West Avenue for hosting the shoot. Call 3-717171 and 3-727272 for pizza deliveries, party reservations and other inquiries.

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Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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