HAVE  YOURSELF  A  TASTY  CHRISTMAS

MANILA, December 2, 2004
 (STAR) By Lynette Lee Corporal - If you’re not feeling the holiday spirit and are beginning to entertain the idea of bah-humbugging your way into the yuletide season, maybe a peek into chefs Mon and Monique Eugenio’s kitchen will get you out of your Scrooge-y rut. With the expertise and smooth execution of fellow chef Mel Resuma, they are making sure that the hearth is humming warmly and will soon be a hub of all things tasty and Christmasy.

Curious about what comes out of the Eugenios’ kitchen come the holiday season? Well, try not to drool too much, OK? Golden-brown roast turkey served with brandy-scented glaze; a generous slab of ham sweetened with honey-pineapple sauce; US-certified rib eye steak cooked to juicy perfection; light and fluffy mashed potatoes made from scratch which, according to Monique, has become a most-oft- requested accompanying dish, apart from their popular miso dressing for salads.

"These are our staples but we don’t limit ourselves to just these items. If there’s anything a client would like us to do, we do it," says Mon, a product of the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. His wife Monique graduated from the French Culinary Institute in New York. Chef Mel, meanwhile, perfected his craft in various restaurants and hotels including the Prince Albert Rotisserie at the InterContinental Manila, Truffles, the Shangri-La Hotel, The Tivoli at the Mandarin Oriental, Manila, to name a few.

This year, they’ll be adding new stuff to the menu, including a rack of lamb and boneless leg of lamb. Instead of the usual mint jelly, they experimented with apricot and rosemary jus. But mint fans need not despair; if they want it, they’ll have it. A comforting addition to the menu is the cream of pumpkin soup with Cajun spiced prawn drizzled with beurre noisette. Beyond the intimidating term (which simply means "brown butter"), this hearty soup is perfect for those cold nights – creamy but light, with a hint of sweetness from the basil, a welcome addition in fact. A new dessert has found its way into this catering company’s kitchen. Called Early Grey chocolate mousse, this tea-infused chocolate dessert is great with, what else, but unsweetened tea, and fresh cherries on the side as well.

Now in its second year, the Connections Catering Co. kitchen has established quite a following among local and foreign residents with its penchant not only for giving traditional dishes a fresh twist, but also for offering nouvelle cuisine. In fact, the past year, they’ve been asked to do a whole lineup of nouvelle Filipino cuisine by a corporate client for a dinner it tendered for a group of foreign expatriates.

For appetizer, Monique recounts making crunchy ubod (heart of palm) with mushroom and bean ragout and sukang Iloko dip. They also made a sophisticated version of the sinigang what with scallops and prawns. As a sort of tribute to the Pinoy’s penchant for fruits sprinkled with a bit of salt (supposedly to bring out the natural sweetness of the fruit), they made fresh pineapple sorbet with a touch of saltiness. The guava fruit’s status was also raised several notches higher when sharing a plate with the snooty foie gras in the form of a sauce, along with spinach and kesong puti cannelloni. And instead of the usual mashed potato, they came up with a mini United Colors of Benetton-type of dish with taters, purple yam or ube and pumpkin. The result is a merry mix of textures and varying degrees of sweetness. With aligue sauce and soya butter sauce mixed in for good measure, you can just imagine the expats’ endless mmmms. For the clincher, the chefs offered mango and mascarpone plus barakong kape ice cream made with carabao’s milk.

The good thing about this whole nouvelle Filipino cuisine idea is it’s not exclusive to foreigners. The Eugenios and Mel Resuma would gladly concoct these dishes (or their variations) for anyone who’s interested. Yes, including Christmas and other special occasions.

The chefs recently had a chance to experiment further with nouvelle cuisine during cocktails hosted by another client at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. One of the most appreciated offering was the cream of carrot served in a demitasse. Simple but filling enough to warm the tummies – and perhaps the hearts – of the guests. In a cross between Filipino, Indian and French influences, they also served beef sisig samosa with foie gras. Decadent, yes, but very daring and novel. We can’t help but wonder why a seemingly simple dish of scallops stuffed in mushroom was wiped out during the said cocktails, so Monique relates. But then again, it’s not surprising really. The three chefs are known for creating seemingly simple dishes packed with a lot of surprises tastewise.

Their greatest strength, apart from their innate creativity, probably lies in their ability to listen to what their clients want and being open-minded about everything and flexible enough to try something new. Plus, and perhaps the most important thing of all, this youthful trio is having fun concocting new dishes. They are simply brimming with enthusiasm.

"It pays to listen to our clients because only then will we be able to deliver what they really want. We always involve our clients in the decision-making process," says Mon, adding that they do prefer three days’ advance warning for them to deliver exactly what is expected of them. Fair enough.

Monique emphasizes that they only use high-quality imported items such as truffle oil and foie gras so clients are assured of getting the best. They cater for both buffets and sit-down dinners. The biggest sit-down dinners they have catered for so far was a group of 150 while buffets averaged about 60 people. With their growing clientele, they just welcomed to the group Myke Francis Mayores, the resident stylist who will now provide the perfect ambiance for guests come dinnertime. No more waking up at odd hours for Mon and Monique and trooping to Dangwa at 2 a.m. to buy fresh blooms. It’s Myke’s duty now. They have also asked the assistance of pastry chef Al Agapay, who trained under famous desserts chef Ernie Babaran, to execute the catering company’s sweet offerings. Plus other collaboration with professionals including Jun Deocares, who is now the chief steward and who’ll make sure the kitchen will not end up like a battlefield. Lately, too, they’ve started selling their popular pasta sauces and dressings including bacon, mushroom and sun-dried tomato sauce and chorizo with black olives.

Filipinos being hobbits at heart (Read: foodies), Mon believes that partaking of great food at the dining table come Christmastime is a good way to end a year of hard work. After all, everybody deserves a treat for a job well done.

* * *

Connections Catering Co. is located at 22 Bayani Road, Fort Bonifacio, Taguig. For inquiries, call 0917-5201155, 0917-5331155 and 894-2894, or e-mail mon-eugenio@gmail.com.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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