MANILA, December 15, 2005 (STAR) By Ching M. Alano - Christmas is definitely in the cool, crisp air. You can smell – nay, even taste – it as you walk into the lobby of The Westin Philippine Plaza, where the aroma of pure chocolate leads your exhilarated nostrils to the Choco Village that tells you that Christmas has certainly come to town. A lot of chocolate (350 kilos of Callebaut Belgian chocolates, one the finest in the world, but more on this sweet tradition a wee bit later) and a whole lot of work went into creating Westin Plaza’s Choco Paradise that’s been drawing assorted chocoholics to this hotel in the bay area.

Welcome to the Choco Village, actually a replica of The Westin’s famous poolside fashioned out of dark Callebaut chocolates by the creative hands of Chef Rolando Macatangay (just call him Chef Mac) and his team, who are as hardworking and nimble as Santa’s elves.

"It took us all of three months to do this, from the planning and conceptualization to the design and down to the execution and setup," Chef Mac is delighted to share the story behind the Christmas Choco Village.

Only the finest chocolate went into the making of this choco paradise. That means Callebaut, which is rich in time-cherished Belgian tradition. Callebaut is absolutely pure cream – no preservatives, no additives, no oil, more chocolate, less sugar. Growing up in a home in Belgium, where he would catch a whiff of the delicious chocolate stirring in his great-grandfather’s factory from his bedroom window, Bernard Callebaut raised the (chocolate) bar by creating 49 different kinds of choco pralines – with no preservatives and no additives. He searched the world over for the perfect ingredients for his chocolates – walnuts from France, hazelnuts from Turkey, pistachios from Italy. For indeed, this chocolatier with his pure heart had only one goal: To make people’s chocolate experience as blissful as possible and make his chocolates affordable so people can enjoy the experience again and again.

And now, Actron Industries brings the Callebaut chocolate experience to Manila via Westin’s Choco Village, which will be on display until Jan. 1, 2006.

"If the chocolate is pure, it has a longer life span," says Chef Mac.

No question about the chocolate’s purity, but the life span? The Choco Village is such a sweet temptation that not a few passersby have been caught dipping their fingers into the chocolate waterfall and pool. Hmmm ... Finger-licking delicious!

"The display is 90 percent edible," Chef Mac tells us. "We also used bread dough, gingerbread, and different kinds of cookies."

The edible – and incredible! – chocolate display depicts Santas relaxing in sunloungers, mini gingerbread houses, palm trees made of bread and whimsical candy decor that will surely warm Willy Wonka’s heart.

Making the chocolate waterfalls is quite another story. Says Chef Mac: "We tried three pumps before we came up with the answer. The first pump we used was a Jacuzzi pump. The second was the fanbelt-driven bunker oil pump. The third was a three-horsepower centrifugal pump. Finally, we found the solution: a submersible pump."

Chef Mac’s team behind this major Christmas production – from the pastry people to the electricians and the engineering people – couldn’t be happier or merrier to see their labor of love come to life.

And this very talented and dedicated team includes: pastry staff Rodel Galvez, Lito Sanchez, Emmhil Maravilla, Mark, Jo Sia, Rene Lagudas, and Candice Ong; chief engineer Serge Balolong; duty engineers Duel Alfonso and Nelson Santos; shift supervisors Mar Larion and Omar Caño; engineering staff Jhonny Pascual, Ed Commandante, Jess Espinas, Falcon Garcia, Art Valerio, Boy Tabo, Boyet Ledesma, Mario Omboy, Pecto, Arlene, Santiago, and Ohnie.

But even with his work done, Chef Mac can’t afford to just sit and relax. "I have to mix the chocolate once in a while because it settles down. And there’s always a bain marie on standby to warm or reheat the chocolate if it hardens."

Since you can’t bring home the Choco Village or even a piece of it (though some have tried), Chef Mac has more sweet treats for Christmas that make such tempting gifts (even for oneself)!

The Westin’s Lobby Goodie Shop beckons with its choco Santa Claus in different sizes, luscious pralines, the hotel’s famous chocolate chip cookies, yule log cakes, gingerbread houses, stollen bread, and oh-so-much more. It’s probably the only hotel that’s got a Nativity scene rendered in chocolate.

Savor more of the hotel’s festive offerings at the Cafe Plaza Too, which is spreading out its holiday fare beginning Friday, Dec. 16. On the buffet tables are prime roast carvings of the traditional Christmas honey glazed ham, roasted turkey, lechon and pritchon (pritong lechon), and Irish spiced beef on different nights. This international buffet also includes Chinese specialties like Peking duck and different types of dim sum as well as Japanese sushi and sashimi.

For those craving a slice of native Christmas, freshly cooked bibingka and puto bumbong are available for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a la carte. Trust us, Cafe Plaza’s bibingka and puto bumbong are just so good you’d want to eat them morning, noon, and night.

A sweet note for all ye chocoholics: The chocolate buffet goes on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. This sweet indulgence includes sugar-free goodies.

To add more spirit to the buffet fare is the drink of the month, St. Nick – a luscious mix of orange and cranberry juices with Malibu rum and melon liqueur – that comes with a cuddly teddy bear. Bear-y cool and Christmas-y!

At Cafe Plaza, the Misa de Gallo breakfast buffet is at P680++ per person, the Christmas Eve dinner buffet with a glass of Moet et Chandon is at P1,800++, the Christmas Day/ New Year’s Day brunch buffet with bottomless bubbly is at P1,400++, and the New Year’s Eve dinner buffet with a glass of Moet et Chandon and party favors is at P2,000++ . For reservations or inquiries, call Cafe Plaza Too at 551-5555 local 1529, 1555 or 1531.

Over at the poolside, treat yourself to the tastiest grilled seafood and succulent meats as you dine al fresco under the stars by the bay.

Westin showers families with more treats as it invites everyone to get away from it all this Christmas without really leaving the city and have a fun holiday in this tropical oasis in the middle of the asphalt jungle. Room rates start at P4,700 net inclusive of breakfast for two persons. While the parents are de-stressing at the spa, the kids can watch Christmas movies at the mini cinema or learn how to make Christmas crafts at the Kids Club. For room reservations, call 551-5555 local 1991-1993 or e-mail at RoomReservations@westin.com.

Completing this feast for the senses are the various children’s choirs who will fill the Lobby Lounge with well-loved Christmas carols. Tonight at 6:30, the choir of St. Theresa’s College brings Christmas tidings and cheers to hotel guests. The caroling schedule is as follows: Colegio San Agustin, Dec. 16 and 21 at 6:30 p,m.; Ateneo de Manila, Dec. 17 at 11:30 a.m. and San Beda College at 6:30 p.m.; Angelicum College, Dec. 18 at 11:30 a.m. and Manresa College at 6:30 p.m.; St. Paul’s College, Dec. 19; and Colegio de San Juan de Letran, Dec. 20.

Surely, you can’t help humming to yourself with a king-size burp, "O Christmas treats! O Christmas treats!"

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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