(STAR) A TASTE OF LIFE By Heny Sison - One fine Wednesday morning, I took a leave from work to watch my daughter Denise, along with a hundred or so bright-eyed young girls and boys, receive recognition for her academic achievements. For their diligence, they were named scholars of the UP College of Science.

Just like any other parent or loved one present that day at the auditorium of the National Institute for Science and Mathematics Education Development, I beamed with pride and joy. And I am doubly blessed that my daughter, a BS Molecular Biology and Biotechnology student, can keep such a low profile, being modest and unassuming amid all the fuzz about her. She would even probably be embarrassed to see her name mentioned in this article.

I wonder where my daughter got her gift? From me? I think not! Physics and chemistry were my least favorite subjects. I took BS Biology in my freshman year at UP because my parents wanted me to take up medicine, but I realized it was not my calling so I shifted to economics and political science. I would always keep my fingers crossed that when scores were tallied and grades deliberated, my professors would be in an extremely good mood to give me a passing grade, at the very least. To my relief, my prayers were always answered! Figures and equations are not my cup of tea, not because I don’t find them fascinating; on the contrary, I am amazed by them and try to understand them to the point of frustration. Give me a Rubiks cube to work on and I’d probably spend a lifetime getting one side of the puzzle solved.

I felt somewhat uncomfortable as other parents would share with me stories about how their children took after them because often, children follow in their parents’ footsteps. This made me feel slightly alienated. Here I am, a chef by profession, a foodie at heart, standing amid academic geniuses, our nation’s future mathematicians, doctors, molecular biologists, engineers. What was I doing here? It seemed surreal.

The awarding ceremonies were about to begin and so we took our seats. My husband Benny and I politely applauded on cue with each speech delivered. But I anxiously waited for the roll of honorees to be announced so we could cheer for our daughter, escort her on and off stage, and discreetly dash to the nearest exit. And then she came onstage,

A young chinky-eyed woman was introduced to be a doctor. She looked too young to be a doctor, I thought, and realized that she had hurdled through her masters and has earned her PhD DR. May Lim is her name and what she said to the young graduates made me sit up and listen. Here are excerpts from her speech:

“To the students and their parents, congratulations. To the students for studying hard, and to the parents for making sure they do. My second topic is a mind-saving skill I had to rely upon while I was in the US. To be good at it, you have to be good in math, planning, and estimating quantities. You also need to be physically fit, have a good sense of balance and precision, have a lot of patience, a high tolerance for heat, and definitely have a good dose of common sense. The nice thing about it is that you can master this skill while you’re here and you can even start as soon as you get home. Care to guess what it is?

“Yes, it’s none other than cooking. As some of you have realized after eating for several semesters in CASAA, all cafeteria food tends to taste the same after a few months. A suitable replacement for cafeteria food is microwavable dinners. Except that after weeks of eating such, you’ll also notice they either taste like cardboard or plastic, take your pick. Being able to cook my own food definitely helped.

“I should state at this point that I am not a master at cooking. But I definitely know the problem set method of cooking. Like all problem sets that are assigned in class, it requires only up to three critical steps to obtain a successful result. Needless to say, it helps if you read on the subject before trying anything fancy. Key step #1 is to pick fresh ingredients. That means smooth-skinned eggplants, unbruised carrots, and fish with clear eyes. Key step #2: Medium hot is a good starting temperature for your pan. Never start with a cold pan. If you need oil, add it when the pan is hot. Wait for the oil to get hot before adding garlic, and then onion, and so on down the line. The general idea behind cooking is that you add the next set of ingredients just before the previous ones get fully cooked and that you mix them all up to avoid producing elemental carbon in the process.

“Key step #3 is to remember that water boils at around 100 degrees Celsius and oil at a higher temperature and that the two do not mix. Don’t even think of throwing watery ingredients into hot oil unless you’re wearing protective gear.

“Key step #4 is to taste the food and fix accordingly. I never do that when I cook. My favorite expression is that I’d like the taste to surprise me — which always happens.

“Why did I just discuss cooking? Being able to cook is one of the hallmarks of one’s capability to be independent, plus it will make whoever is cooking at home happy if you’ll take the challenge today. I think it’s a skill that is more important than knowing how to integrate by parts, and we all know integration by parts is very useful!

“While there is a lot of science in cooking — from the heat distribution down to the breakdown of chemicals in garlic to the neuronal signals that get triggered when you smell them just before they turn golden brown — cooking is a metaphor for life, as well as for science. You should have your own signature adobo.”

This message haunts me until today. There is a base recipe for this Pinoy classic, but from that, a hundred and one delicious versions have been born — created by cooks who dared to experiment and try to add new ingredients and procedures, thus turning one’s kitchen into a laboratory. I like my adobo dry, not saucy. After simmering it for two hours until the meat is tender, I transfer it from the pot to a pan to fry until the heat reduces the sauce. This way, the adobo becomes tastier. Thus, controlling the temperature is a factor towards getting the desired results. However, my mother’s take on this dish is even better, if not the best. My husband Benny always wonders why our cook cannot duplicate my mom’s version of adobo. I realize that passion for cooking is the plus factor which makes Mom’s dishes always memorable. One cannot measure passion, but I learned that while cooking this native stew, my mother kept the temperature on low and had it simmering until the meat was tender. Our cook neither had the luxury of time nor amor to wait that long; hence, the results differed greatly. So low temperature and long cooking time produce more tender meat than high temperature cooking. Heat causes many changes in food, and now I appreciate how important it is to know at what temperature you are cooking and at what temperature the desired change occurs.

As cooks, let us not content ourselves with tantya or ouido. Relying on gut feel is good and true enough, a lot of gourmet delights come out of this, but not all of us have that gift. Sometimes, what’s good may be a fluke the first time around. So, with every experiment or recipe created, it is imperative to keep a written record. It would be a pity if you couldn’t recreate that perfect concoction you made last week, simply because you forgot how you did it.

So, for the record, let me share with you my recipe for adobo. Just make sure your ingredients are cooking in the right temperature or else you create “elemental carbon” in the process (I think that means you burn the dish).

Adobong Manok And Liempo

1.3 kilo chicken, cut in serving pieces

1/2 kilo pork loin, cut up to two-inch cubes

1 cup soy sauce

1/2 cup vinegar

1/2 cup water

2 heads garlic, crushed

2 pieces laurel leaves

1 tablespoon black peppercorns, crushed

1 cup Magnolia Nutri Oil

Marinate chicken and pork with the garlic, soy sauce, vinegar, laurel leaves, and pepper for five hours.

Transfer to a saucepot, add water. Let boil, then simmer until the liquid is reduced to half. Cool completely.

Separate the garlic and the meat from the sauce.

Heat the oil until hot in a frying pan. Separately fry the garlic and then the meat until crispy and chewy. Put the meat and garlic in a deep saucepot. Add the sauce. Continue cooking over high heat until sauce has thickened and the bottom burns a little with very little sauce remaining in the pot.

Lastly, let me conclude with a famous quote that sums it all up: “The invention of a new dish is of greater importance to the happiness of mankind than the discovery of a new star.”

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved