Saturday, April 30, 2011

Saturday Cooking at the Mandarin Oriental

Last Saturday was a day for food and cooking.

I woke up really early to get to the Salcedo Village market and shop for organic vegetables and herbs for a dinner I was cooking for some friends that night. I already had an idea on what to do for starters and one main dish, but I was still looking for some inspiration for a second main dish.

This time -- perhaps because I was quite occupied with other things -- I came away from the market without a clear idea for my second dish. However I was pretty confident everything would somehow get sorted out by 730 PM -- as always.


At 830 AM I went straight to the Mandarin Oriental to join the French cooking class of new Tivoli chef Remi Vercelli. The half-day workshop organized by Mandarin involved a really civilized continental breakfast, 3.5 hours of class in the very luxurious surroundings of the Tivoli, and then lunch with the chef to taste what we had just cooked.

Frankly, I had a wonderful time and I can't imagine a better way to spend a Saturday morning -- especially since our group yesterday was small (the hotel has a cap on the number of participants) and we had common friends and instantly clicked. The small number also meant we had a very intimate lesson -- almost like a very exclusive and private cooking class.

After we'd all had our croissants and tea, Chef Vercelli began our lesson which consisted of a proper three-course meal of classic French starters: a ballotine of foie gras to start, tuna ratatouille as a main, and a sinful floating island for dessert.

"Why are we making these in particular?" I asked Chef Vercelli before we began. He said: "I chose these because they're easy to do and many of the steps can be done one day in advance."

Then he added: "These items have appeared or are appearing in our a la carte menu, by the way."


The Mandarin cooking class set-up is very conducive to weekend cooks like myself. I love food but I eat out more than I cook, and lately I've really been only making dinners on Saturdays and Sundays. And I joined the cooking class to relax and learn something new at the same time. Well, the U-shaped cooking station is set up right in the middle of the restaurant and we were only two tables in front. We could sit, talk, taste, stand and observe, laugh and joke around as we pleased. It was really enjoyable.

"Do you cook?" Chef Vercelli asked me. I replied: "I cook but I don't follow recipes and basically just base everything on inspiration -- the ingredients I feel should be included, and the order and process I feel should be incorporated into the dish.


The lesson passed very quickly and comfortably in spite of the fact that we were on our feet for the most part. Before we knew it, it was lunch time and the lesson was over. Happily, we'd learned how to cook three wonderful dishes and we didn't have to do the cleaning up after. Instead, we all sat down to a beautifully-laid out table for a three-course lunch with Chef Vercelli, consisting of the three dishes we'd just cooked. Lunch was delicious and it was an extremely relaxing few hours just chatting and laughing over the meal.


To continue my wonderful day, I'd booked a series of treatments at the Mandarin Oriental Spa and timed it exactly for the end of lunch. So when everyone went home, I simply took the elevator to the 18th floor where the spa was located. Thus passed another blissful two hours at the hands of the Mandarin's expert therapists. (More on this in a future blog)

I got home just in time to make dinner for six friends coming over. It was fairly casual but I was inspired by my cooking lesson, and decided to make a multi-course meal including a revised version of the tuna ratatouille I'd just learned. Everything turned out wonderfully and enjoyably.


The following day, Sunday, I ordinarily would have made dinner again, but this time for this friend of mine who always insists on inviting himself over. It's really fun to make dinner for him so I don't mind at all; but this time, he'd actually booked a nice restaurant and so we'd had a long and big Italian meal. In fact, we'd eaten so much that the waiters were surprised. And this capped a pretty perfect weekend of cooking lessons and massages at the Mandarin Oriental, Saturday dinner at home with friends and Sunday dinner out at a nice Italian restaurant with...


Mandarin Oriental is having a Thai cooking class on Saturday, May 7, with Chef Channin Jakkased of the Mandarin Oriental Chiang Mai featuring spicy lemon grass salad with tuna, creamy red duck curry, and chilled water chestnuts in sweet coconut milk. For more information and to reserve, please call 857-4767.

Travelife's Special Summer Issue
with Angel Aquino in Boracay
Angel Aquino in Bora
for Travelife Magazine's April-May 2011 issue


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