Thursday, June 9, 2011

Three Ambassadors and one La Sallite

So tomorrow I'm off to Europe and tonight was a very busy evening with three events back-to-back -- and all in all it was a pretty wonderful night.

It started quite early as I met M -- this friend I've been bumping into at functions and meetings all week; and then finally we had a scheduled lunch at Dusit Thani's UMU yesterday, making it the fourth meeting for the week but the first pre-arranged one -- at the lobby of the New World Hotel for a bit of talk about business.


Yesterday he'd suggested meeting up today to make it a record of meeting up everyday and a fifth time this week. It would also be the second pre-arranged meeting this week.

"Am I meeting you tomorrow? Better not break the cycle," he'd said yesterday. I'd replied, half-jokingly: "Only if you're accompanying me to my three events tomorrow night." It was true. I had no other time to spare as my day was completely full with meetings.

Well, he stepped up to the plate and gamely accompanied me to my three events tonight -- and I must admit that it was a very good idea. He's an extremely presentable escort and it was lots of fun to have him around. Also, he knows quite a lot of people in this town and wherever he went, he saw just as many friends and acquaintances as I did.


The first event was the party of Bellarocca Island Resort and Spa at the ballroom of the New World Hotel. But as we still had some time before the start of the event, we sat around the lobby talking shop. Eventually, and I don't know how this happened, the discussion turned to Ateneans and La Sallites -- a perennial favorite topic in this town. I'm an Atenean and he's basically a La Sallite, so of course we're set not to agree on anything in this regard.


"Ateneans are pretty good," he said. "They're cerebral so they make good employees." He was just teasing, I'd like to think. When I challenged him on this, he said: "Try naming one who's really made it big-time but not in someone else's employ."

I'd had a long day full of meetings so I couldn't think well and was literally just winding down at that exact moment; but I'm sure I would have come up with some names after a drink or two. But he just smiled at me with an all-knowing look that I'm so sure he uses a lot in his office, since he's the big boss of a pretty large enterprise: "See. I knew you wouldn't be able to come up with anyone. Whereas you'll find really successful La Salle business owners everywhere." Then I guess he just couldn't resist adding the following: "But I really think that Ateneans are hard-working, and that's why I try to hire them all the time."

The talk about Ateneo and La Salle continued off and on for quite a while. When we reached our second party tonight, the National Day of Russia at the ballroom of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, we sidled over to one of the buffet tables to try some Russian specialties. My friend was trying one of the puffed pastries when it slipped from his hand and he swooped his hand down just in time to catch it. Without missing a beat, he said: "If I was an Atenean, I would have let that pastry fall. Ateneans have too much pride so they won't try and catch that. But La Sallites aren't too hung up on image; because we actually run businesses, we're more concerned about the bottom line. We don't like waste."

I just had to laugh with all these comparisons. It was meant in good fun, of course. Finally, I said in return: "You know, some of my cousins are rabidly pro-Atenean and anti-La Salle. They've never missed an Ateneo-La Salle game in something like 25 years." But my friend didn't seem too impressed. "Same here," he replied. "Until last year, I never missed a game and I usually sat ringside as well. La Salle side, of course."


We met people we knew everywhere at the Russian National Day, but funnily, we knew entirely different sets of people so it was interesting to meet each other's friends; and between us both, we basically knew the whole room. You might say it was pretty good teamwork, as far as working a room was concerned. But we both agreed that we so enjoyed a discussion with Italian Ambassador Luca Fornari and his charming wife Silvana, about planning a trip to Italy. Ambassador and Madame Fornari, by the way, are helping us plan a wonderful Travelife Italy Night, together with Margarita Fores.

Earlier, I'd already spotted Silvana across the room and I'd said to my friend: "I'll introduce you to Madame Fornari later on. She's the most charming lady I know."

"More charming than you?" He asked. He's a La Sallite so he says stuff like this (joke). Fortunately, I'm quite used to their way of trying to make someone smile, so I didn't miss a beat either: "You're right. Maybe she's the second most charming."

But actually, Madame Fornari is one of the most well-loved ladies in Manila's diplomatic community, and her smile and enthusiasm are legendary. And, yes, she's really the most charming lady I know.

We also met the new Russian Ambassador at the party, and he was splendidly dressed in a military uniform. When we commented on his impressive attire, he revealed: "You know, this is our formal uniform. Protocol only allows us to wear this twice a year: at our own national day celebrations and at the celebrations of our host country."


Finally, we made it to the third party, which was a nine-course sit-down preview dinner hosted by the Czech Ambassador and Prateek Kumar, general manager of the Dusit Thani Manila, to introduce wonderful Czech cuisine to the Philippines via a festival in October.

We arrived in time for the delicious main courses, which included an incredibly tasty beef medallion in cream sauce with bread dumplings, beef goulash with Carlsbad dumplings, and duck meat on a bed of sauerkraut.

This was how I learned that Czech cuisine is heavy on meat and potatoes, and strong in taste. It's the kind of taste, however, that Filipinos will love. Watch out for the Czech food festival at the Dusit Thani Manila this October.

The Czech chef had just flown in from Prague and tomrrow he was set to fly to Boracay to spend three weeks in the sun. We were all suitably jealous of him, although I was quite happy too, to be by the Bosphorus this weekend and in the Mediterranean next week. Anyway, everything was simply delicious, and I'll write more about this upcoming festival in a blog entry next week.

We'd arrived midway and there were no more seats together at the table for 16, so my friend sat at one end while I sat in front of Prateek and Stephanie Zubiri.

We took turns complimenting the food and I really liked the beef medallion in cream sauce while Stephanie enjoyed the beef goulash with Carlsbad dumplings. What a treat to have tasted such unique cuisine with excellent company. Even if it meant meeting up for the fifth time this week. Or perhaps because of it.

Culinary Dinner at Tosca
Dusit Thani Manila
9 June 2011

Cold appetizer
South Bohemian headcheese with spring onion and Czech vinegar

Old Bohemian potato soup with forest mushrooms

Warm appetizer
Fried ham roll with fresh horseradish
and Znojmo cucumber basket

Main courses
Chicken a la pheasant, potato balls and red cabbage
Beef medallion in cream sauce with bread dumplings
Piquant beef goulash with Carlsbad dumplings
Duck meat with Sauer Kraut
Fried perch with home-made potato salad

Strawberry dumplings with cottage cheese and cream


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