Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A bachelor in a big house

Tonight was Round 3 in my neighborhood Christmas cocktail party/ open house circuit. This is an informal group of neighbors who have signed up to each open their homes and host a cocktail party for other neighbors on one evening during this Christmas season. About 15 people have signed up to host a cocktail, and the basic principle is that you are automatically invited to everyone else's house once you sign up as a host. And as host, you can do whatever you wish as far as entertaining goes, and invite other people as well if you're up to it.

It's a really great idea and such a fun experience -- plus a nice way to get to know more people living around you. It's also made me feel closer to my neighborhood and more secure about living here.

Round 1 of my neighborhood cocktail party circuit:
"The most beautiful house in Manila"


The host tonight was a very cultured and interesting gentleman who lives alone in a massive house that reminds me of a beautiful lodge somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. His home can easily fit 250 people at a sit-down dinner and 500 people perhaps for cocktails -- so you can imagine just how large it is for one bachelor and a couple of house help.

This reminds me of my neighbor's house

Since I love decorating houses, I can tell you that I was walking around at the end of the evening imagining what I would do if this was my house. I also told my host: "If this was my house, I'd have a party every single night." He smiled at me with a been-there-done-that kind of smile. Then he said: "Yeah. I used to do that. But I eventually got tired of it."


It was a lovely home filled with very interesting art and architectural accents, and everything was lighted up beautifully. Perhaps the most stunning feature of a pretty stunning house was the staircase made of metal and wood, that was an artwork in itself. It had thick geometric log-style metal banisters that ran into each other. "I feel like I'm walking down the stairs of a modern art museum," I said to everyone.

This reminds me in some way of my neighbor's staircase

But first, when I got there with my friend T, we were ushered through a dramatically-lit driveway and massive entrance. Inside, in a living room with a ceiling as high as other people's three-storey apartments was a lovely Christmas tree. But that wasn't the only Christmas tree, as there were lots of trees in different parts of the house. There were so many, in fact, that I lost count; although I did notice there was even a giant blue and silver tree in one of the basement lounging rooms.

After getting food, the neighbors all sat down in the dining room to chitchat.


"I didn't know you'd have so much food," one of them said jokingly to our host. "In fact, I told my husband that we should eat first before going since you're a bachelor and so you probably won't have food."

Our host said: "Well, I certainly know how to dial and order."

He'd ordered food from various restaurants around Makati, and everything was set up nicely in his state-of-the-art kitchen.

As a nice touch, he'd also hired a pianist for the evening -- which made all of us joke that once again the bar for entertaining had been raised quite high and the rest of us down the entertaining circuit line were now under pressure to "keep up." This did start out as a neighborhood party, but now here we were with pianists and so many Christmas trees in one house.


"What are you going to do for yours?" I teased another neighbor seated across me. She was up for the cocktail hosting in about two weeks' time. She laughed. "I don't know. Maybe I'll sing."

But I think the worst pressure will be on me, as I'm the last host on the circuit. I never intended it this way, but it just so happened that December 18 is the only night I found convenient to host, and it was the last option date.

So far we've had pretty amazing houses and parties, so I guess I'm going to have to think of something fast. Nevertheless, I've already invited some good friends to join my Christmas cocktails -- and they've said yes -- so that I'll have a nice mix of friends and neighbors.

In the meantime, I'm really enjoying attending our neighborhood cocktails and getting to know everyone. Plus, these open houses really jumpstarted the Christmas spirit for me. Just another evening in a never-ending and never-endingly eventful Travelife.


Travelife Magazine's
Oct-Nov 2011 Issue


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Much ado about beef

Tonight the Japanese embassy celebrated its national day with a large reception at the residence of the ambassador in Forbes Park. Japanese embassy receptions are always very impressive and well-attended events, and tonight was no exception. I walked into ambassador's home just after 7 PM and for an hour, I literally could not get past the living room and into the garden as there were so many people to talk to.


So many prominent politicians and businesspersons -- including a number who I know don't usually go to parties because they dislike socializing -- had made the effort to attend the celebration of Japan tonight. Security was tight and there was a very large battalion of military personnel outside the ambassador's residence.


Inside, I bumped into a high-profile businessman who I'd seen so many times at events in the past weeks that I'd lost count. I teasingly said to him: "I can't figure out who works harder. You or me. But I probably work at least as hard as you." Fortunately, he agreed with me on that one.

But so many things really get decided in events like this, so oftentimes it's crucial to attend. Just tonight, for example, over a couple of glasses of red wine, I've shaken hands on two new and very exciting Travelife Nights for next year with one ambassador and one minister. More on these two groundbreaking events in a future entry.


At the same time, I bumped into one of the country's biggest businessmen who I know almost never goes to parties because he dislikes socializing. There's a big aura around him and his family but he and his wife are actually one of the most down-to-earth persons I know in Manila society.

We'd had dinner together in Hong Kong at a mutual friend's lovely house overlooking the golf course in Shek-O, once, and I vividly remember my surprise when his wife began talking about how she washed their clothes and cleaned their apartment in Hong Kong herself.

Tonight we discussed the developments in Fort Bonifacio and particularly how nicely everything is growing in the Burgos Circle area. We'd been looking at that area at the same time years ago, and he still remembered this; and tonight he brought it up. "That was really good timing," he said.


Meanwhile, the highlight of the evening was some wonderful Yamagata beef flown in straight from Yamagata Prefecture in northern Japan just for the party tonight. They'd flown in a chef from a famous restaurant as well, and he spent most of the evening carefully grilling slices of this luscious beef for the many guests tonight.

Of course, there was a very long line for the beef. When I first saw the line, I decided to wait till the end of the evening, foolishly thinking the wagyu would last forever. Does anything ever last forever? Of course not. And neither did the beef tonight.

Fortunately, I saw a good hotelier friend and while we were talking, we realized we were actually in line for the beef. We really weren't, but we were right next to the line and the people behind us let us in, so we sort of jumped the queue for the beef.

And, boy, was that just in time. The beef ran out exactly three people behind us. I didn't know this until I'd already gotten my beef, but I certainly didn't dare look at the people four places behind us again.

Since I go to Tokyo quite often, I'm quite blasé about wagyu when it's offered to me in Manila -- and that, too, was my attitude tonight. However, when I took a bite out of that beef, I was so sorry I hadn't lined up earlier. It was incredibly good.


That made me think about asking my friend J to take me to a really good place that serves Japanese beef. He used to know one place but it's gone now. He's invited me for a meal somewhere this week, you see, and it's supposed to be French and very good. I was pretty much looking forward to this. But today, while I was at lunch, I got a BBM from him asking if I wouldn't mind a change of venue as he's going to be eating at this pretty hot French restaurant several times this week already.

I BBM-ed him back: "I don't mind. Someone actually invited me to the same restaurant the next day so I was going to eat there two days in a row as well." It was true. J and I had already decided on the venue and over the weekend someone else had invited me to exactly the same place the day after J's invite.

Then he asked me: "Where do you want to go?" It wasn't a tough question. I said: "You decide. Anywhere quiet and cool. The last place we ate at was noisy and hot." The last restaurant we went to was pretty good but it was so noisy and hot that I couldn't relax.

A bit later he asked me again where I wanted to go, so I said: "Up to you. If you ask me, you already know the answer. I'm a creature of habit and I have three favorite places right now: Tivoli, Masseto and Old Manila."


Then I added: "Or we can just stick to our original choice. But if you go there any more frequently, you'll probably have to buy the place." It's not a cheap restaurant, you see, so anyone going there three or four times in a week had better start doing their math.

He sent back a big smiley face and the message: "And add to my many problems? No thanks. I'd rather pay and pretend I own the place."

I'm sure he was laughing while he typed this out, and I was certainly laughing when I read it. It was an allusion to one of our earliest conversations and dinners together, at a restaurant he too practically owned. We both have very good recall of these times, for some reason. So I sent him back this message: "Wow. That brings back memories. Where have I heard that before?"

Just another day in our never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife.


Travelife Magazine's
Oct-Nov 2011 Issue


Monday, November 28, 2011

75 families for the Philippine Yearbook

3 Generations of Aquinos:
PNOY with Jiggy and Ninoy.

Tonight I headed across town to the Diamond Hotel to attend the launch party for the 75th Philippine Yearbook, a project of Grace Glory Go of the Philippine Star and her son Vernon, who also brings in major foreign performers and produces big name shows in Manila.

We were very honored to be one of the 75 families chosen for this very special 75th yearbook that chronicles in a fun and ever so happy way the lives and laughter of 75 families over three generations. Photographer Tom Epperson styled and shot every single photograph, and the photos turned out absolutely amazing.

Fortune Ledesma and son RJ

Tom asked many of the families to do pretty crazy things; but most were game and the results are simply beautiful. Each photo is a work of art and so interesting to look at; although I have to admit that my favorite out of all the 75 photos is not my own (I was photographed in a long gown, at the edge of a roller coaster in Star City!) but that of Fortune Ledesma, honorary consul of Monaco, with her son RJ and granddaughter Baby Fortune. They were shot in their pajamas against a beautiful black and white background, and they all look like they're having so much fun.

3 generations of Rufinos

I also liked the photo of the Laurel family in a living room with an elephant, as well as that of Johnny Litton by the pool of Club Filipino. The photo of Filipino rocker RJ Jacinto with his daughter is also priceless.

RJ Jacinto and daughter

The photographs were so beautiful and inspiring that the book sold out tonight. I tried to get my own copy but I was too late, so I simply placed an order and it's supposed to be delivered sometime in December. Everyone wanted a copy tonight.


It's also a tribute to the personal charm and niceness of Gracie that the whole world as we know it in Manila trooped to Diamond Hotel tonight to celebrate with her. All the top people of various industries were present and the atmosphere was so festive that it seemed like a reunion and a Christmas party rolled into one. I couldn't walk two steps without saying hello to someone.

And, this being Manila, and Christmas, I'm so sure that I'll probably see many of them several times over this week, including tomorrow, Thursday and Saturday when there are very big events lined up. Thank goodness my Wednesday night is free, though, as this is the night for the 3rd of my neighborhood open house cocktail parties -- and this is one of the houses I really wanted to go to, so I am really looking forward to our new neighborhood Christmas tradition.

Just another night in our never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife. I hope you enjoy some of the photos from the Philippine Yearbook that I took with my Blackberry!

Partial photo of the Munji and Laurel families

Crickette Yu and her mother


Travelife Magazine's
Oct-Nov 2011 Issue


Sunday, November 27, 2011

A Christmas Party and Gourmet Night at Essensa

Tonight was a very long night but such a happy one. We helped organize a completely different event from the usual things we organize, but it was a spectacular success. Much of it was due to the great teamwork between the main companies and entities involved, as everyone was professional and efficient. It was a truly a dream team and the results showed. What an amazing event.


The Essensa condominium was judged the best residential condominium in Asia, when it was first launched. And even today, it still is among the best residential buildings in the Philippines.

Tonight, in cooperation with the Essensa board, Travelife Magazine organized the Essensa Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony and International Gourmet Night to kick off the Christmas season; and this was undertaken with the Peninsula Manila and Color It Christmas as the main sponsors.

Essensa is by far the most beautifully decorated residential condominium in the country this Christmas, and this is the personal handiwork of Color It Christmas, which is tapped by some of the Philippines' biggest firms to handle their Christmas decor. Color It Christmas donated all the Christmas decor around Essensa this year.

It was truly a labor of love for the people involved, but the results showed. I'm going to post photos as soon as I get these; but for now, let me say that everything went almost perfectly without a hitch, and the residents and guests were all impressed.

Essensa at 4 PM today


I was working the whole evening as emcee as well, so I basically had a cup of hot chocolate and endless glasses of ice for dinner -- which was a shame as we literally prepared a kilometer-long buffet with something like 40 dishes for the entrees alone.

But work called; and so the best part of the evening for me was finally sitting back and relaxing at about 1030 PM, when lots of people had left but a couple of good friends had stayed; and we all sat at one table while the band and the DJ played basically just for us, and I just kept requesting songs all night. How fun it is to have your own musicians to play whatever you want them to play.

"I could so get used to this," I joked; and a guy at the table said: "We can do this every weekend." Yes, it was that fun.

Essensa at 1030 PM tonight


As emcee, I was able to make most of the requests, and I had a pretty eclectic mix. I actually requested the song "Love You More Today Than Yesterday" twice. And the song "Ikaw," which is just about my favorite Tagalog song because the words and the melody are so beautiful. Meanwhile, from the DJ who had a trunk full of 80s music, I asked him to play Sybil's "When I'm Good and Ready." I can't explain it, but I really wanted to hear this song tonight.


For tonight's event, I didn't invite the whole diplomatic corps. I simply selected a couple of close ambassador friends who I thought would enjoy the experience of an authentic Philippine Christmas celebration.

The ambassadors of the United States, India, Indonesia, Israel, and South Africa very gamely joined our celebrations, as well as the wife of the Ambassador of Switzerland.

The wives of the Indonesian and Swiss ambassadors brought food from their home countries as well, while the Ambassador of Israel brought Israel's top musician to play for us (and, boy, did he wow everyone!) and the Ambassador of Indonesia gamely agreed to sing a few songs. What a treat these were for Essensa residents.

The Ambassador of Indonesia performs tonight
for Essensa's Christmas party

All in all, a wonderful evening of camaraderie, generosity and holiday spirit. The major firms and entities involved worked so hard for tonight. I especially can't thank the Peninsula Manila and Color It Christmas enough for the elegant and stunning party backdrop and logistics we had tonight.

The logistics alone is a story in itself. Early this morning, coming home from the Commanderie de Bordeaux dinner at about 1 AM, I'd dropped by the Essensa swimming pool area just to have a look around as I'd been too busy this week to even do an ocular. There was nothing extraordinary save for some lights already in place. But 7 hours later, when I walked past again, every single table (we had a set-up for over 300 persons for dinner and 100 for cocktails) was set up and ready. The Peninsula Manila had come in at 2 AM and set everything up perfectly.

We at Travelife Magazine have been privileged to work closely with the Peninsula Manila on many projects and whatever we have undertaken together has been an incredible success. In the process, I've gotten to know everyone and we've become good friends. I am all praises for the way the Peninsula Manila runs its ship.

Thank you to our other wonderful
food, wine and entertainment sponsors:

XO46 Bistro in Salcedo Village

Chef Billie King

Duo Restaurant

Sweet Bella Pastry Shop in Burgos Circle, Fort Bonifacio

Century Tuna

Premier Wines and Spirits

Premium Wine Exchange

Bubba Gump for the kids

Gymboree for the children's entertainment


Travelife Magazine's
Oct-Nov 2011 Issue


Saturday, November 26, 2011

Old times and good French wine

Today was a complete foodie day and I must've easily gained 20 kilos in the last 12 hours. Lunch was with my new Italian friends, Vincenzo Spinosi (Italy's King of Pasta) and the chef of the Gritti Palace Hotel in Venice; and we had the equivalent of 5 or 6 pasta dishes. I'll write more on that later.

But tonight, I attended the gala dinner of the Commanderie de Bordeaux Manila Chapter at the Ayala Museum, which featured a five-course dinner by Margarita Fores with Bordeaux wines (of course). The special guests for tonight were Corinne Conroy of Chateau Brane Cantenac, a 2nd growth Margaux, and Ronan Laborde of Chateau Clinet, Pomerol.


The Commanderie de Bordeaux has really enjoyable events so I try to attend each and every one, as long as I am in Manila. And once a year they have a gala dinner where everyone gets dressed in formal attire and new members are inducted into the society, complete with wine-red robes and all. Tonight was the gala dinner for 2011.


As it is the start of the Christmas season, there are so many formal events in Manila and I have about four gowns lined up for pressing for this week alone. But for some reason -- perhaps because the Commanderie dinners are usually informal events -- it completely escaped me that tonight was a formal dinner.

Then as I was dressing up for the evening and getting ready to slip into a cocktail dress, I remembered that I hadn't even bothered to check the venue, simply assuming that it would be somewhere in Makati anyway. Fortunately I decided to check my emails for the venue tonight with just a bit of advanced timing; to my horror, I realized that it was a formal event requiring a long gown.

So I rummaged through my closet for another gown to wear and quickly made myself as presentable as possible. In 15 minutes, I was out of the house in the requisite long gown and on my way to the Ayala Museum for the Commanderie dinner, making it exactly 5 minutes before the start of the meal.

The dinners of the Commanderie de Bordeaux are one of the few events that I'll happily go by myself to, as it's by membership and they're mostly just like reunions of old and good friends over good food and wine. So tonight, too, I was quite nonchalant about arriving by myself in fancy dress.

True enough, I saw lots of old and good friends immediately upon entering and it was a great opportunity to catch up. Then it was time for dinner and we all had to find our places in one of the three long tables Gaita Fores had set up so beautifully with a purple theme right in the middle of the museum. There was a pre-assigned seating chart and apparently Edouard Mialhe, one of the Commanderie's stalwarts and perhaps the most knowledgeable person in the Philippines on Bordeaux wines, had arranged the seats as always.


I'd been assigned a place in Table 1 and for some reason, many of of my good friends were in Table 3. When we realized this, we thought of switching my seat with someone else so I could join Table 3 instead, but this was just not possible as Edouard had reasons for placing everyone somewhere.


So off I went to Table 1, not knowing who was in it but pretty confident that I would have congenial companions anyway. Everyone in the Commanderie de Bordeaux is lots of fun. Edouard's wife, Sevrine, was hosting Table 1 and I was diagonally across her and in between two gentlemen. And -- what do you know. To my left was XX, an old friend of over 20 years who I haven't had the chance to sit next to for a proper conversation in a very long time.

He was already larger than life when I'd met him 20 years ago, and he's become even more of an urban legend now since his businesses have flourished immensely. Over the past two years we'd bumped into each other at some ambassador's parties or at dinners of a gourmet society, but we'd never really talked much again since we'd last had dinner in Tokyo some time back.

We've never really been in the same place at the same time because I'm always traveling and he's -- well -- he's got something like a hundred houses and businesses all over the world so he's forever busy and forever on the move.


"Are you still into all those adventures?" I asked him. When I'd met him he was going all over the world at an amazing rate, and doing crazy Type A personality things like jumping from airplanes and skiing down steep slopes with a death wish. He'd invited me to climb a mountain in South America with him once but I'd politely said no because I just didn't do mountains. But I did join his family for a ride on a boat in Tokyo once, and that had been lots of fun.

He smiled at me and replied: "Yes, but at a slightly slower rate now." So he's still doing fantastic things with regards to extreme sports, but also doing luxury things like taking one of his helicopters for lunch or golf in Tagaytay because he doesn't like traffic.

And I heard this from someone at the same table who's been able to ride with him a couple of times: riding your own private chopper to escape traffic and be somewhere in 15 minutes instead of three hours is a hard habit one can ever so easily get used to. Apparently it's terribly addicting.

It was very nice catching up -- especially as it was like no time had passed in between. We reminisced about the first times we'd met and toasted to a lot of things tonight, including to old times' sake.


Meanwhile, to my right was a very well-known executive who regaled me for most of the evening with his stories of a joint ownership of a villa in Tuscany and a couple of fancy sports cars in Manila. He and three friends jointly own four very fancy cars, and they rotate and get to take one home every week. That sounded really smart compared to owning four fancy cars yourself as you can only really drive one a time anyway.

This way he had a different car every week; and in fact, one of those fancy cars was parked right outside Ayala Museum as we dined, as he'd driven himself over in it. One of the informal rules of this "club" is that you don't let the driver or the valet touch the car. And after your week is over, you send it back to the "manager" who gives it a thorough cleanup to make it feel brand-new. Then it's given to the part-owner next in line.

The joint ownership scheme has worked so well for him so far that he's now thinking of creating the same scheme with friends for other things such as beach houses in the Philippines.


"Of course we can buy these things," he told me, after confessing his practicality as a businessman. "But, frankly speaking, how often do you really use such a thing? With joint ownership, you get the best of both worlds. You spend less money and you only use it for the time you need or want it."

Such an interesting concept, and soon I was thinking of other ways to use such a scheme including perhaps joint ownership of expensive bags or jewelry. How many times do people use such things after all? The evening passed so entertainingly, and by the end of it, I had two new BBM friends as well -- and XX had already BBM-ed me photos taken that same night.

Just another day in our never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife.

New members of the Commanderie de Bordeaux
inducted tonight

Jo Elinore Castillo-Theodoropulos
Ricardo Cuerva
Othmar Ober
David Ong
Don Santos
Jerome Tan
Ivan Yao
Fernando Zobel de Ayala
Juan Carlos de Terry

Margarita Fores' dinner menu tonight

Handmade papardelle with bacon and asiago cream
Duck confit with potato gratin
US angus bone-in tenderloin with a Cabernet sauvignon reduction
Caramelized brie de meaux
Tarte au chocolate with dulce de leche ice cream

The champagne & wines

Champagne Ayala Brut Majeur NV
Chateau Brane Cantenac 2006
Chateau Clinet 2007
Chateau Brane Cantenac 2004
Chateau Clinet 2005
Chateau Brane Cantenac 2000
Chateau Clinet 2003


Travelife Magazine's
Oct-Nov 2011 Issue