Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Scenes from the New Year's Eve Gala Ball 2014 of the Peninsula Manila

Just before stepping out to attend two parties tonight,
including the wonderful Peninsula Manila New Year's Eve Gala Ball

Kisses blown across the room at friends everywhere, dancing all night to really great music, a shimmering and glittering array of tables, and champagne overflowing to say goodbye to 2014 and to welcome 2015.

GOODBYE, 2014. HELLO, 2015.


I had a truly wonderful 2014, blessed with happy memories and few regrets, inner tranquility and calm acceptance, and lots of good luck.






HOW WILL I EVER TOP YOU, 2014?

To tell you the truth, last year is going to be a tough act to follow.

But I am certainly going to do my best to top it, living a never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife.

These balloons dropped down
at exactly midnight

Wherever in the world you happen to be, we wish you a new year of good health, happiness, fulfilment and an amazing Travelife.

With Peninsula GM Sonja Vodusek
and Mithi Aquino-Thomas,
wife of former US Ambassador Harry Thomas





Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Happy and inspirational thoughts to end 2014 and to start 2015


I keep some of these images in a folder on my computer desktop all year-round, so I thought I'd share some of these with you today, on the last day of a fading but wonderful year.

Wherever in the world you are today, we wish you peace, love, good health, happiness and a never-endingly eventful Travelife.

THE UNIVERSAL LAW OF ATTRACTION



THE REMINDER TO LIVE EACH DAY TO THE FULL



THE CONFIRMATION THAT IT'S ALRIGHT 
TO BE WHO YOU ARE



A TIME FOR EVERYTHING

And this is my personal favourite, concerning someone I know.



ABOUT SAYING GOODBYE WITH GRACE AND GOODNESS


THE CHALLENGES TO EACH OF US,
EVERY SINGLE DAY OF OUR TRAVELIFE






Best of a TRAVELIFE 2014: A day with Juan Mari and Elena Arzak in San Sebastian


PS: I was going through my photos for the year when I chanced upon some lovely photos of myself with Juan Mari Arzak and his daughter Elena. I've decided to post some of these very personal photos for this entry on one of the most enjoyable days in my Travelife for 2014.

It was an overcast morning in San Sebastián, Spain last July, when I left the Maria Cristina Hotel after breakfast and got into a car that world-famous Spanish chef Juan Mari Arzak had so kindly ordered for me.

The car was to take me to his restaurant.

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It was a short drive to the restaurant from the Maria Cristina, so soon I found myself in the restaurant Arzak. 

This was where I was going to spend the day with the legendary culinary team of Juan Mari and his daughter and heir apparent Elena, the world's top female chef; although I did head back to my hotel very quickly sometime during the day to change into a little black dress for the meal proper.

DELICIOUS FLIGHTS OF FANCY



I was glad to get out of the cold and to bask in the warmth and infectious liveliness of the Arzaks. Yes, it was summer in Europe, but the wind was blowing and it was uncharacteristically cold for July.

In addition, there was the opportunity to explore their 100,000 bottle wine cellar and their world-famous culinary laboratory. 




On the third floor of their building, you see, two chefs work full-time experimenting on new dishes to boggle the foodie world.

This is their famous culinary laboratory, and Juan Mari himself gave me the tour. Few people ever get to see this laboratory which employs pretty stringent security, so I was very lucky.

MECCA FOR FOOD 

That's me and Juan Mari at the entrance

If you ask knowledgeable locals to name the best restaurant in San Sebastián, a city known for great dining and people passionate about eating, you will get different answers.

There are so many good restaurants in San Sebastian, and even more wonderful tapas bars. Most of the tapas bars are pretty touristy, though, so you have to make sure you go to a really good one that locals frequent.



As for San Sebastian's finest restaurants, there are Akelarre and Martin de Berestegui, to name the two other Michelin three star restaurants in the same general radius, and Mugaritz, a Michelin two star with an ambitious young-ish chef.

Mugaritz, by the way, is currently the fourth best restaurant in the world, according to the S. Pellegrino list.

The kitchen of Mugaritz

ABOVE THE OTHERS

Every foodie has his or her favourite.

But no one will deny that among these fine establishments, Arzak stands apart from the rest for the leadership Juan Mari has taken in gastronomic trends, and for its consistent good food and sheer longevity.

A nice long chat with Juan Mari
while I was in San Sebastian last summer,
living a #Travelife...

Established in 1897 by Juan Mari’s grandparents, Arzak has been a Michelin-starred restaurant for the last 25 years, which is no mean feat in an intensely competitive arena.

GRACE UNDER PRESSURE 

Elena and Juan Mari Arzak

None of the pressures are apparent, however, when you meet the Arzaks.

Although I left with little doubt that their very unassuming restaurant on one of San Sebastian’s busier streets is an incredibly well-orchestrated machine.



Elena Arzak, the world’s best female chef, was preparing the usual five-hour gastronomic lunch for a full house of diners, many of who had traveled from very far, expecting to be blown over.

And yet at 11 AM she was all smiles, with enough thoughtfulness to inquire after my family and my summer holiday through France and Spain.

SCIENCE IN THE MAKING


Meanwhile, after having a cup of coffee and some sweets in the restaurant with the father-daughter team, Juan Mari very kindly took me around his beloved wine cellar and to the laboratory on the third floor, which is really the nerve center of Arzak’s operations.

Experiments were in progress but the atmosphere was so serene compared to the hustle and bustle of the kitchen below that I was reminded of a seminary.

This is not too far from the truth either, since this lab is the core of a temple of hallowed dining.

VISITING THE SOURCE 

The world-famous culinary laboratory

What I remember most, however, was Juan Mari’s “idea room” lined with shelves full of neatly-arranged plastic containers containing spices and herbs from different countries.

There must have been hundreds, if not thousands, of these.

“From these spices, I get inspiration for my dishes,” he told me.


THE WORLD AT YOUR FINGERTIPS

Each container had the name of the ingredient and its provenance; in a quick glance, I espied so many exotic destinations, including some I had never even heard of.

This was literally the culinary equivalent of a Travelife around the world.

A DIFFERENT WORLD,
COLORED GREEN 



Then, almost reverently, he pulled a container out of one of the upper shelves and opened it to show me a green-colored spice from a Middle Eastern country.

“You will taste this today,” he said.


Then I thought no more of this until six hours later, as I had the first of a series of main courses in the middle of a truly delicious meal, and it was Elena who actually reminded me.

“This dish contains the spice my father showed you earlier,” she said with a smile, as her waitstaff set artfully-arranged plates containing ingredients of all shapes and colors, and what I thought were slices of beef, in front of us.

DREAMING OF SOMEWHERE ELSE

Jose Mari even accompanies us to our waiting car
after that fantastic meal

After taking several forkfuls, I still could not make out the spice per se. 

But with each bite, I was transported to a land of mosques and palaces, where I imagined I saw veiled dancers in flowing robes and men with turbans gliding across the room, living their own versions of a never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife.

PS: Next major foodie stop: two meals in Noma in Tokyo next month, and one meal in Noma in Copenhagen later in 2015...





Monday, December 29, 2014

The best memories of a never-ending Travelife 2014



Even by Travelife standards, 2014 was a very busy and wonderful year.

It began with Travelife’s successful Rockwell Travel Expo fair, with thousands of visitors and long lines of eager bargain hunters on opening day.

And then I was on an overnight plane several hours later to Johannesburg for two weeks of fun in the sun, including a truly unique sea and plant safari.

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12 MONTHS OF RELENTLESS FLYING

In the course of the year, I flew halfway long distance every month, for a total of 12 trips around the world, and traveled around the region countless times in between.

I’ve lost track of how many times I landed in Tokyo, or in Hong Kong or Doha, for that matter. And I actually visited South Africa, France and Morocco twice this year.

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PLAYING FAVORITES 

Each trip has been memorable and ever so eventful that I’m hard-pressed to identify favorites. However, the following are among my favourites: 

- A long weekend in Thessaloniki, hanging out at the stylish bars and cafes by the promenade.



- A Sunday morning massage along the beach of South Africa’s Overberg coast

- A hot springs weekend in Hokkaido in the fall and a champagne-filled one at a beautiful chateau in France over the summer



- A gastronomic dinner in Santorini and an equally delicious farewell meal with Travelife Magazine readers and friends in Marrakech just last month

- Climbing up to the amazing monasteries in Meteora, Greece, and exploring the 1,001 kasbahs in the Greater Sahara desert of Morocco.




- Spa holidays all over the world, including in the Czech Republic's Karlovy Vary (Grand Pupp), South Africa's Midlands (Fordoun) and Thailand's Hua Hin (Chiva Som).

These are just some of the many happy memories that come to mind in my never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife for 2014. 






Sunday, December 28, 2014

A dinner with serious wine enthusiasts at Blackbird, and about a French hairdresser who does precision hair cutting home visits





Tonight in Manila, living a Travelife, eight of us had dinner at Blackbird.

The food was just okay, but the best part was really dessert. And for some reason, this restaurant has so many staff members but it's so hard to get them to do anything, whether it's refilling water, pouring drinks or opening a door.

They would pour wine for one side of the table and completely forget the other side, for instance. It wasn't full last night, either. I hope the management does something about this because this also happened before.

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OUR OWN WINES

We brought our own wines and spirits, and as the four guys are very serious wine drinkers, each with a pretty formidable private cellar, we were guaranteed an evening of very good things to drink.

We began with champagne, and this wasn't the kind you usually can buy just off the shelf somewhere.

Then we had several bottles of white and red wine.


GUESSING A CHATEAU HAUT SMITH LAFITTE

These four guys truly only drink really good stuff, and purely for the love of wine.

One of them brought a year 2000 Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte and served it as part of a blind tasting.

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Someone else in our group actually guessed the wine correctly, out of thousands of possible options, surprising everyone.

Perhaps this is because we had visited Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte in Bordeaux two years ago, and stayed at the Les Sources de Caudalie, which is the adjacent luxury hotel owned by the family who owns Chateau Smith.


A BURNT BUTTER ICE CREAM SUNDAE
WITH GLASSES OF SAUTERNES

We ended with a very nice bottle of Sauternes -- yes, we are all Sauternes drinkers in this group -- that went surprisingly well with the dessert I ordered, of a burnt butter ice cream sundae.

Somewhere in between all this drinking, we decided to do a safari together in early 2016, as most of us are pretty booked for major trips already in 2015.

I know just the place to go as well, too, as we can take the entire place for ourselves if we are a group.


SUPPOSEDLY THE BEST HAIRDRESSER
IN MANILA.
AND HE MAKES HOUSE CALLS.

Across the table tonight, I also was given by my friend J the mobile of a Frenchman who is supposedly the best haircutter in town.

This Frenchman reportedly cuts with great precision and skill, and perhaps for me best of all, he actually does house calls. Apparently, he used to cut Victoria Beckham's hair too.

One for the road at Blackbird last night

I usually get my hair cut in Tokyo, but this Frenchman sounds like the perfect alternative, especially as you can get your hair done in your own home and at international standards.

I also saw what he did for someone's hair tonight, and indeed it was the most precise cut I'd ever seen. Certainly better than anything I've seen from any Japanese hairdresser.

Watch out for more on this Frenchman who does house calls with his sharp scissors, when I finally get just another haircut in my never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife.



Saturday, December 27, 2014

Best of a TRAVELIFE 2014: A private dinner cooked by a Michelin three-star chef, with royalty as guests


2014 was spectacularly full of spectacular meals, flying all over the world, living a never-endingly delicious Travelife.

But one night definitely stands out in memory, when I flew to Tokyo in April, to join a heart-stopping dinner someone was hosting for just six people at his beautiful home with a view in central Tokyo.



He'd hired and flown in from Europe a world-famous Michelin three-star chef to prepare a 12-course meal, giving the chef no budget and a free hand to source the best ingredients from all over the world. 

This was all ultra-confidential as this chef does not want it known that he leaves his restaurant somewhere in the world to cook for mega-billionaires at the right price. 

He doesn't want to lose his three precious stars, after all.





MAKE YOUR OWN DREAMS COME TRUE.
NO BUDGET, NO QUESTIONS.
JUST DON'T DISAPPOINT.

But this was truly the meal of a lifetime, in 12 months of pretty fantastic meals all over the world, living a Travelife. 

For this very special dinner, with guests who actually wear diamond medallion sashes and tiaras -- if you get my gist -- my friend asked the chef to create the dinner he'd always dreamt about -- meaning the kind of dinner the chef himself had always dreamt about.

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A SURPRISE OF A MEAL.
AND MONEY ISN'T TO BE DISCUSSED.


This friend, one of Tokyo's great masters of the universe, had told the chef: "Surprise me. Don't think about the cost, and don't even mention money. I want to meal of a lifetime, and I don't care how much it will cost."


This reminds me, by the way, of someone who took me to dinner for my birthday once, somewhere in the world, at a restaurant run by a very talented and famous chef who I happened to know.

I'd given him my chef friend's phone number and he'd rung up the guy to discuss the menu for the birthday dinner he was taking me to.

THE CHEF GETS A SURPRISE.
AND ABOUT A BIRTHDAY DINNER TO REMEMBER



When the chef asked him what his budget was, my friend gave a number off the top of his head -- I don't think he was really thinking about it much. In all likelihood, he was probably buying some stocks on his computer while he was on the phone with the chef, and he'd simply subtracted a couple of zeros from the figure he'd given the chef.

Anyway, this amount made my chef friend pause for breathe and sit down. As for me, I never knew what the bill was like, but the ensuing meal had been out of this world.

Every single rare item in the foodie world was procured for this meal, including enough first-rate caviar to create a little mountain on the table.




MY BEST MEAL FOR 2014

But back to my meal of a lifetime for 2014.

For this, this other friend has said to this world-famous chef: "Make me the kind of dinner that has so far existed only in your dreams."

He added: "Order whatever you want from anywhere in the world, do whatever you need to do. Just make this dream dinner happen for me."



WINES OF THE CENTURY
FOR THE DINNER OF A CENTURY

Then he had some of the best vintages of the 20th century flown in from his main wine cellar in London, to accompany this 12-course dinner.

He's not only a very big businessman on the global stage and an astute investor, but also a very serious wine collector.

It was a simply amazing night. Unfortunately I can't blog about it. This guy's completely anal about his privacy as he's always in the limelight.




I couldn't even take photos with my little iPod because of the kind of dinner it was.

One very eminent couple at the table made it impossible to do so, protocol-wise -- not because they didn't want me to, but because of who they were, with the tiaras and all.



I can't say anymore, even if I really would love to.

But if you're familiar with what kind of VIPs need strict observance of protocol, then you'll have an idea of the very nice couple I was seated opposite at this dinner.

A VERY SPECIAL CELEBRATION



Our host was celebrating something special, and then his VVIP friends happened to be visiting Tokyo at the same time -- so this is why he'd organized this dinner of the century and pulled out all the stops for the evening.

Of course I was flying to Tokyo for this amazing event.

I'm sure you would understand that I would have flown halfway across the world, and not just halfway across Asia, if only I could tell you who cooked dinner and who sat across me at the table for six.

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A PRETTY LUXE WELCOME

When I arrived at Narita Airport the night before this dinner, my dinner host sent his driver with the white gloves and his fancy limousine -- one of his two fancy limousines, actually -- to pick me up.

When he rang me on my mobile in Manila just before my departure, to tell me he was sending a car to pick me up at the airport, I'd actually told him: "I can easily take a cab, you know."

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This is Japan, after all. You don't have to worry about taking any kind of transportation from the airport, or about taxi drivers trying to fleece you upon arrival.

But he said: "You are flying across Asia for my dinner. It's the least I can do."

Who's going to turn down a fancy limousine ride? I'll make the motions of turning it down once, but certainly not twice. I'll take the limo over the taxi anytime.

HELLO, HELLO



So I got into his car at Narita Airport, and instead of going home directly, I passed by his house just to say hello for a bit.

The big dinner was the following evening, and there would be four other people in the room, so I thought it would be nice to catch up ahead that night.

I knew he was flying out to Europe the day after the dinner, as well, so there would really be no time to talk in person on this particular trip to Japan.



His butler showed me into the house.

Yes, he has a butler in Tokyo, who wears the coat and the gloves just like in the movies. He's the only one I know in Tokyo with a butler, although I do know of two or three people in Manila with butlers like these.

I have to say, the whole set-up is straight out of Downtown Abbey.

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My friend was in his study, gazing at the computer and I'm sure it was New York or London stocks he was looking at, because of the time, when I walked in.

We didn't indulge in niceties, as we'd already talked on the car phone practically the whole way from the airport into the city, while I was updating this blog, posting updates on Facebook and posting photos on Instagram, using his car WiFi.

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A FAVOR I DIDN'T WANT TO REFUSE



Then we talked about the special dinner he was hosting the next day, and this was the first time I got a  preview of the 12-course menu especially created by this Michelin three-star chef from Europe, for the dinner the following night.

I couldn't believe what I saw. It truly was like a dream menu, if I ever saw one. 

I've had meals with longer courses in my never-endingly delicious Travelife before, but I'd never seen a stellar culinary cast of specialties like this, all together in one menu for six people in someone's house, with the world-famous chef in the kitchen a few meters away, cooking a dream meal while probably fighting off jet lag.

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THE MEAL OF THE YEAR.
IF NOT THE LIFETIME.

It was truly a pity I can't write about this amazing meal for 2014 in detail, but I've been sworn to confidentiality.

However, as I've already written in the vaguest possible terms, the Michelin three-star chef was flown in from Europe with his assistants and the wish-list of this chef, of the best possible ingredients on the planet, was flown in chilled from different corners of the globe.

A FRENCH MEAL IN TOKYO
WITH ECLECTIC COMPANY

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Yes, we were in Tokyo, but neither my host nor the other two guests are fond of Japanese kaiseki, so we had a French meal instead.

We were six. Two of the guests were famous people in Japan, but the two other guests were very distinguished personages from somewhere in the world. The man can often be seen in the front pages of the international newspapers while the lady usually wears a tiara on her head.

She didn't wear one for this dinner, although she had on a set of discreet but very fine jewels that looked like they'd been handed down from her illustrious grandmother.

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VINTAGE FOR ME

As for me, I wore a vintage Halston dress I'd picked up in Paris many years ago, with equally old handcrafted jewellery from my favourite Greek jeweller, which I'd picked up long ago at an auction.

And we all had a most enjoyable evening and a breathtaking delicious dinner that most definitely stands out as the best dinner in a year full of pretty stellar dinners, in my never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife.