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How did this pandemic change my style of cooking?

By HENY SISON, The Philippine STAR Published Apr 15, 2021 5:00 am

“Without great solitude, no serious work is possible,” Pablo Picasso once said.

As the Philippines is in the midst of another Modified Extended Community Quarantine, I feel that so many things have changed.

Considering the advantages and disadvantages of living and thriving in the new normal, you get to think how the things you never had time to do before suddenly become a routine that you find comfort in, one way or the other.

One thing that stood out when all this started in 2020 was the change of pace in my daily living, where I was rushing from one appointment to the next. Now I find myself with more than enough time on my hands. Home cooking has become a welcome ritual between my family and me.

Where once the center of our universe was the school and its hustle and bustle of classes, now our simple kitchen has become the heartbeat of our home, where I can lovingly prepare a full breakfast and make artisan bread with my “loyal pet” sourdough starter. Healthy cooking for my family has become one of my newfound passions, as it allows you to forget the chaos, even for just a while.

The pan de sal free demo became such a viral hit, especially when we extended freshly made batches to our battle-weary frontliners, who are still in the midst of the epic war in fighting COVID. It was the sign of many firsts to come.

One of the essential elements in coping with this pandemic is to make sure that I have a well-stocked pantry to avoid unnecessary marketing and grocery trips. One can never go wrong in stocking up with the staples, such as flour, sugar, eggs, yeast, and salt.

It's no secret that baking and cooking are my great stress relievers. In uncertain times like these, you cannot believe the comfort it brings me to have all the ingredients I need ready and available when I need them for a recipe I would like to try.

Since I find myself at home more than ever before, it has also given me a rare opportunity to try new and heirloom recipes, which is simply such a delightful experience that I hope I get to share with our students one day. Rediscovering making heirloom recipes in my kitchen during the lockdown has been one of those sweet surprises.

The one shift that I am delighted to have made in light of the pandemic would be adapting the Heny Sison Culinary School to online classes. WFH has become such a popular acronym nowadays that further definition is no longer necessary to explain its meaning. What truly makes me appreciate technology even more is how it brings us closer to each other.

Before our live classes, we would only cater to our international students if they were on a trip here in the Philippines. But now, through the availability of our online classes, our instructors and I cater to a wider audience, both local and abroad, all in the comforts of our home without compromising both the quality of our classes and the health of our students.

It is also during times like these when our expertise is somewhat under a virtual microscope in the form of a live Zoom audience that you realize the value in the mastery of techniques, both in cooking and baking.

You may not be able to control what's happening out there, but you can certainly take control of anything and everything that happens with you and your kitchen, and yes, even in a time of crises like this.

One of the best memories that I cherish was when my daughter, Carmela, encouraged me to have a free demo on an easy recipe that would have essential ingredients and was easy to do at home. There was no other recipe that came to mind other than the classic pan de sal.

That free demo became such a viral hit, especially when we extended freshly made batches to our battle-weary frontliners, who, even as I write this article, are still in the midst of the epic war in fighting COVID. The pan de sal free demo was the sign of many firsts to come.

Not long after that, we started preparations for our online classes, and to say that to give is more blessed than to receive is true wisdom. Because of that single act of generosity, the Heny Sison Culinary School has thrived even amid the pandemic by allowing us to reach a broader market and share our expertise here and abroad.

However, not everything is a bed of roses. I still feel a bit of sadness when I walk into an empty classroom, as nothing can match the energy of a live, face-to-face class. For someone like me who has had years of teaching and demonstrating cooking and baking techniques, it takes a little bit of adjustment to miss the friendly banter you get while teaching a live class compared to a virtually live one.

You learn so many things in a crisis, such as you need to make use of what is available, order what you can online, or through delivery to limit your exposure to people that may have been compromised by the virus. I may miss having live classes and entertaining big crowds at home, but the new so-called normal is teaching all of us to adjust our expectations until the crises blow over.

So in the meantime, I make do with managing Victorino's and Heny Sison To-Go online and only dropping by when urgent matters arise that need my immediate attention. I have learned to place more value in embracing mise-en-place when cooking and baking.

Having a more organized approach, even making sure that cleanup is well organized, gives you a sense of order and allows you to have a less chaotic view of your immediate sphere of influence. You may not be able to control what's happening out there, but you can certainly take control of anything and everything that happens with you and your kitchen, and yes, even in a time of crises like this.

So in a way, the pandemic has changed my style of cooking in a good way. It has taught me to do hands-on planning, to think ahead, and to ensure that the food I prepare, and the way that I prepare it, is not wasteful and that every meal is stretched. Like when I make rellenong bangus today, I am certain the fridge will soon be stocked with empanadas filled with the same filling as the bangus sometime within the week.

This downtime has changed all of us, and my sincerest wish is that even amid the chaos, choose those things that will change you and decide to change for the better; we only get one chance at living. Let's learn to do our best every day. Stay at home and stay safe.

Before I go, let me share with you my easy-to-make Beef Teriyaki recipe. You can use this same recipe to make beef tapa; just use regular soy sauce instead of Japanese soy sauce. This can keep for a long time in the freezer. Just simply thaw and grill or pan-fry.

Beef Teriyaki

1 head garlic, peeled

4 slices ginger

1/4 cup Japanese soy sauce

1/2 cup honey

1 tbsp sugar

500 grams Monterey beef tenderloin, sliced thinly or use the sukiyaki cut

  1. Crush garlic and ginger using the mortar and pestle. Set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine, soy sauce, honey and sugar. Addthe crushed garlic and ginger.
  1. Add the beef. Mix until well blended. Cover and marinate for one hour or overnight in the refrigerator.
  2. Heat the grill. Add olive oil. Grill the meat according to your preferred doneness. The marinade can be used for basting the meat while grilling.