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Power cooks

By MILLET M. MANANQUIL, The Philippine STAR Published Jul 16, 2020 10:36 am

The title of this article should have been “Men in Aprons.” But that would not have been accurate, though it’s meant to be just a metaphor. 

“Richard doesn’t really wear an apron,” says Lucy Torres-Gomez. On Instagram, we spied a photo where Richard just has a kitchen towel tucked at his waist.

Neither does Ramon Isberto wear an apron, but Ernest Cu and Dr.Z Teo do, because they do a lot of grilling.

Richie Coronel-Santos usually just  borrows his mom’s apron when in the kitchen.

To use the title “Men in the Kitchen” would be like saying it was an unusual sight because a lot of people (men, obviously) believe that men really rule the kitchen.

“Men have greater muscle power, yet women are calmer in the kitchen,” and celebrity chef John Burton Race says, “It is a fact that men are the best cooks, professional or not. Industrial kitchens may have heavy equipment, but men are the best cooks because they are more passionate...” etcetera, etcetera.

But relax, all ye female cooks. We’re featuring here men who have main professions and cook just for enjoyment.

Ramon Isberto of PLDT and Smart. Photo by Ester Isberto

Ramon Isberto: Makabayan, Makakaluto

He has all the 4M traits women like for their dream men: Makatao, Maka-Diyos, Makabayan... and Makakaluto.

Ramon Isberto is head of public affairs for PLDT and Smart. But in a previous life, he was a political prisoner who spent time behind bars for being an unwavering nationalist. That is our makabayan dreamboat.

His being makatao and maka-Diyos is a given, with his Ateneo “Man for Others” foundation.

As for his being a good cook, that is the side of him that the corporate world does not know. Only his mother, wife and children know.

In fact, his mom, Anita Isberto, was his first cooking idol. “She was a nutritionist who took cooking seriously,” narrates Mon, as he is fondly called. “And she taught us three basic rules about eating. First, eat on time. Second, eat what’s on the table and don’t look for what’s not there. Third, finish whatever you put on your plate.”

Mon remembers that in the months approaching Christmas, their garage was full of hamon legs hanging from the ceiling to dry. His mom really loved to cook. “Christmas would be celebrated with hamon, keso de bola, chestnuts, fruitcake, grapes and red wine.”

He recalls that it was out of necessity that he first attempted to cook when he was in college. Left with his three brothers at home one lunchtime, Mon whipped up giniling na baka and seasoned it with toyo, suka, some spices and sugar. “I fried it till it turned dark. I still like my giniling that way.”

What inspires him to cook? “Necessity. My cooking is very opportunistic. For example, while visiting my cousin Anne and her husband Paul in San Francisco, after a three-week trip, I was tired of eating American food.

“Left alone in the house, I surveyed the fridge contents and decided I would prepare an all-in-one fried rice out of leftovers. I got some onions, garlic, ginger and white cheese and fried these in very hot olive oil. Then I put in slices of luscious ham and pork. This was followed by rice, beans, lettuce and cabbage. That evening, we finished everything, along with some red wine.”

His favorite restaurants? “Definitely Asian places like Kai, Banana Leaf, Kashmir and Pho Hoa. Spanish like Dulcinea, Mediterranean like Souv! And of course, Filipino restos like Manam and Max’s.”

I asked Mon: What is your advice to men who cook?

“Many of the men I know who cook are actually good at it. I think it’s because may hilig talaga sila. Rather than give them advice, I would rather seek theirs.”

Mayor Richard Gomez of Ormoc

Richard Gomez: Best mayor/cook

I clearly remember the first time I saw Richard Gomez cook.

At the birthday dinner of Ben Chan in his home some three years ago, we enjoyed the sumptuous feast prepared by chef Florabel Yatco-Yap.

But an hour after midnight when there were just about a dozen of us guests left at the long table, the gluttons among us (meaning all) decided we were ready for breakfast.

Richard declared: Let’s cook our breakfast! An instinctive cook, Richard surveyed the kitchen and said he would do our request for a Pinoy breakfast — sunny-side eggs, sausages and everybody’s favorite — Spam! Not wanting to wait for rice to be cooked, Ben’s sister Nenita Chan quickly managed to fetch leftover rice from her nearby home, which Richard quickly transformed into fried rice.

A simple breakfast, yes, but we all enjoyed it amid more hilarious stories. And that is Richard’s idea of what an ideal meal is: “A good time to bond, talk, laugh and dream while eating together.”

Richard remembers the first time he cooked as an elementary student: it was also sunny side up, boiled or scrambled eggs. And fried rice.

Richard Gomez's Bistek Tagalog, a favorite of Lucy

“I learned to cook from my grandma, who taught me the basic sautés using onions, garlic and tomatoes.”

Richard says he would go with Lola Lydia to market on Saturdays in Cartimar. “There, I learned to choose the different cuts of meat watching the butcher cut the carcass of a cow or pig.”

Of course, Rlchard has evolved to being a kitchen king who can do various dishes. But what this athlete-hottie — who is the best epitome of “tall, dark and handsome” in Philippine movies — truly enjoys is grilling food on really hot charcoal.

His wife, Lucy Torres-Gomez, says her fave dishes by Richard are his Bistek Tagalog and Ginataang Santol. He has been cooking for years for Lucy and their daughter Juliana, not on a whim, but as something he really loves doing.

One of the country’s best mayors, Richard also enjoys painting, farming and raising animals in Ormoc. “I like watching chefs Bobby Flay, Mario Batali and Giada de Laurentiis on TV.”

But perhaps Richard learns more about food by eating out and trying different new restos with Lucy and Juliana.

Because he believes that eating together is always a bonding moment.

Ernest Cu of Globe Telecom. Photo by Arlene Cu

Ernest Cu: Grill power

The last time I saw Ernest Cu was at the wedding of Bea Zobel Jr.’s daughter in Madrid. It was a celebration of love. And a celebration of good food as well.

I looked at Ernest as the able and amiable president of Globe Telecom. “He’s a very good cook, too,” friends told me. Now I see him in a different light: A man who is passionate about things other than his job.

“I have done some cooking in the past, mostly on family trips,” says Ernest. “In Italy, we’d do potluck in the villa and if we didn’t feel like going out, I would do several dishes for the family. Missing Italy, I decided to do Carbonara, following an Italian video on YouTube... I tried the recipe using guanciale and everybody loved my Carbonara.”

During the start of ECQ, Ernest saw friends on Instagram posting about their cooking. One that particularly inspired him was his godson, Chino Dee. “I saw that he was doing great stuff with food.”

Ernest explains that nobody actually taught him how to cook: “It was out of necessity that when we were living in the US, everyone had to pitch in. Over the years, it became a hobby.”

Lately, Ernest has been hooked on using an Instant Pot, a birthday gift from good friend Stephen See, who owns Focus Global. “We have been using it to cook bulalo, carnitas, and recently an oxtail dish recommended by another good friend, Alex Lichaytoo of Bacchus.”

Ernest Cu's Prime Rib

The dish that Ernest is proudest of is the prime rib he did recently, which surprised everyone. “I got my meat from Kaushik Sehwani of Alternative Foods. I cooked it using combined recipes from YouTube, and it seemed to have worked out pretty well, because the whole eight to nine pounds of meat was eaten up in one sitting.”

During lockdown, Ernest was able to cook twice weekly, aside from weekends, which he prefers. “I am not sure, though, if I will be able to sustain this when life goes back to normal. My typical work schedule does not allow for much time at home. The WFH setup has allowed me to pursue this hobby.”

His favorite restos? “I would pick Sala of Colin Mackay, along with Blackbird.

For steakhouses, I like Raging Bull.”

But his wife Arlene says he also does a mean steak on the barbecue grill at home.

Even with his superb cooking skills, Ernest does not dream of opening a restaurant in the future. “After seeing what restaurant owners go through, it is not something I would like to do. I think of myself as a great restaurant customer, but not owner.”

Richie Coronel Santos of Cinderella. Photo by Therese Santos

Richie Coronel Santos: Where’s the Kobe beef?

Richie Coronel Santos is a tall and handsome guy who wears many hats. He is vice president for international brands at Cinderella Marketing Corp.

But aside from being a retailer, he is also an athlete who has amassed trophies and medals as a jetski rider. He enjoys extreme sports.He also wears a golfer’s hat, And he might as well also wear a chef’s hat, though he did not go to culinary school.

Richie actually got the best culinary training from his mom, Therese Coronel Santos, who has been hailed for her pioneering moves in the retail industry. But her cooking skills are best known only by her family and friends, for whom she enjoyed serving the best foods.

“My mom is an excellent cook; she’s the one who inspires me ,” says Richie. “Every Sunday she would always prepare a themed, gastronomic, full-course meal for the family. She cooks Italian, French, Japanese, Spanish, Thai and Indian. She surely got the cooking genes from my grandmother, Florencia Coronel, who was also a good cook.”

Richie Santos' Truffle Pasta with Caviar

Cooking well and eating well must be ingrained in the family. “My family travels to eat,” Richie explains. “It is through eating different cuisines that we discover the culture and history of each country.”

Richie started cooking when he was seven. “The first dish I cooked was Japanese teppanyaki steak. My favorite restaurant when I was a kid was Benihana in San Francisco. I was amazed at the chef’s cooking and performing tricks at the misonotable.”

Now Richie’s specialties are Truffle Pasta with Caviar, Crab Pasta with Caviar, Entrecote with Foie Gras, and Japanese Kobe Beef Steak. During the lockdown, Richie was cooking every week for three months. “Cooking has become a hobby for me. It brings out my creativity,”adds Richie.

He has become such a foodie that he has made his own list of best restos, which include, to name a few, Mugaritz and La Curacha de San Telmo in San Sebastian, Spain; Joel Robuchon and Le Relais Entrecote in Paris; La Giostra and La Bussola in Florence; French Laundry and House of Prime Rib in San Francisco; Sukiyabashi Hiro and Kawamura Kobe Beef in Tokyo; M Matsusakagyu and Endo Sushi in Osaka; Otto Mezzo and Lung King Heen in Hong Kong.

Dr. Z Teo of Aivee Clinic. Photo by Dr. Aivee Teo

Dr. Z Teo: So delicious, la!

Food can heal. This may very well be said by Dr. Z Teo, the Singaporean dermatologist well-known for bringing in the latest anti-aging and beautifying techniques... and lately, the best Hainanese Chicken.

During lockdown, his children began to miss the Hainanese Chicken they would eat regularly whenever the family went to Singapore.

“There was no way I was going to fly back to Singapore, so I started to bring out my apron and experiment in the kitchen,” says Dr. Z, as he is fondly called.

He called up his mom to get some tips on how to cook the chicken, and from there is a tale of trial and error until he got the taste he was looking for. “When I want something done, I am usually relentless until it’s perfect.”

Happiest of all is his beautiful wife, Dr. Aivee Aguilar-Teo, who loves his cooking. Dr. Z does a lot of other dishes like Singaporean Bee Hoon, Seafood Fried Rice and Crispy Shrimp Wonton. “I love grilling as well and my Bone-In Ribeye is pretty decent,” boasts Dr. Z.

Dr. Z Teo's Hainanese Chicken Rice

“The dish I am proudest of is my Hainanese Chicken Rice. The day when the Singaporean Ambassador gave the thumbs-up, then asked me to cater the dish for an official diplomatic luncheon for ASEAN ambassadors was a proud moment for me.”

Food that is delicious, food that is healthy, is what the Teos put on the menu of Aivee Cafe inside their Aivee Clinic at The Fort. There they serve nutritionist-approved dishes that promote healthy eating to go with their now famous Kale Juice. 

Dr. Z’s Hainanese Chicken Rice is now part of Aivee Cafe’s menu, and a very popular delivery order, something he didn’t expect, la! 

“Cooking is just a hobby for me. Now that it’s GCQ, I don’t have time to cook anymore, as we are busy again in the Aivee Clinic,” he says. 

Dr. Z and Aivee hope they will have the chance to eat again in their favorite restaurants like Chef Jessie in Rockwell and Wolfgang Steakhouse.

“In the far future, maybe I can build an outdoor grill restaurant in a beautiful resort island where I can maybe retire. That would be lovely.”