By Michael Karlo Lim
I KNOW a kindred spirit when I eat with one. Chef Tatung Sarthou is one of those people. I met him on assignment and over lunch at the the Power Plant and we immediately traded commentary on the food. I concur with Julia Child that the best people are those who eat. Chef Tatung has an advantage over everyone else in that he cooks and to say quite well would be an understatement.
One of the Philippines’ most sought after chefs, he is well known for his passion for Philippine cuisine and his many social and culinary advocacies. He believes that, in order to cook Filipino, one must cook out of love, honesty and simply, without pretension.
Humble to a fault, this Cebuano has risen from the ranks and made a name for himself in the capital. He still harks back to the kitchen of his childhood where he learned to love food and its preparation from his mother and grandmother.
Aruga by Rockwell Hotel was abuzz with Manila’s culinary elite, their patrons, friends and supporters for the launch of his first book, Philippine Cookery: From Heart to Platter.
Catering by XO46 Heritage Bistro was in theme with selections like Puto Humba, Laing Bruschettas, Chorizo Bruschettas, Sapin-sapin Bahaghari, Mala-ubeng Panaginip and ice cream in Sikwate and Maja Blanca flavors.
The book cover dish Bringhe, a Filipinization of the paella, was aptly featured. The pièces de résistance were an entire Yellowfin Tuna carved in situ for Kinilaw and, as a nod to Chef Tatung’s roots, Lechon De Cebu, specially flown in by The House Of Lechon all the way from the Queen City of the South.
Destileria Limtuaco provided the lubricants in four cocktail mixes based on their Philippine-style and inspired craft spirits, whiskies and wines. The 288-page paperback of Chef Tatung’s book was also recreated into a 1mx1mx0.1m cake by Chef Edward Mateo.
Featured in the book are 71 recipes including tinolang manok, kare-kare, adobong pusit, as well as more unusual fare like bulanglang, piyanggang, and pinaupong manok sa asin.
Chef Tatung also teaches basic cooking methods — steaming, grilling, sautéing, frying, curing, among many techniques — as a way for readers to understand Philippine cuisine’s historical roots, and as a way to learn to cook it at home.
Throughout, he explores important ingredients like vinegar, coconut, rice, as well as traditional kitchen tools like the palayok or claypot, and bamboo tubes used for boiling.
On his keynote on the book, Chef Tatung declares, “What makes Filipino food special is the honesty in the cooking. It’s not actually the chefs that really brought recognition to Filipino cuisine. It’s the OFWs who cook for the families they work for, who love the adobo, the pancit, the lumpia. It’s not the fancy things — it’s not the adobo with foie gras, it’s not the sisig with truffles. It’s the simple things. And if we continue to cook this kind of food simply, elegantly and with excellence, Filipino food will shine. It’s about going back to basics.”
He bemoans that along with the burgeoning trend of taking up culinary arts courses, most of which focus of Western cuisine and cookery, we identify less with Filipino food and flavors.
“I think the role of a Filipino chef of today is not merely to look beyond our shores in the context of global cuisine, but to look inward into our own heritage, to be able to define what Philippine cuisine really is,” he said. He admits that even he has difficulty defining it but seeks out the what is common, what is present, what is “the cuisine that defines our generation.”
Chef Tatung spent seven years travelling across the archipelago, researching, experimenting and eating various regional cuisines to find himself and our identity as a people in our native recipes.
He came up with this ten-chapter compendium, with its sleek design by multi-awarded book designer Ige Ramos and captivating photography by Paulo Valenzuela, as both his memoir of sorts and as his readers’ guide back into what it means to be Filipino through our food. Now he can have his cake and we can eat it, too.