Pepita’s limited run at Cafe Ylang Ylang, Manila Hotel

MANILA — Inspired by last year’s successful Filipino Food Festival, “Lechon Diva” Dedet Dela Fuente’s decadent Truffle Rice Stuffed Lechon and other dishes from her Pepita’s Kitchen Degustacion are once again the stars of the buffet at the Manila Hotel’s Café Ilang Ilang.

Back for a second year, the hotel’s Filipino Food Fest opened last August 24 and will run until September 16.

Her Lechon Degustacion is one of those aspirational meals in Manila’s foodie scene. One must gather 15 fellow diners and get on a long waiting list. This buffet is one of best ways to try out Dela Fuente’s culinary creations without the hassle.

To open up the taste buds, start at the chicharon bar, which offers chicharon bulaklak, bituka and chicken skin. Three different pates are also there for the sampling — laing with kesong puti, bihod (fish roe with butter) and chicken liver with mango bits.

There is also a “deconstructed” ensalada with eggplants, adobo and kansi flakes and salted egg. The Fish Salad rounds out the appetizers.

Then there’s the Truffle Rice Stuffed lechon.

It’s best to come early as early diners get to witness the lechon being carved, as well as to savor the aroma of the truffle mingling with the roasted pig. A portion of the lechon includes a meat, crispy skin, and a bit of the truffle rice stuffing. The best part? Lechon lovers can come back for as many portions as they want.

While one can survive on the lechon alone, the supporting dishes shouldn’t be ignored. The buffet has old favorites from past degustacions like the Pancit Paranaque, Calderetang Manok, Pork Binagoongan, “HipLog” (hipon and itlog or shrimp and salted egg) and the Balut Salpicao. New dishes from the current degustacions are also on the menu.

Pinoy decadence seems to be a recurring theme with the featured dishes. This is what makes the offerings really stand out. Take the Filipino paella. This is tanglad rice cooked paella-style and topped with Filipino favorites like inihaw, scallops, tocino, barbecue, crispy dilis, quail eggs, among others. This is more of a “boodle in a paellera” than a paella!

One wonders what the gulong-gulong sauce is in the Alimango with Gulong-Gulong Sauce. My guess is that it contains A LOT of aligue (crab fat). Whatever it was, Dela Fuente said it is so good, “gugulong-gulong ka sa sarap.”

Then there’s the Heavenly Sisig. This is the same sisig she uses in her Sisig Rice Stuffed Lechon. This unadulterated version does not have rice mixed in that tempers the taste. The result is sisig that’s extra spicy and extra tasty that may need an extra serving of rice (or more) for diners caught unaware of the concentrated flavor.

The Italian section of Café Ilang ilang was not spared from Dela Fuente’s culinary creations. Three Filipino pizzas were made for this buffet. The Lechon Pizza, which has large chunks of lechon as toppings; the Adobo Pizza which has adobo slathered on top of the pizza; and the Palabok pizza swathed with palabok sauce, crispy noodles, and a slice of hard boiled egg.

The degustacion offerings supplement the excellent Indian, Chinese, American and Japanese selections of the Café Ilang Ilang buffet.

Leave room for Pepita’s award-winning desserts: The Mango Trifle, a glorious mishmash of mango mousseline, cream, broas, otap and leche flan; and the Super Suman, sticky rice topped with treats and pastries Filipino kids would have grown up with like tsoknut, rosquillos, peanut kisses, pastillas, yema, and puto seko.

Apart from pop-ups, creating new degustacions, and her Project Wheelchair dinners where she and fellow chefs raise funds to buy wheelchair for indigent kids, Dela Fuente continues to create innovative dishes that may seem familiar but come with a twist.

“Pepita’s Kitchen fuses different Filipino ingredients, puts them together, and comes up with something new and flavorful. I believe that Filipino food needs to innovate more so that Filipino food will continue to evolve and will please more palates around the world. We started out with the aim of making lechon a global sensation. Now, the aim is to make Filipino food a global sensation,” she said.

NOTE: This was originally published as

La Soiree at Solaire

MANILA — “La Soiree” is French for “the party” — and what a party it is!

It started as a midnight cabaret 11 years ago and has since been performed in Paris, London, New York, Stockholm and other global centers of culture. “La Soiree” in Manila, which opened Wednesday, marks the first time the show has been staged in Asia.

The experience starts at the foyer of The Theater of Solaire Resorts and Casino. Half an hour before the house opens, the speakers blar big band marches, beckoning the audience into the theater.

Inside, the first thing the audience sees is the stage — a one-ring circular elevated platform taking up barely a third of the theater stage surrounded by the “Cabaret section,” crowned with a string of lights that change the room into the inside of a small circus tent.

The house lights dim and the ringmaster takes center stage encouraging the audience to partake of the “refreshments” at the foyer bar, mischievously proclaiming that La Soiree “is THAT kind of show.”

At its core, La Soiree is a circus — spectacles of sensational feats of strength and dexterity shaken and stirred with mischief and naughtiness. High-flying trapeze artists and gentlemen acrobats in bespoke suits flex their very well-defined muscles with hula hoops, roller skates, pogo sticks, jump ropes, and much more.

It is also an utterly hilarious show. The show’s cross-dressing clown, Legato Chocolat, sets the stage for the many laughs that follow. Early in the show, a comic contortionist comes in and shows what you can, or rather, should not do with a couple of old tennis rackets. There’s the roller-skating flamenco dancer who makes her own Spanish telenovela; and a bungling roller skater juggler whose talent lies elsewhere.

The humor of “La Soiree” has a wickedly naughty side. Forget double entendres! It has blunt, straight talk about sex and its many derivatives. Cusswords are let loose in spades. This is definitely not for the weak-hearted or the close-minded. In one act, a politically incorrect lothario concludes his overtly lascivious diabolo act, telling the audience, “You’re all pregnant!”

Another act will guarantee that you’ll never listen to “America, The Beautiful” the same way again after an insanely raunchy kazoo rendition corrupts the song for you forever.

Strip-trapeze artists just elevate the naughtiness to new heights. To its credit, “La Soiree” reins it in enough to still be quite tasteful and not stray into rated-R territory.

“La Soiree” is not always loudly in-your-face. In one of the show’s quiet moments, a bubble artist waxes poetic about the science and philosophy behind his soapy creations. This discourse is supplemented by a poignant piano piece that just lulls the audience into a meditative hush.

From “Nessun Dorma” to Madonna, the soundtrack accompanying the different acts is beautifully curated for the audience to fully immerse themselves into the world of “La Soiree.”

The show’s artistry is a joy to behold. For the creators to figure out how bathtub water can make an aerial rope performance sensual and spectacular, or how an iconic scene from “Singing in the Rain” can be reinterpreted into an adept pole dancing act, is just amazing.

Apart from some minor quibbles with the audio equipment (which will probably get fixed in the succeeding performances), this show is technically polished. Performers come and go almost without pause, seamlessly transitioning between acts.

During steamier portions of the show, the stage is transformed for a moment into a cigarette-filled nightclub with smoke everywhere and backlight illuminating what was a fully-clothed performer just a few minutes ago.

It is a joy to watch this. The best seats aren’t near the stage. The best seats in the house are in the Cabaret section ON the stage. Along with the best up-close and personal views of the performance, lucky(?) Cabaret audience members have a chance to be part of the acts.

“La Soiree” shows that there is spectacle in intimacy. It is a rare gem of a show that’s not just to be seen, but to be felt and to be experienced.

Creative producer Brett Haycock remarked: “La Soiree is a celebration of the weird and the wonderful. It is a celebration of differences and people who accept everyone.”

A celebration of our sometimes naughty, often weird, always wonderful differences.

NOTE: This article was originally published at

Nobu Preview at Magallanes Village

MANILA — Nobu, the famed restaurant of Chef Nobu Matsuhisa, is set to open at the City of Dreams entertainment complex before the end of the year. The restaurant, with its legendary menu that fuses South American and Japanese culinary traditions, will be the centerpiece of the Nobu Hotel, the first in Asia.

Guests at the Nobu Hotel will be treated to Matsuhisa’s culinary genius even for in-room dining. Ordinary room-service fare like the humble BLT and Clubhouse sandwich will be given the Nobu treatment.

At the lobby will be Nobu Tea House, serving an extended selection of teas, premium coffee, cakes and pastries to its guests.

A chef’s table event was recently held at a private residence in one of Makati’s posh villages to give a taste of things to come. Lychee coolers and appetizers were served in an outdoor cabana-style dining area, suggesting the terrace that will feature views of Manila Bay when the restaurant is in full swing.

It was apparent how different the dining experience will be at this point. The wait staff were friendly and very knowledgeable about the food they were serving. Not only could they talk about how the food tastes but they went as far as talking about cooking methods and ingredients. Their passion for the food just upped the excitement for the meal.

Everything during that meal was deliberate and had a reason. The strong flavors of the appetizers served to open up the palate. The Mini Lobster Balls in wasabi aioli was delicate yet had a slight crunch from the fried mantou bread.

But it was the Pork Belly in Spicy Miso that set the tone for what was to come. There was so much character and flavor in one bite of that juicy piece of pork. Sweet, savory spicy and umami – all in one bite.

Diners were then led into the house. Sushi chef Akihisa Kawai gave a crash course on sushi making. We were given our own sushi-making kit with vinegared rice, slices of Alaskan king crab and avocado. The end goal was to make California rolls.

This was a sneaky way to showcase the quality of ingredients that will be found in Nobu’s kitchens. Chef Aki gamely talked about his 20 years as a sushi chef while teaching the finer points of rolling sushi.

We then made our way to the dining table. Marlon Hirsh, the hotel’s general manager, was our host for the day. He said the Nobu restaurant is not meant to be a stuffy fine dining restaurant but a place where businessmen in suits and a family just looking for dinner would be just as comfortable. All the food in Nobu will be served family style at the center of the table to further enhance the experience.

Nobu executive chef Zachary Hillberry said that they are proud to bring Matsuhisa’s food to Manila. He talked about the first Nobu in Miami, which opened after Matsuhisa traveled around Peru and Argentine. The chef icon still does a lot of travelling finding local dishes and ingredients to add dishes to his fusion cuisine.

Hillberry reported that he’s working on his own variation of sisig and tapsilog. And there can be no doubt that he will be adding the Nobu flair to these humble dishes.

Caspar Khamphouy, Nobu’s restaurant manager, then showed off wines and sake that are only available at Nobu restaurants and hotels around the world. These wines are from Napa Valley, while the sake is brewed for Nobu by Hokusetsu on Sado Island. The sake is silky smooth and has none of the usual rough aftertaste.

Khamphouy explained that when Matsihisa tastes something he likes, he wants to make it exclusively his own.

Lunch was served after sampling the wines and sake. First up was the Jalapeno Yellow Tail, one of the signature dishes of Nobu. The jalapeno pepper is used to add flavor instead of wasabi. The result is a very different sort of heat that is accustomed to in Japanese dishes.

We were then served the White Fish with Dry Miso. I did not expect such an explosion of flavor from such a simple looking dish – a slice of fish with red powder and a garlic chip. Molecular gastronomy was used to transform miso soup into dry powder. One bite combined the delicateness of the fish, the crunch of the garlic, the umami of the miso and the acidity of the calamansi. The result is an explosion of flavor and texture that amazed me how much character they were able to put in just one bite.

Next out of the kitchen was the King Crab Amazu Ponzu. These are crab cakes topped with onions and micro-cilantro. This was meant to be tossed like a salad so that the cakes coated with sweet and salty sauce with some jalapeno, and tempered with siling labuyo. Combining this with the cilantro is a bite with an unfamiliar, yet very pleasant, combination of flavors.

The Black Cod Den Miso was buttery soft and reminded me of Chilean sea bass. This just melts in your mouth. The black cod is braised in miso, complementing the fish. We were served individual portions but can be served as a whole fillet.

Trays of sushi were brought to the table. This came with the California maki made during the sushi-making session, spicy tuna rolls, futomaki, and assorted sushi of squid, salmon and tuna. The futomaki is a larger roll than the others and is made up of white-tail, masago, crab and nori.

The meal was wrapped up by Kanji, a dessert made with plum cream, raspberrry gelee, topped with a disc of matcha sponge cake and orange meringue. This was a great dessert to end the meal. Light and still had that masterful mix of flavors in one bite that was present all throughout lunch.

There are high expectations for a world-renowned name entering the bustling restaurant scene. Having a sneak taste of what Nobu will be serving up makes me think that local foodies will be very pleased.

This was an extraordinary meal which was characterized by combining flavors and textures in Nobu’s unique way into one perfect bite. It’s that feeling of culinary discovery that really made this meal special and what will make Nobu in Manila special.

Watch out for Nobu’s soft opening this December at the City Of Dreams Manila.

NOTE: This article originally appeared as



Rep’s 76th Season Preview

My love of theater started with Repertory Philippines a good fifteen (or so years ago). It was with a little play called “Noises Off” which that old movie with Christopher Reeve, Carol Burnett, Mark-Lynn baker was based. An evening in the theater turned into a lifetime fascination with the stage.

Fifteen (or so) years later, Repertory Philippines is still one of the bastions of Philippine Theater ushering in its 76th season with an excellent selection of English straight plays and musicals. Marking it’s 45th year of bringing English theater to these shores, there’s something for everyone in the next season’s plays.

First up is Boeing Boeing to be directed by Miguel Faustman. This marks stage and screen veteran, Michael de Mesa’s first appearance in a Rep play. The story is about a man who uses flight timetables to meticulously manage the schedules of his girlfriends. His girlfriends are all flight attendants on different international airlines and routes thereby guaranteeing they will never run into each other. Flights get delayed, Flights get cancelled and chaos ensues…

No Way To Treat A Lady is a musical black comedy about two men with domineering mothers. One of the men is a serial killer who only kills women who look like his mother. All the victims will played by the same actress (who also plays his mom).  Audie Gemora, Michael Williams, Carla Guevarra, Pinky Marquez and Sheila Francisco are featured in this muscial.

Rounding out the regular season is the return of Cherie Gil to the Rep Stage. The Graduate, based on the movie that made Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft iconic

Repertory Children’s Theater, making the transition to Repertory Theater For Young Audiences will be bringing back Alice In Wonderland this season.

The major production for the 76th season will be Mel Brooks’ The Producers. The story of a broadway producer whose idea of raking in case is to produce the worst play ever performed in a theater. Things don’t go exactly according to plan.

When Pink Is The New Green…

Very late last year, I decided to take money management more seriously. This started with a really bad injury whose very expensive treatment was not covered by the company HMO. My finances took a big hit. And that’s when I decided to really study alternative income streams.

I discovered that a lot of my savings were really just sleeping. 0.2% (minus taxes, minus service charges) per annum was a shock. My mutual funds took a hit when the global economy crashed a couple of years back.

As a stock market noob. all I was really doing was trolling for tips wherever I could find them. On the other hand, I’ve also been looking for as much education as I can about trading and investing.

Thus, it was a blessing that I ran into a prodigal friend whom I haven’t seen in 15 years, Charmel Delos Santos-Marcial, who was in Manila promoting her new book, “High Heeled Traders”.

I will admit that I wouldn’t have bought “High Heeled Traders” on my own volition. How a screaming pink book can turn my portfolio numbers green was sort of hard to fathom. The things we do for moral support (sigh). It’s a stock market book that’s really targeted towards women. The pink cover will shoo away the most hardened macho stock market trader wannabe.

But if the reader strips away the anecdotes and side stories clearly aimed at the book’s target demographic, one will find an extremely friendly introduction to trading that can be appreciated and understood by anybody who’s about to take the plunge into trading/investing. The book’s scope ranges from the very basics of choosing a broker and how to buy stocks to somewhat intermediate topics like position sizing and option trading.

One of the gems in the book is the brief discussion on Van Tharp’s position sizing and the concept of R. While it is very introductory, it will really help stock market beginners to manage risk and control their investments. This brief discussion really made me google Van Tharp to look for more resources on the net. For more on Position Sizing, surf on over to

There are some inspirational rah-rah anecdotes in the book encouraging newbies that anybody can make decent money off the stock market. But interspersed in between are cautionary pieces of advice, often backed by the author’s own failures in the market. This gives a much needed dose of reality warning beginners to know what they’re getting into before investing their hard earned money.

The book is not perfect. In the later editions, I’d like to see the flowcharts and tables more professionally produced. There’s a “dot matrix” quality to these that make them quite hard to read. I also think that flowcharts should have dedicated pages as shrinking them makes the already sometimes-blurry text even more of a chore to decipher.

While the chapter on options is very thorough and very easy to understand, we don’t trade options in the Philippines. Nice to know, though, if the reader plans to trade elsewhere.

Yet, despite the easily fixable layout glitches, “High Heeled Traders” is a really good book for those who’ve always wanted to try their hand at the stock market but were too intimidated to try. The author brings stock market buzzwords down-to-earth for anyone, woman or man, to understand.

It’s not an end-all book on stock trading. Experienced traders might find the treatment shallow. But rather, think of it as a springboard to other more advanced books by William O’ Neill, Van Tharp and Martin Pring. It’s an appetizer that makes the main courses of Fundamental Analysis, Techincal Analysis, Position Sizing and <insert trading buzzword here> more palatable.

High-Heeled Traders is available in the Philippines from any Fully Booked branch for about 1,500.00. Part of the book’s sale price goes to funding United Nations women empowerment programs.

The author can be reached at where visitors can get a free preview of the book. She can also occasionally be seen lurking in Phil. Stock Market Discussions, Comments and Forecast   facebook group where  she moderates a High Heeled Traders sub-group specifically for women traders (though the men sneak in once in a while). 🙂