This is the real deal – a black truffle staring up at me from its yellow and blue-rimmed plate. I’m holding my breath at the nearness of such an exalted delicacy. Not really knowing what to expect, I’m amazed at its rather incongruous shape and rough, bumpy exterior. Looking like an unremarkable clod of the earth, I jut my face closer to the truffle, squinting at its dense network of veins. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen or been so close to before.And then of course there’s its unmistakable aroma, a rich and earthy miasma hinting of musk and laurel. I’m now cheek by jowl with this black fungi and I inhale deeply. I’m not one to smell my food (at least not in public anyway), but I feel that it’ll be forgiven here. I shudder inwardly and feel my heart skip a beat. The smell is dark and earthy, a feral ability to inject sensuality in every dish it touches.
“It looks like a burnt golf ball,” my friend Garch, says, breaking me out of my reverie. I laugh and then gingerly touch the fresh truffle shavings that have landed on the plate. Perhaps because they are paper thin, they feel somewhat spongy to my cautious touch. On instinct, we bow our heads simultaneously, lowering our noses to the truffle and inhale once more. I’ve read that the true connoisseur enjoys truffles whole and fresh, often raw, with as little cooking done to it as possible. As I move my hand forward to steal a single shaving, the server swoops up the plate with the flourish, away from my grasp. “They need this in the kitchen, ma’am,” she says politely.
Adam Mathis, the new Executive Chef of The Peninsula Manila, tells me that the truffles he uses for our meal are from Italy. Surprising, since I always thought that they were exclusively found in France. Shortly thereafter, our soup arrives, an Artichoke Royale with Truffle Cappuccino (P385). This is the first time that I’ve been served soup in what appears to be a latte glass, complete with a long, thin spoon. Noticing our puzzlement, Chef Mathis instructs us to use the spoon to dig up the royale at the bottom of the glass and mix it in with the creamy broth and truffle foam. Understanding here that the royale is a vegetable puree thickened with eggs and cooked in a water bath, it resembles a gossamer-like custard. “Should we drink this or use the spoon, Garch?” I ask. “Best to use the spoon for the first few mouthfuls,” he replies, somewhat in a daze himself.
The first impact on the tongue is rich velvet. Then, as the now warm liquid courses through the rest of my taste buds and down my throat, a variety of flavors shoots out, blending seamlessly into one another: silky eggs and cream, a flash of the artichokes’ fibrousness, and then that almost mythical, haunting flavor of the truffle echoing its topnote in the finish. “Oh god,” I cry weakly, my knees tingling. Garch looks over at me, amused. He’s used to my dramatic flair for food.
“You know, I think truffles are given the high accordance they are because they come from the earth,” Garch murmurs, gently scraping the last of his soup onto his spoon, “and we value it because we come from the earth ourselves.” “How profound, Garch!” I exclaim. My easygoing friend is not usually predisposed to uttering such maxims. It must be the truffles talking.
In reality, truffles are the fruit-bearing bodies of a fungus that grows entirely underground. It’s a product of a symbiotic relationship between plant and tree, a natural and complex phenomenon. Today, the supreme manner of enjoying our truffles will be done in two ways: through a risotto and a fish dish.
The Parmesan Cheese Arborio Risotto (P920) is garnished with a few black truffle shavings, a foil to the more fragrant white truffle oil. Its memorable aroma anoints every spoonful of the short-grained rice, al dente with a creamy consistency. This dish compels the truffle to yield every sensation it’s capable of giving.
The truffles aren’t so easily detected in the Truffle-Crusted Alaskan Cod Fish (P1,450), but its characteristic scent makes its presence felt. This dish should be eaten thus: a forkful of the cod accompanied with a dollop of the cauliflower puree, a spear of the potato gnocchi and dipped in the truffle-chive sauce. Mercy me.
To enjoy a new flavor is to be changed by it forever.
Truffle Food Festival
Ongoing until July 21, 2007
The Peninsula Manila
Corner of Ayala and Makati Avenues,