It’s the newest little private kitchen for that special meal.
Myrna Segismundo is many things: a chef; the guiding spirit behind 9501, ABS-CBN’s corporate dining room; and a fervent proponent of Filipino cooking, among others. There are many things that are memorable about Myrna, but it’s her laugh – that for me – stands out. Big and bold, it’s an infectious mirth that arises from deep within, igniting a humorous fire that sets everyone else laughing. During Foodie magazine’s (ABS-CBN Publishing) successful 2-year run, Myrna was the editor-in-chief, and I, its copy editor and columnist. She kept me and the rest of the staff well fed during brainstorming sessions, and she propped us up in equal measure when times got tough, since as you can assume, putting together a magazine is never easy.
Myrna has a deep voice, authoritative but very warm. After a recent trip to the US, we had a 40-minute cellphone conversation centering on her thoughts about food in New York, specifically Per Se and David Chang. Food nerd that I am, I listened raptly and even took notes. Another time, I desired a specific, very expensive cut of meat for my birthday, and it was Myrna I called for help in procuring it.
If there’s one thing that Myrna is tremendously, make-no-mistakes-passionate about, it’s Filipino food. The level of her fervor can be gleaned in her books, PHILIPPINE CUISINE: Home Cooked Meals Wherever You May Be and KULINARYA: A Guidebook to Philippine Cuisine, of which she’s a co-author. She works indefatigably to get (Filipinos) to learn about their own food and to get cooking. She strips traditional Filipino food down to the basics so it’s familiar and more manageable to tackle, and then proffers tweaks and twists to suit the times.
- do you recognize any of us?
Some nights ago, she excitedly welcomed friends to what she unassumingly called, “dinner at my house.” We were all there – “we” meaning the editors-in-chief of all the major food magazines and section editors of all the leading newspapers. (Contrary to popular opinion, we may work for competing publications but we know each other personally and we’re all friends.) At Myrna’s, dinner is never just dinner and tonight was extra special: the culmination of one of Myrna’s dreams: her very own cooking studio. Its name, New Manila: Private Kitchen.
- Myrna fussing over the appetizers flanked by her right hand guy, Raul Ramos
Situated in yes, New Manila, its purpose is twofold. First, there’s the cooking studio, a venue for Myrna to hold cooking classes. When night falls, after the day is done, it transfigures into the most special of dinner places by arrangement. Black granite countertops flank gleaming European burners and ovens while shelves of cookbooks stand guard just off to the right. Prominent place is given to Myrna’s collection of mortars and pestles .
In the second kitchen (aka “dirty” kitchen, a term I loathe), there’s a more utilitarian set-up, and it’s here that I watch as Myrna’s nephew, Mike Navarra, prepares our first course: ubod, pomelo, and shrimps with honeyed patis and dayap. It’s a sensational starter that plays with texture and cheek-puckering saltiness. Mike, a graduate of a prestigious Australian culinary school, honed his culinary chops on cruise liners and at select Australian restaurants before coming home. It’s his and Myrna’s combined creativity that set this place on fire.
Tonight, the dining room holds about six tables seating four people each. It’s a comfortable space and conversation becomes more animated as the wine has loosened our tongues, aided in part by the first course. Soup is a sopa de molo, the broth cleverly poured into the bowl via a teapot, cascading down over a single pork molo dumpling. It’s searingly hot and revivifying.
My favorite is the seared tuna kinilaw, a rather benign description for what is really two succulent raw tuna loins seared on their sides and sitting on a piperade (here, red and green peppers and tomatoes cooked in olive oil) laced with caramelized onions and propped with a tomato-orange coriander salad. The whole lot is soused in a truly imaginative dressing of gata and muscovado sugar. It’s a dish that’s so good, too good, that it interrupts my dreams for days after.
Myrna’s beef kaldereta, the recipe of which is in her Philippine Cuisine book, is the best I’ve ever had – beefy and hearty, with a thick sauce that makes me want to forego all propriety by picking up my plate and licking it.
Though Myrna has told me repeatedly that she can’t bake, there are two desserts that I’ve come to know as her trademarks: her turon, characterized by its thin, cigar-like shape; and her queso de bola cheesecake. When Foodie magazine was still around and I had to be at the office, I’d hie off to 9501 and practically live off of this dessert, telling Myrna when it had too much or too little queso de bola. Tonight, it’s just right, and the creaminess of the custard dissolves on the tongue with streaks of salt from the cheese. “I’m glad it meets your approval tonight, Lori,” Myrna tells me wryly with a wink.
New Manila: Private Kitchen
45 Sunrise Hill
New Manila Rolling Hills Village
Private dining venue for small parties of up to 20 people.
International as well as Filipino sit-down menus to choose from.
Take-out items available, all of which I highly recommend: adobo pate, black olive tapenades, homemade potato bread, queso de bola cheesecake, empanadas, etc.
BY RESERVATION ONLY
A Night with Two Private Chefs