Spending the day with a fellow food blogger. At his venue of choice.
“This really isn’t your thing, is it?” Anton asks me. “No, it isn’t.” I reply truthfully. “I’m a city girl.” We’re in a van headed out to Quezon Province to a place called Kinabuhayan Café. Anton Diaz, owner of the popular Our Awesome Planet blog and I are being profiled in an upcoming feature about food bloggers to be shown on GMA-7. My shoot was yesterday; today, it’s Anton’s turn and I’ve agreed to the producer’s request that I come along.
Anton is a traveler, delighting in far-flung discoveries that he chronicles in his blog. He’s way more intrepid than I’ll ever be, and is amused that I’m not keen on the beach or outdoors.
Since Anton is quite the road tripper, he serves as the navigator to our little party of six coasting along in the GMA-7 service van. From Manila, we make it to Dolores, Quezon in a little under two hours to a place called Kinabuhayan Café. Run by Jay Herrera, it’s an eight year old dwelling that’s a favorite jump-off point for those headed to Mt. Banahaw and the now-defunct Kusina Salud.
It’s tempting to use several adjectives to describe Jay, “unusual” and “hysterical” being some of the milder ones. I’ll say that he has an explosively dynamic personality with a creative moxie perched on the fringes of madness. I like him very much. And we get along smashingly, two creative types come together. Jay was a production designer for showbiz for 30-odd years, and currently surrenders to his artistic bursts through painting, theater, and the café. “It’s fulfilled more than I ever expected it to,” he tells me.
Kinabuhayan is split into two: there’s the café that I see upon entry, its décor a mishmash of wood and antiques, and then there’s the bed-and-breakfast at back, bahay kubo-type dwellings with only curtains for privacy, all set against backdrops of green. There’s even a treehouse built on high if one should choose to slumber at such elevated heights.
- Sleeping pig, Onion
Jay’s pet pig, Onion, has a bahay kubo to himself, a rather adequate one at that, complete with a TV. Onion is a five year old whom I suspect feels his age as he moves about laboriously but he loves the camera, approaching whenever he sees one trained on him.
The heart of Kinabuhayan Café is the kitchen of course, a small but sufficient space. Its flaws are its perfections I feel, the limited area keeping everything intimate and within reach. It’s a kitchen of contradictions as well. Full use is made of a mortar and pestle but nearby, Jay uses a food processor to grind peanuts. When we come in, Boyzone (!) is crooning in the background and later, it’s Ambient music.
- with Jay Herrera
Jay’s cooking manner reminds me of a watusi, a frenzied firecracker: his adrenaline is his flame. In between periods of pause, he’ll suddenly stop, raise his eyebrows individually, repeatedly – I can almost see his train of thought tunneling through his brain – before he’s off again to the next task.
Jay is demonstrating his risotto for the camera, a dish he’s famous for and something he’s quite flippant about. “I won’t use Arborio… there’s no need to, it’s expensive… and Parmesan? What for? Cream works just as well. Madaya ako magluto,” he comments as he cooks. Anton is beside me, watching Jay cook as I’m scribbling furiously into my notebook. “I’m not sure if I’ll ever get around to cooking,” he murmurs. People often share this sentiment with me and so I tell Anton the same thing I tell everyone else: “What’s important is that you like to eat. We can’t all be cooks. There have to be eaters too.”
Risotto demo done, the crew sets Anton up in the dining room where the interview will take place. Jay’s two dogs, Muning and Chonkey, languidly get off the dining table chairs with some prodding, they’ll be seen on camera otherwise. I watch the interview from a safe distance and take pictures of Anton. He seems comfortable on-cam, confidently answering questions. I’m envious that he can speak Tagalog with nary a flaw – my own interview was peppered with laughable Taglish faux pas.
Our late lunch is transported to Kubli Springs, a 12-minute car ride away from Kinabuhayan Café. The springs are part of Jay’s 20+hectare property, and it’s here where time gets sucked into a vacuum. Minutes don’t exist among verdant greens where the only rush is the sound of the gurgling water. With Jay’s help, we build our own world where plates precariously teeter on rocks, ready receptacles for a ravishing meal amidst the lure of the outdoors.
I’m not allowed to touch or take pictures of the food until the crew is satisfied with their shots of Anton, hence the rather “casual” look of my photos. But that’s precisely the spirit of Jay’s food, a pared-down take of what he describes as “East-West fusion” amped up with the flair of an imagination on fire.
Here’s the alagaw salad, something that reminds me of Thai at Silk’s Mieng Kham. A market list of ingredients: desiccated coconut, minced onion, smashed garlic, nuts, dried shrimp, chutney, a trio of onions, kamias, and pink flowers called begonias whose taste is a topnote of kamias lingering with a turnip (singkamas) aftertaste. Wrapped in the alagaw leaves, the ingredients form a pastiche of similar rolled-up wonders.
As Anton is being shot while tasting the risotto, I sneak in my own shots of the food. The risotto is obviously cold by now but it’s a comforting carbohydrate shot, a salve to my now implacable hunger – it’s 2:30pm. The crew has been shooting Anton since 8:30 am, with me assisting occasionally: providing tissues for his cold, chronicling his day through photos, and generally getting to know him better.
Beside the risotto is the requisite veggie dish, sautéed pechay leaves, and eggplant fritters that I watched Jay make earlier: thin slices of eggplant cradle an assembly of aromatics – onion, spring onions, garlic, basil, pepper, and a tongue of cheddar. Dredged in flour, doused in egg, then dipped in an unorthodox coating of panko and –get this – Boy Bawang (I kid you not), it exhilarates in its eclecticism. I only wish I could’ve eaten it hot but then again, this is TV.
After playing like a kid in the gushing springs (cold water!) and taking more shots of Anton climbing back up the hill to the car, we retire to the café for dessert. It’s diced camote (sweet potato) braised in a sweet syrup stroked with cinnamon, the spiciness echoing in the rosette of cream garnished with the same spice. The coffee is slap me-strong and just what two bloggers need after a shoot.
Then Anton turns to me and says, “I still can’t believe you came all the way here.” “Oh, you’d be surprised,” I reply casually. “I know I was.”
**The food bloggers’ episode on Kapuso Mo, Jessica Soho will be aired this Saturday, Jan. 15, 2011 at 8:30pm on GMA-7.
Kinabuhayan Café + Bed & Breakfast
Dejarme St., Brgy. Bayanihan
Dolores, Philippines, 4326