Thursday, January 5, 2017

Iconic Via Mare

Michaela Fenix. Via Mare: 40 Years of Iconic Events Through Menus, Recipes, and Memories. Mandaluyong City: Anvil Publishing, Inc. 2016. 176 pp.

Via Mare and restaurateur Glenda Rosales Barretto are synonymous in having, in Felice Prudente Sta. Maria’s words in her foreword, moved “Philippine cuisine upwards onto a new and higher plane of creativity, innovation and artistry over decades.”

This book, with full-color photos by Pat Mateo, is part social history, even gossip, part legacy with the sumptuous recipes shared some of which had been served to heads of state, including Popes John Paul II and Francis.

Accounting for the restaurant’s success is, according to Barretto, its ability to “execute other kinds of cooking: Western, European and Asian. We learn from food festivals here and abroad. We exchange ideas with local and foreign chefs. We acquire knowledge from readings. And, of course, we endeavor to dine at the best restaurants to learn from them as well.”

But there is a true-life anecdote that also accounts for Via Mare’s emphasis on giving Filipino cuisine a lift. When then First Lady Imelda R. Marcos returned from the Cancun Summit in Mexico in 1981, she told Barretto what she had witnessed: how Mexican, not Western, food was served to the world’s leaders and guests. From then on, “Mrs. Marcos decided that state dinners would showcase Filipino food, but elegantly and with refined flavors,” the book stated.

Glenda Rosales Barretto, Via Mare’s moving force

To enter the catering business was not in Via Mare’s plans until it had to do the job for the silver wedding anniversary of Vicente Lim Jr. and his wife Nita Fernandez. Mrs. Marcos was present in that party. Right away she expressed her desire to have the restaurant cater a state dinner for then US President Gerald Ford. Barretto’s concern was not Via Mare’s capability but that her restaurant did not have enough silver, glassware and plates. Mrs. Marcos solved the problem, ordering her home stylist Ronnie Laing to buy what Via Mare needed.

The other international guests served through the years included Princesses Margaret and Anne of Great Britain, Prince Faisal Bin Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia of Spain, Prime Minister Zhu Rongji of China, President Kim Dae Jung of Korea, economic leaders of the ASEAN Summit, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation or APEC, among a lengthy list.

At one time, Via Mare was contracted by Hennessy, the cognac company, for an anniversary dinner to celebrate its 250th anniversary in 2015. In the book’s narration, “the dinner menu was crafted in France, the recipes sent to the restaurant” for execution as modern haute cuisine. The menu included mussels cream soup infused with saffron, smoked salmon topped with cocoa, crab soufflé with zesty lemon, foie gras on jellied consommé, grilled wagyu with cognac and celeriac.”

The dessert was “a sorbet encased in a petal-like structure made of chocolate which opened up when hot chocolate was poured on it.” The recipe for this last masterpiece is included.

Restaurant habitués included Foreign Secretary Carlos P. Romulo and wife Beth Day Romulo. Barretto kept his gracious thank-you letters that praised her for mastering “the art of Filipino cuisine because each item revealed your gentle touch and your keen knowledge.”

In another handwritten letter, Romulo expressed appreciation for her attention to detail, her “time and effort to help us make our parties the success that they were…It is personal interest that transcends the limits of complying with a duty to a customer.”

That attention to detail extended to “the fabled Czech amber crystals used at Via Mare’s very first catering.” The aesthete in Romulo got so impressed that “he requested that henceforth those crystals be used only for his functions.”

Barretto is convinced that more than the accolades and the national and world recognition, the backbone of Via Mare, a Latin phrase to mean “the way of the sea,” are the people. An eighth of the book is devoted to the employees. Some have been there since the restaurant’s founding in 1975. Notable is Marquez “Mother” Reyes for his “keen eye for design, observing and meticulously noting the preferences of clients and how hotels and other restaurants do their settings.”

Another is Dalia Zamora who made Via Mare’s pride—bibingka and puto bumbong. Manang Dal was said not to have used any equipment to measure the quantity of her ingredients but just relied on the lines of the palm of her hand. From there she could intuit the best variety of rice for her rice cakes.

Via Mare: 40 Years of Iconic Events Through Menus, Recipes, and Memoriesought to be in the libraries of colleges and universities that boast of hotel and restaurant management programs. But more than these, it should have pride of place in every Pinoy home.--Elizabeth Lolarga

Via Mare’s famous pairing of pancit luglug and puto bumbong

This article first appeared in the Jan. 5, 2017, issue of www.verafiles.org.

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