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Eating with Ado Escudero

And the many secrets of the table in the just-launched Villa Escudero Coconut Plantation Cookbook


By Tina Hidalgo Jacinto

The mere mention of Villa Escudero brings fond memories of a daylong picnic highlighted with lunch while running waters ran through our ankles and feet.

Don Ado Escudero, as he is dearly called, is the leader of the Escudero family. His gentlemanly nature and extraordinary heart have earned him the title, “A Steward of Foodways, A Master of Hospitality.”

This is Ado’s way of turning the coconut hacienda into a heritage park. Villa Escudero is a venue for Southern Tagalog heritage cuisine rooted in gata in many of the heirloom dishes he has prepared.  Narrator and Villa Escudero‘s executive chef Cocoy Ventura best describes this cookbook: “Like its vast coconut orchards, its florid buildings, its ornamental gardens, and the vividly colored kimonos and sayas of its workers, this book highlights dramatic dioramas of genteel plantation living and its culinary delights in the eyes and tongue of Don Ado, through my fingertips.”

  • Ado Escudero, Bienvenido Tantoco Sr., and Nedy Tantoco

  • Joel Joves, Ito Curata, and Mel Meer

  • Consul Tony Rufino, Ambassador Mercy Tuason, and Rupert Jacinto

  • Jasmine Enverga

  • Nini Layug and Baby de Jesus

  • The fashion collection of Patis Tesoro

  • Leon Araneta, Uma Araneta, and Gemma Cruz

  • Cover of the ‘Villa Escudero, Coconut Plantation Cookbook’

  • Chef Jessie Sincioco

  • Yasmine Hidalgo

  • Ping Valencia

  • Dandy Gomez

  • Sonny Tinio, Ingrid Santamaria, and Maurice Lim

  • Carlo Rojas, Marivic Vazquez, and Jose Mari Treñas

  • Evelyn Forbes and Ariella Nasser

  • Greg Alvior and Giampaolo Lomi

  • Nene Casimiro and Alice Briones

  • Fashion designer Jun Jun Cambe

  • Dancers added gaiety to the book launch held at the Manila Polo Club

  • May May Liechtenstein and Lauren Liechtenstein

  • Connie Garcia and Ambassador Victor Garcia

    Recently, the Villa Escudero Coconut Plantation Cookbook was launched at the Manila Polo Club, a celebration which also featured the latest fashion collection of Patis Tesoro. With its heirloom dishes, the recipes represent the legacies of Ado and his community and not just instructions on how to cook the various culinary delights.

    The cookbook is the story of a man who to this day leads and charts his family’s enterprise, who is responsible for hundreds of resort employees, plantation workers, and their families. It narrates the foodways of a unique community, with eating and cooking practices intertwined with the history, traditions, and heritage of its owners and its local plantation community. Dedicated to his mother, the book is presented in different categories: “Picnic at the Waterfalls,” an ode to the present-day Waterfall Restaurant, presents the original offerings of the early spillway picnics and their permanent buffet specialties, such as lechon manok, calderetang baka, inihaw na baboy, inihaw na isda, and ensaladang Tagalog. The recipes listed are a combination of old and new ones. The official fiesta, “Pistang Pag-akyat,” contains Feast of the Ascension recipes, and “The Plantation Meals” are the enduring coconut recipes and heirloom delicacies.

    Food serves as a legacy of the hacienda’s forbearers, whose farmer workers ate the same food as the landlords. “The Weddings at the Villa” menu has special selections that recall the feasts of the old. The finale is the “Holidays Menu” whose ham is smoked in a 60-year-old smokehouse.

    Vila Escudero is the embodiment of everything that has shaped Ado’s life. His parents Arsenio and Rosario converted the sugarcane hacienda to a coconut plantation of about 800 hectares. It was comprised of a desiccated coconut factory and a hydro-electric plant, which supplied power not only to the hacienda but to San Pablo city.

    Ado grew up in two worlds—as a hacienda heir and a carefree lad among many children of their farm workers who lived inside the plantation compound. Holidays were a time of feasting with relatives, friends, and guests and a lavish spread of food was always a big part of each holiday. There were also the picnics by the rivers. Ado was exposed to fine dining at the manor as well as to eating in the barrio. Ado was influenced by his mother’s cooking skills as well as the kitchen staff.

    During his studies at Cornell University where he took up hospitality and culinary arts hotel and restaurant management, Ado made many friends in New York who gave him support and shared culinary advice, among them James Beard, Julia Child, and Graham Kerr.

    To Ado food is an expression of love and at his Villa Escudero, the experience of eating and drinking is elevated into a beautiful and memorable moment.


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