By Alex Y. Vergara
Images by Noel Pabalate
Spanish fever seems to be gripping Metro Manila’s food scene these days, as the Diamond Hotel launched last Monday its weeklong Spanish food festival dubbed Exquisita Comida Español at Corniche, the hotel’s premier dining destination.
Now on its fourth day, the food festival features new dishes every day from key regions of Spain such as Madrid, Cataluña, Valencia, Canary Islands, and the Basque region. Among the featured dishes during the launch were cochinillo asado, paella de verdura (vegetable paella), gambas al ajillo (Spanish-style garlic shrimp), and chipirones en sutinta (stuffed squid in black ink), among others.
The restaurant’s carving and appetizer stations also featured various authentic Spanish cheeses and cold cuts like jamon Iberico, queso Manchego, and salchicon Iberico. Corniche’s buffet spread (R2,380 per person) also includes other dishes from its regular offerings like Filipino, Japanese, and Chinese fare. On top of regular mainstays, the dessert station these days also offers rich, Spanish-style churros con chocolate.
The launch came three days before today’s launch of Madrid Fusion Manila, a three-day gathering of leading chefs from various parts of the world at the SMX Convention Center. It’s no coincidence either that the Diamond Hotel’s new executive chef, Francisco Javier Coque, is from Spain. The food festival doubles as his welcome party for the hotel’s new and loyal patrons.
A native of the Canary Islands, an archipelago off Spain’s southern Atlantic coast, Coque joined Diamond Hotel two months ago. But he’s no stranger to the Philippines since the soft-spoken chef has been based here for several years now.
“We’ve planned to present dishes representative of Spain’s key regions,” said Coque. “The food we’re preparing is totally authentic because we import almost all the ingredients like cheeses, cold cuts, and olive oils from Spain.”
Of course, the suckling pig used in Coque’s cochinillo as well as the fish and seafood were all sourced locally. But they all passed through the chef’s exacting standards.
“Ingredients that we source locally are very similar to what we have in Spain,” he said.
As for unseen touches like the olive oil, it’s important to use only reputable and authentic Spanish brands. Doing otherwise, he said, affects the dishes’ taste and overall flavor. For Coque, who has worked in a number of hotels and Spanish fine-dining restaurants in Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States, it’s important to strive to maintain culinary traditions alive.
“The taste won’t be bad, but it would be very different if you use olive oil made somewhere else,” he said. “As much as possible, I want everything to be as authentic as possible.”
Several Spanish nationals were invariably drawn to the opening day of the food festival, and Coque was happy to note that they were all impressed at how delicious and authentic the Spanish dishes were.
Apart from cochnillo asado, a pork dish stuffed with truffle rice from Segovia, the stuffed squid with black ink from Spain’s Basque region resonated with not a few Filipino diners. Spain and the Philippines have one thing in common when it comes to eating squid.
Unlike most people from other Asian countries, Filipinos don’t remove the squid’s ink. In fact, we even use it to flavor our adobong pusit. The same is true among Spaniards.
“Normally we serve the squid dish with rice,” said Coque. “The sauce, which is made primarily from squid ink, is similar to the sauce we use for paella negra. I know Filipinos are familiar with this kind of paella.”
And to add to the event’s authentic flavor, the Diamond Hotel featured a group of Filipino and Spanish musicians and dancers who strummed Spanish guitars and danced the flamenco on opening day. Coque also did a series of on-the-spot food presentations for a number of TV networks.
What has Coque in store for gourmands in the coming days until Sunday? Since he promised to present new dishes everyday—from tortilla Española to asparagus blanca de Navarra, lentejas con chorizo to cocido Madrileño, bonito con tomate to caldo de pescado—your guess is as good as ours.