By AA Patawaran
“Eat to your heart’s content, and Stephanie Zubiri-Crespi’s Feast With Me is an invitation not just to the pleasures of the table, but to mindful eating and entertaining, replete with all the moodsetters, such as the warmth of sunshine on a hotel terrace in Capri, the philosophical conversation of a Paris café, bread and beer on the Costa Brava, the rolling hills and cypresses of Tuscany, the riot and wealth of a Filipino feast. Elegant and anecdotal, and very deeply personal, the words are as sumptuous as the subjects. Yet, for all its romance and luxury, Stephanie’s book is a practical guide to good, memorable, delightful eating. An epicurean guide to the soul.”
This was what I wrote when Stephanie sent me a galley proof of her labor of love, her book Feast with Me. Should I call it a recipe book, I would fall short of describing it accurately, though it is, indeed, a collection of recipes grouped together on a geographical theme—and paired with wines. It is accurate enough to call it “an epicurean guide to soul,” as I called it in my review that made it to the backpage of the book. It is, even more accurately, a taste of the world, which means it is also sort of a travel guide, replete with the author’s personal accounts of certain times and places. Peter Mayle’s French Lessons, my favorite food book, but only because it made me travel as well, comes to mind, but with images and how-to’s thrown in, for good measure.
But Feast with Me is many things. It is luxury, but not luxury that comes with a price tag. It’s a recollection of priceless experiences that mimic or often make possible the journeys of a lifetime. At an intimate preview at Miréio at the Raffles, Stephanie said, “Contrary to what most people think, this book is not about luxury. In fact, one of the reasons I often invite people over is to save money. With rising prices in restaurants, I find you can serve a delicious meal at home for a fraction of the cost of eating out in the city. The entire book doesn’t even have a single whiff of truffle oil! It’s really not about fancy dishes and Grand Cru wines with names that are difficult to pronounce. This book is all about enjoying good old home cooking washed down with a glass or two of nice wine with your nearest and dearest.”
Would you believe, for instance, that the cover photograph, which appears to have been taken in a piece of paradise in the European countryside, was only shot in Stephanie’s backyard in Manila? “My husband is white,” said Stephanie when we pointed it out. “That’s the only reason the cover looks so foreign.”
But each page or each chapter, entitled “Laidback Indian Dinner” or “Relaxed Parisian Brunch,” is a recreation of Stephanie’s fondest memories of her travels around the world and the task that she took upon herself in putting the book together was to make it easy for the reader to replicate them at home. The flavors are one thing, but the setting is something else, even if you do it on your home porch or on your kitchen table or at a small table for two on the terrace upstairs. To achieve this, Stephanie made sure that, whether it is a guide to a “Mediterranean Merienda” or a “Morrocan Lunch” or a “Tuscan Dinner,” almost all ingredients are readily available in most supermarkets, and cheap. “If there’s anything expensive,” she said, “it must be some of the cheese.”
Travel is an essential ingredient in these recipes. It is also a globetrotter’s guide to exotic moods that certain places evoke. Travel, after all, “is such a big part of me and I can never seem to quench my wanderlust,” said the author. And who travels without asking, “Where should I eat?”
Feast with Me, currently available online through www.nationalbookstore.com, will be released in National Book Store branches on Oct. 6. Anvil Publishing in collaboration with the Philippine Star produced the book.. With hope, Stephanie said, it “will allow you to travel from the comforts of your home and have the scent of distant markets and exotic cultures waft from your stovetop, enticing and drawing you and your loved ones around the table for a shared moment of epicurean joy. In fact, all moments at the table are cause for celebration and it is that celebratory spirit that truly transforms any meal into a feast.”
And don’t forget the wine! The wine is as essential an ingredient to the book as the idea of travel so that Stephanie, already an oenophile, pursued wine studies to be worthy of it. She now holds a Wine and Spirits Education Trust Level 3. “I wanted to be able to give you expert advice on the wine and I needed to be an expert to do that,” she said. “It was hard but I had to do it or else what right do I have to give you any advice at all?” she said. Feast with Me is so far the only food and wine pairing book that targets non-professionals through a lifestyle setting in the Philippines.
Feast with Me will be available at National Book Store beginning Oct. 6.