Text and Images by JULES VIVAS
Chef Noel dela Rama and his tapas spread
Once upon a time, the King of Spain, Alfonso X el Sabio, forbade all taverns in his kingdom to serve wine or any alcohol if not accompanied by a small quantity of food. This was to prevent insobriety and misconduct. The mandatory portion of food would be placed on top of coasters or tapa in Spanish, and the snack itself adopted the name and became known as such. Of course, this is just one of the many legends of the bite-sized flavor bombs, tapas, which have evolved into sophisticated cuisines in restaurants and bars all over the world.
Chef dela Rama’s workshop at the Maya Kitchen Culinary Arts Center in Makati
No mixer is complete without a spread of tapas to pair with. While more places are offering the Spanish appetizers because of the high demand, one does not necessarily need to go out or spend a hefty price just to enjoy them. Recreating them at home has been made easy, as Chef Noel dela Rama divulged new ways to prepare tapas at home with little effort at his Tapas and Cocktails Class at The Maya Kitchen.
The New York-based chef has been a private cook, caterer, and culinary instructor for almost two decades, and his wealth of experiences makes him one of the most sought-after private chefs at present. He divides his time between New York and Manila, flying from city to city every six months, to serve his brand of farm-to-table cuisine to some of the metro’s most prominent diners.
Grilled Chorizo and Chicken Skewers
For Chef Noel, cooking is for everyone and it shouldn’t be an intimidating task. With proper guidance, anyone can create a sumptuous meal in the comfort of his or her home for family and friends. “Hosting at home can be simple and fuss-free, especially when you start planning well in advance,” he said. “It all boils down to learning how to efficiently use the available ingredients in your kitchen.”
During his class at the Maya Kitchen Culinary Arts Center in Makati, Chef Noel conveyed three recipes for Fideua, a seafood dish similar to paella but uses noodles instead of rice, Tortilla de Espagnola or Spanish omelet, and Grilled Chorizo and Chicken Skewers with Aioli. As he went through each dish, he also told participants some key pointers that revealed his respect for ingredients, and consequently, his classical French cooking style.
Students preparing the Spanish omelet mix
Before starting the cooking session, the chef gave out sangria to lift the mood. His Red Sangria was incredibly refreshing, very fruity, and balanced with the right amount of brandy and triple sec. “Tapas should be flavorful because Sangria dulls your taste buds. Hence the spices,” the chef uttered, emphasizing the significance of adding the right amount and types of spices to the appetizers.
Tortilla de Espagnola or Spanish omelet
The first dish he prepared was the Chicken Skewers, which was basically chicken breast and chorizo alternately placed on a stick. The aioli or mayonnaise seasoned with garlic was a bit more complicated to prepare than the skewers, and even then, it wasn’t so hard to make. You beat eggs in a blender, slowly add oil while blending, add garlic, and continue to blend until the mixture thickens. Thin it out with vinegar and water, then season with salt and sugar to taste. The chef made the mayo from scratch because most of the local mayonnaise is sweet. “Cooking for me, you’re creating your flavor palate. Don’t go overboard with the sweetness,” he expressed. “If you want great-tasting food, there are some ingredients that you can’t replace. The quality of ingredients is very important,” he adds.
For his omelet, he fried an egg-potato mixture using vegetable oil, shaped out the edges using a spatula, and inverted or flipped the plate slowly to brown each side. Finally, he cooked the Fideua, which is technically a noodle paella, originally from the coast of Valencia. “Because it’s humid in the Philippines, spices turn rancid right away, so keep them in proper storage or buy just the exact amount needed for your recipe,” Chef Noel explained holding the expensive red stigmas, saffron.
The Maya Kitchen Culinary Arts Center is found on Arnaiz Avenue, Pasay Road, Makati.
Other classes scheduled this month are the Basic Baking on Sept. 20 and Artisan Bread Making on Sept. 28. Meanwhile, October classes are Basic Baking from Oct. 1 to 4 and Oct. 15 to 18, Panaderia class on Oct. 5, Guilt-free Desserts on Oct. 19, and Heirloom Filipino Cuisine for parents and children on Oct. 26. themayakitchen.com.