The Kusinero-A A +A
By Betsy Gazo
Saturday, August 17, 2013
WE CAN'T call him a chef by contemporary standards but he actually is. One doesn’t need formal culinary education to be called one, lest we degrade the skills of kitchen experts of centuries past who had filled fiesta tables to groaning but had gathered their knowledge from handed-down recipes and long backbreaking hours in smoky “kusinas” over wood-fired stoves.
Ronnie de la Cruz Guance is a pleasant 53-year-old culinary and baking instructor and consultant at La Consolacion College, Isabela, whose goal in this day and age is to bring back memories of the Negrense’s culinary past using ingredients that our forefathers would glean from their backyards. If you call him a chef, he’ll tell you he’s a “kusinero.” If you laugh, he’ll tell you that chefs actually are.
Ronnie’s interest in cooking was fueled by curiosity and probably “revenge.” As a child, his grandparents sent him out of the kitchen to keep him away from kitchen mishaps. Besides, cooking was looked upon as a menial task. Yet the valuable lessons he learned from whatever short stint he enjoyed in that hot, smoke-filled room propelled him to bring back the most important goal of his life as a cook now, and that is the search for authenticity and promotion of healthy eating.
He cooks because he seeks the authentic flavor that was part of his memory as a child. For example, his grandparents never cooked pancit molo without using “kusay” or chives. It was unthinkable to make this Visayan soup without taure or fermented bean paste as well. Authenticity also extends to going back to “inuma” cuisine or the cookery of the farm (uma). The farmer uses ingredients that can be foraged from his surroundings. Depending on where the farm is nearest, one can prepare vegetables, meat, or fish which could be freshwater or saltwater. Ronnie’s thrust is going back to everyday, ordinary Negrense fare of vegetables, soups, grilled fish, and an occasional chicken.
Ronnie’s advocacy for healthy eating began after surviving pancreatitis and suffering from diabetes for about 20 years. He is a believer in eating more vegetables and fruits because these were the ingredients that enabled him to lick grave illness. Going back to traditional methods of cooking is one way that Ronnie believes will serve as a vehicle towards healthy bodies and a healthy lifestyle as a true-blue Negrense. In other words, he formulates healthy food preparations and traditional Negrense cuisine.
Since the end of May this year, Ronnie took over the province’s only organic restaurant behind the Old Capitol Building. Food is served “turo-turo” style and one can enjoy laswa, tambo with gata, gabi with gata, and pinakbet. A cup of brown rice will go well with rellenong bangus or kadios-baboy-langka. In the way of merienda, there’s bread i.e., balunggay bread, kalabasa bread, pepper bread, and ensaymada that comes in plain, with ube jam, langka jam, or kalabasa jam.
My favorite is pepper bread because it reminds me of pizza. (Perhaps this will taste great split in half, toasted lightly and topped with olive oil and basil leaves.) I found the bread a bit sweet but one comforting thought is that Ronnie uses honey instead of granulated sugar.
The restaurant makes fruit and vegetable shakes at P35 per glass. Ronnie shares his recipe for pineapple-balunggay shake. First, he makes a base that he uses for all his shakes by boiling turmeric, ginger, lemon grass, and babana leaves. Turmeric is what he calls a miracle plant and one of its benefits is de-clogging veins. Ginger is an antibiotic and antioxidant. Lemon grass is rich in collagen. Babana is a cancer killer. After boiling the above, he lets the liquid cool and then pours it in ice cube trays to freeze overnight. The frozen concoction then becomes the ice cubes for making shakes. Add pineapple fruit and balunggay leaves and sweeten with honey. Puree everything and pour in tall glasses.
Our chef is a great believer in using what we have. Ronnie’s bout with illness, his miraculous healing and his glowing healthy appearance make him a poster boy for healthy living. Local fruits and vegetables are what the Good Lord made for us. We need not look far for our daily sustenance. Our kusinero must be on to something.
Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on August 17, 2013.