Emergence of private dining marks end of fine dining era?

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Monday, April 7, 2014


THE presence of restaurants in nearly all urban spaces and tranquil places where people meet to eat, quench their thirst and socialize is attributed to the influences of the French Revolution.

Even before Marie Antoinette and Louise the XVI came into the picture, the need for public dining dates back to the Roman Empire and Ancient China, where, in the process of bringing food to the market, travelers ventured days at a time making a few stops along the way and stay in local inns and are served meals, specifically intended for travelers.

There were no choices or options available at the time. Meals are served according to the call of chef. During the medieval times, dining in Europe through the Middle Ages and through the Renaissance consisted of open taverns and inns as a source of prepared meals.

In Old Spain, they were once called bodegas, serving tapas. .In Germany, Austria and Alsace, brauwin and weisteben were typical, while in France, stews and soups were offered.

All of these early restaurants served simple, common fare foods you would find in a peasant or merchant home. When Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI went to the guillotine, the old ways of French society went with them. The guilds were swept away and many chefs employed in aristocratic, even royal, households found themselves unemployed.

Many of these displaced workers opened their own restaurants in Paris, bringing with them a new way of dining. Delicate china, cutlery, and linen tablecloths – all trappings of aristocracy, were now available to a whole new echelon of French citizens.

Menus became more diverse – offering both prix fixe and a la carte options. Though public houses continued to exist, the rise of fine dining in France would soon spread throughout Europe and into the New World.

During the 19th Century, the number of restaurants in Paris continued to rise. After the defeat of Napoléon, wealthy Europeans flocked Paris to partake in the many gourmet dining options. This was especially true of the allied officer gentlemen- a move that would be repeated following the end of WWII.

By the end of the 19th Century, advancement in transportation through steamers, railways and eventually automobiles brought about a change in travel. Luxury tourism grew and with it a new precedent of eating well away from home. No longer was eating while traveling a mere necessity. It became an art.

Fine dining in the old world, has used to be a setting for political maneuverings. Today, it has evolved into it being a symbolism of appreciation and enjoyment of the finer things in life. The rise of the restaurants throughout the ages correlates with the development of cities.

From the turn of the 20th century, dining has morphed significantly along with technological advancements in food production and preparation. Even in the midst of modern gastronomy and food technology, many contemporary chefs have joined the bandwagon for a return to the farms, putting greater emphasis on making local produce the star of the dining table, while some employed the classical cooking styles and techniques of the French with a more modern take on plate presentation.

The best of fine dining is still being offered in many 5 star restaurants and hotels in Metro Manila with the availability of tasting menu offered at a limited time. The emergence of private dining as a trend in hospitality, room service has become obsolete with most hotels slowly diverting their resources towards redefining the guest experience in the comforts of a private dining room.

For a unique and intimate private dining experience, I invite you foodies to try Mama’s Table. I have been hearing raves about Chef Vicky Tinio-Clemente’s place at Ambuklao Road, and finally, we were able to find the time to check it out and confirmed a reservation for my team of managers, chefs and myself.

We embarked on a 10-minute drive from BCC and found the Red House on a Hill right after the APTS compound. In the outset, it looks like an ancestral home, but once we were ushered inside, all that we could muster was awe and amazement at the picturesque view of Baguio on a clear summer sky. The interiors are stylish and homely and tell the pictures hanging on the walls reveal so much history. The gardens are lush and the ambiance is not only inviting but evoke warmth and relaxation – it is an ideal retreat, an ideal escape from the hustle and bustle of cosmopolitan living.

We were treated to an 8-course degustation meal (although in my count, it was actually a nine-course treat (with a bonus), all French-inspired.

The presentation of appetizers were candid and inviting consisting of breads, crostinis, chicharon dipped on smoked bangus mouse, tostitos with red and green pepper rajas with cheese and chipotle; we were also served with variety of cheeses with grapes, walnuts and cranberries.

For the amuse, the caramelized onions, sautéed mushrooms, gruyere cheese and truffle oil custard baked in eggshell was fabulous and opened our palate for more. For the soup, the asparagus and leek soup sprinkled with fresh tarragon served with crustade of creamed blue cheese, walnut and date was a refreshing surprise.

For the Intermezzo (intermission), the Parmesan lollipop with rosemary marshmallow brought back many childhood stories and memories. For the seafood, we had the broiled salmon and leek and corn coulis with saffron and dill with cherry tomatoes and snowpeas.

By the time we were on our next intermezzo consisting of pork and vegetable dumpling on soy ginger sauce with cilantro and the pork belly confit served with guava preserve (from Café by the Ruins), some of my managers started to loosen up their ties and took off their coats.

For the meat course, we had the bacon-wrapped sage chicken and tenderloin roulade served with red wine reduction and mushroom jus, and includes twice-baked tomato gratin and blanched French beans.

At this point, some are unable to finish their modicum portions. To prepare us for the dessert, we were served a crisp, crunchy and refreshing salad which consisted of leafy greens, lolo rossa, romaine, watercress and arugula with orange supremes, almond and date with pomelo with pineapple orange vinaigrette.

For the luscious dessert, we flirted with the famous house favourite, the Pavlova with Chantilly cream, mangoes, and fresh strawberries, toblerone and chocolate sauce. It was more or less a 3-hour meal at the end of which the only tempting course is to give in to good ol’ siesta.

And since we all have a long afternoon of toil waiting for us back at the office, off we went carrying with us a sense of fulfilment only a hearty dining experience can bring.

Chef Vicky offers an 8-course, strictly-by-reservation private dining in her lovely home in Ambuklao Road during weekends, and accepts strictly one group at a time, with a minimum of 6 persons.

Until next time! Bon appetit!

Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on April 08, 2014.

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