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A taste of the Philippines in Traverse City

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Xavier Mendoza
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A view of the Aerie restaurant, in the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa, where the dinner was held on April 14, 2018 in Traverse City, MI.

As a native Filipino, I was delighted to experience the cuisine my family used to cook.

 

I had the chance to surprise the three Filipina chefs in an interview hours before the event. They did not know that I could speak tagalog.

 

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Credit Xavier Mendoza
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From left: Chefs Montemayor, Raymundo and Regua taste tests one of the meats used for an entree

“So you’re from the Manila? ‘All of us, yes.’ So marunong kayong mag tagalog? [You know how to speak tagalog?]"

"Dapat wala nang big reveal, nakaka loka [There shouldn’t be any more surprises, it’s hysterical!]," they replied.

Michelle Montemayor, Alyssa Raymundo, Vanity Regua are filipinas who studied culinary arts in Metro Manila.

Montemayor said the three of them applied through a student visa agency for this experience in the United States.

“They’re offering internships. Why not try the US and get a better salary than working in the Philippines,” Montemayor said.  

 

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Credit Xavier Mendoza
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From left: Chef Regua helps Chef Montemayor as they prepare the rice necessary for all of the dishes for the dinner

Raymundo said they are honored to present their culture through their cooking.

“Just the three of us did and we want to make sure that everything tastes the same,” Raymundo said. “We do know there’s lots of Filipinos residing here in Michigan.”  

Raymundo says the biggest challenge has been keeping the taste similar to how native Filipinos are used to.

Jillian Manning is the public relations manager for the resort. She says the PR team was excited about the dinner.

“We obviously had these three great chefs in our staff and it was a no brainer for us,” she said. “They’ve got incredible food for the community that doesn’t get a lot of Filipino food.”  

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Credit Xavier Mendoza
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Two appetizers were completed as the kitchen staff prepares for the start of the event

Manning said the chefs did not Americanize the food. The resort did have to substitute for some ingredients, like saba bananas, used in the desert turon and natto powder used for color and aesthetics in the oxtail soup

“There’s obviously a lot of ingredients that we wanted to source from the Philippines rather than here, in Traverse City, MI where we may not have that,” she said. “So that’s something our purchasing department and our chefs worked really hard to do. We were planning weeks and weeks to make sure we had the best ingredients.”

The dinner featured filipino favorites like Oxtail Kare-Kare and lamb Kaldereta as well as Filipino inspired cocktails.

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Credit Xavier Mendoza
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The Filipino favorite dish, Kaldereta, made from lamb, ready to be served to the guests at the dinner

The food reminded me of home, especially the grilled eggplant. But the cool thing for me, was eating the Mango Torte dessert. I’ve never had it before. So I was able to experience a new Filipino dish in Michigan.

American diners Jason and Sara Cuddie say they enjoyed the experience.

“That was our first time coming here, for our anniversary. I gotta say, I was very well pleased. ‘Very impressed, very Impressed,’” they said. “We both very enjoyed ourselves very much. It was great.”   

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Credit Xavier Mendoza
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The Mango Torte, one of two options for a dessert, for the dinner

Chef Alyssa Raymundo said she loved trying something new at the American restaurant and the chance to hone her skills. She plans to continue in culinary school, this time in another country after her contract expires in seven months.