A sense of occasion

By: Stephen D. Capillas December 22,2016 - 08:48 PM

Last December 11, British celebrity chef Marco Pierre White marked his 55th birthday; and while I thought of writing something about him on that date, I figured I’d save it for this day, Dec. 23, or a day before Christmas Eve when I think people would read up on something other than the news, which wouldn’t go anywhere anytime soon anyway.

I picked him as a subject for this piece owing to his one of his favorite expressions — or at least I think it is because of the frequency with which I heard him say it in one of many episodes of his cooking show — that he says during and after cooking a dish especially during the holidays.

In cooking for guests and especially families and friends, White, one of the youngest three Michelin star chefs, says chefs and cooks should have a “sense of occasion.” By that I understand, again after watching many of his cooking presentations on YouTube, that these cooks and chefs should cook and present dishes that are not only delicious but tap into the nostalgia of people.

Whether, in our local setting, it is humble fare like sikwate (native chocolate drink served hot) and puto bumbong (rice cake) or as sumptuous as paella, morcon and other traditional Filipino dishes, the food we do serve during the holidays or any day of the week should evoke a sense of our warmest, fondest memories either in childhood, adolescence or even in simple gatherings among families and friends into our adult life.

Growing up, I was fond of watching cooking shows that were hosted by former senator Orlando Mercado and Nora Daza, as well as reading up on cooking columns written by the late Doreen Fernandez. It was, along with Saturday morning cartoons, a respite from the depressing news that one reads in the papers, or listens and watches in radio and TV, respectively.

At the same time, watching these cooking shows help teach us to learn and hone whatever we know about cooking, which is a basic life skill that one has to develop in adult life — one cannot, at some point, survive on other’s cooking for a greater portion of his or her life aside from their mother’s.

One hopes that his or her spouse knows how to cook or else both of them and their children will have a lot of conversations over takeout food.

And Marco Pierre White is not just a multi-awarded chef who trained some of the best chefs in the business like Gordon Ramsay, he’s also a proficient hunter and avid fisher who can prepare (i.e., butcher) the meats that he cooks and serves to guests at his restaurants.

I remembered watching with amusement how White showed celebrity contestants in the British version of “Hell’s Kitchen” how to prepare and cook pheasant or pigeon and presented to them several pigeons that had been shot down and were ready for plucking. The moment he sliced the pigeons’ necks, the contestants grimaced and one female contestant had to excuse herself as she vomited in the toilet.

Of hunting and cooking game like pigeons, boar, deer and such, White would say, “It’s good that you know the kind of meat that you’re working on, that you’ve seen how the creature had lived its life and how you’ve butchered and prepared it as food to be enjoyed by your guests and families.”

That remark alone would work up the vegetarians and animal rights groups into a shouting frenzy, but the man is mostly unapologetic when it comes to his line of work.

And when it does come to White’s chosen profession, there are few who are his peers like Gordon Ramsay, who quit two years after working for him due to his foul temper and unpredictable mood swings.

Ramsay, for those unfamiliar with the culinary world, is the Scottish chef notorious for his expletive-laden shows like “Hell’s Kitchen” and “Kitchen Nightmares” and is, like his mentor Marco Pierre White, a perfectionist and multi-awarded chef.

Though both men have not been on speaking terms with each other over the years, the two have noticeably mellowed out though still push other chefs working for them to strive for perfection, or what White would define as “little things done well together.”

And both men share a continued passion for cooking good food through the years though Marco is more the philosopher, while Gordon is the consummate artist and technician who knows how to teach non-cooks how to cook if one has the patience and prays that he or she isn’t a contestant in Hell’s Kitchen.

More than their expertise, it’s the little nuggets of wisdom given by both men especially Marco during their cooking presentations that people, regardless of race, gender, professional background and bias, can both appreciate and apply if they so choose in their lives.

Such advice also includes knowing when to stay and when to walk away from anything as when Marco gave up his three Michelin stars to retire and enjoy life with his family. But it is that expression, of being able to develop that “sense of occasion,” that somehow sticks to the memory since it is not just about tapping gently into nostalgia; it’s also about bringing enjoyment to family and friends on nearly any occasion in order to forge and strengthen existing bonds and building new ones and make life meaningful especially in this time of year.

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TAGS: chef, Christmas, christmas eve, diner, dinner, dish, food, Marco Pierre, Michelin Star, news, puto, rice cakes

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