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Cooking is art

By: Dr. Ramon Ricardo A. Roque, CESOI, Diplomate

Creative individuals are versatile and they do whatever is at hand with passion and enthusiasm to reach their goals.

Internationally acclaimed Chef Claude Tayag is one. He is a painter, sculptor, furniture designer, chef, food and travel writer, restaurateur, and food historian, and hopes to write soon “another chapter” of his life – his own food movie. “As an artist, you are a free thinker. Do not put a limit on how you can do [things]”, he said.

Chef Claude follows his heart and turns those passions into success. His love for arts and cooking began in his early childhood, worked hard to perfection through the years until he reached the summit of his success.

A self-taught culinary expert, Chef Claude’s “hands-on” training and “formal acceptance of the public” of his cookery held him in high esteem by his colleagues.

Heritage has a strong influence on his love for cooking as he grew up in Pampanga, the Food Capital of the Philippines, and reared in a large family of eight boys. “Can you imagine the amount of cooking that our mother did?”, he exclaimed. As the “kusinera” was always fully occupied at times, their mother taught them to be self-reliant in the kitchen and he began experimenting on food in high school.

Known as a “cooking person” amongst friend-foodies, Chef Claude cooked for his college buddies in the late 70’s. His marriage in 1988 to Mary Ann, also a Kapampangan, was the birth of what he called a “perfect team” which he compared to a house – his wife as the “front of the house” entertaining friends and himself as the “back of the house” cooking in the kitchen. As the couple enjoyed entertaining groups of friends and relatives at home, their hospitality and sumptuous dishes spread by word of mouth to a network of foodies. Food critic Doreen Fernandez’ advice was to open their house to the public even by reservation only. Bale Datung, meaning Wooden House, which he personally designed from scratch and scrap, was finally established in 2000.

Bale Datung showcases popular Filipino dishes from different regions that Anthony Bourdain came for in 2008. The simple and subtle taste of Filipino cuisine makes it “good as it is” distinctive from other international dishes. He noted that every region has its food profile according to locally favored taste – Ilocos Region is known for its papaitan with a bitter taste, Pampanga for its sweet dishes, Bicol for chili, Cebu for lechon, Iloilo for Chicken Inasal, to name a few.

“Filipino cuisine is a symphony of flavors – sweet, sour, bitter, and salty. Just play around those flavors, put in different degrees, and that’s the ‘linamnam’”, he said. What is important for him is to “keep the essence of the dish, not only the traditional ingredient… may look different, but that’s the artist in me”. His advice to culinary school graduates, “keep the passion, keep the determination, show excellence in whatever you do, then you will get noticed and promoted”.

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