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Chef Ron Manalo picks and chooses from Western culinary canon to create a contemporary menu with classical roots at One Tagaytay's Azalea restaurant

[Photo of Azalea Cuisine]Chef Ron Manalo of the Azalea in One Tagaytay Place Hotel Suites loves food with a passion. He keeps pen and paper by his bed so he can jot down recipe ideas, and he does this as tenderly as if he were writing a love letter.

But it is a respectful, almost reverent, kind of love. While other chefs play fast and loose with their food, Manalo prefers to let dishes shine on their own merits, not because of a flashy fusion twist.

He recalls, for example, how one restaurateur created a fusion dish of prime beef cooked a la Bistek Tagalog (Filipino beef steak). While definitely avant garde, the already tender and flavorful meat did not need the heavy soy sauce marinade and cooking style of bistek, which is usually prepared with tougher cuts.

“Sometimes, fusion cuisine can be confusing,” he says, especially when flavors and techniques don't really go together.

[Photo of Azalea Cuisine]It is little wonder, then, that Chef Ron wants the Azalea to stand on a foundation of classic European cuisine. For starters, he offers Salad La Mer, a warm salad of shrimps and other seafood sauteed in balsamic vinegar and tomatoes on a bed of lettuce. The simple vinaigrette was infused by the subtle flavor of fresh shellfish from nearby Batangas, recalling the rustic spirit at the heart of French fare.

Manalo's signature salad, the Salad Azalea, is a little more elaborate with organically-grown greens from neighboring farms tossed with slivers of parmegiano reggiano, fruits, and nuts in a mixed-berry vinaigrette. Again, subtle flavors are used to complement the otherwise humble vegetables to create a classic salad.

Manalo says that he made the noodles for the Seafood Lasagna brings us from scratch. Store-bought noodles are often made from dried eggs, he says, which gives a slightly different flavor and texture to pasta.

[Photo of Azalea Cuisine]Azalea's Hollandaise-gratinated Seafood Roullade was also a hit not only for the colorful plating, but also because it was perfect with the lasagna. The cheesy and creamy roullade went well with the tarter tomato-based lasagna.

Chef Ron's—and Azalea's—pride, however, is the Oven-poached Dory Fillet. Until then, he had been darting in and out of the kitchen, but he said that he wanted to be there when the foil-wrapped dishes that had been in the oven for 30 minutes were uncovered. He says that part of the experience is removing the foil and letting the aroma of the fish dish fill the room.

It is perhaps this dish that best represents Manalo. “It's straightforward. All the flavors are there,” he says as we dig into the dory flavored with a broth of Japanese soy sauce and Chinese sesame oil.

[Photo of Azalea Cuisine]Dessert was a Crème Brulee served with Calamansi (Philippine lemon) Sorbet on a Pineapple Chop. “I call it pineapple chop because it looks like a pork chop,” he says, and the inventiveness doesn't stop there. The sliced pineapple is grilled lightly to give it a subtle smoked flavor and a bit of bite.

The calamansi sorbet was a perfect counterpoint to the caramelized sugar of the crème brulee, and was just tart enough to cleanse the palate. It was a dot at the end of a perfect sentence, not an ellipse that hints at more to come.

Azalea's menu is filled with classic dishes in broad strokes, with each dish personalized and tweaked to Manalo's specifications. Nothing too outrageous, just enough to make each dish his own.

“First, I see what I have in stock. From there, I play with the ideas in my head,” he says. And with Tagaytay's produce farms and the daily catch from Batangas, he has more than enough on his palette to create the masterpieces that fill his dreams.

Print ed: 04/10

 

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