There we were, leisurely lounging at the Manila Hotel’s MacArthur Lounge, when slices of chocolate cake are paraded before us.
Being chocolate enthusiasts, we excitedly take a bite. The chocolate melts in our mouths—and a chorus of angels sing “Hallelujah!” The interestingly firm, nutty layer accompanies the crescendo.
The cake is called Chocolate Ferrero Gianduja. It is a genius combination of rich, velvety chocolate melt that is not too sweet, a crunchy layer of wafer, and a layer of sponge cake. The combination balances out the overall texture of the cake.
This creation of genius is the work of Manila Hotel’s executive pastry chef Rolando Macatangay. To friends he is Chef Mac and, after 22 years in the industry, he has gained many.
Starting his career as a waiter, he made his way to the top at Manila Hotel, whose management gave him the chance to study and hone his craft. For years he made the rounds of the top hotels in the Philippines, concentrating on his specialty: chocolate. Through sheer talent, he has become known as one of the ‘Fathers of Pastry'.
The modest Chef Mac hurriedly explains that the only reason he has gained the esteemed title is because his senior colleagues have moved onto other industries. When asked what sets him apart from other ‘Fathers’, he characteristically responds that whatever it is, it’s intangible as most of the chefs he has worked with have been trained in the same way; that is, by European pastry chefs.
Chef Mac did work in Canada for a couple of years. But he never lost his soft spot for the hotel that gave him his big break. So, like the namesake of the lounge where we sampled Chef Mac’s confections, he returned.
Chef Mac continues to amaze both colleagues and clients by reaping awards at various culinary competitions. Just this year, he bagged awards at two different competitions: first place at the Fonterra Food Service Pastry Challenge 2010 for his Strawberry and Polenta Chocolate Le Robusta, and a gold ‘Dress the Cake on the Spot’ award at the 2010 National Food Showdown.
Chef Mac speaks fondly of his last win. On the spot competitions are his favorite kind because of the thrill. “There’s time pressure,” he explains. “And you’re in a makeshift kitchen so it’s not very user-friendly and it’s uncomfortable.”
Chef is unusually driven, spending almost two months to prepare for every competition. “I study the theme and the rules. Then I experiment with the blending of tastes,” he says.
Despite his international training, Chef Mac asserts his being a Filipino chef in many of his creations. He tries to incorporate native ingredients in his concoctions, in the process introducing his foreign clientèle to what the Philippines has to offer. One of his creations, Coconut Almond Moringa made using our very own malunggay, has won the silver at a prestigious competition.
But Chef Mac will always have a fondness for chocolate. “Chocolate is a very versatile ingredient. You can use it everywhere,” he enthuses, “as an ingredient, as flavoring, as garnish.”
As we nibble on our third slice of Chocolate Ferrero Gianduja, we cannot disagree.
Print ed: 11/09