It was one of those evenings when I got together a small group of friends for dinner at home. We all wanted to try this particular young lady chef (whom we have heard so much about) who does exquisite degustation menus in private homes. She is known for her beautifully plated and deliciously tasting dishes usually on a French-based menu. We then eventually learned that she studied and trained in France for a few years before finally coming back home to do her private catering. Her name is Chef Farah Tolentino Ylagan.
Since dinner was done at my place, I took charge of the flower arrangements. But because I do not really know much about this art, I decided to just do the most basic and simplest way of arranging flowers. I went to the flower market that same morning and bought several bundles of these little green button mums that I saw in almost all the stalls there. I then cut them up, stuck their stems in a floral foam and put them all together inside two of my rectangular marble vases. Well, what do you know… it actually turned out nice and my friends were impressed, especially when I placed votive candles around them!
A few days before the dinner, Chef Farah and I met and discussed the menu. We both agreed that we wanted to try something different and something more innovative than the usual. So we then came up with a menu using Japanese-inspired ingredients cooked using French culinary techniques.
As soon as my friends started to arrive, they were served these little cups of Shiitake Mushroom Cappuccino. The soup was deliciously warm and comforting, which naturally relaxed everyone and made each one feel instantly at home. Champagne bottles were soon popped to toast the exciting dinner ahead of us!
The second appetizer for the night was the Caviar Tempura with Spicy Creamy Sauce. This is deep-fried Halibut fish topped with a tasty yellow cream sauce made of tobanjan mayonnaise or spicy fermented soy bean paste. This hot canape served in a ceramic spoon was paired perfectly with our cold glass of bubbly!
Our third and last appetizer for the night (but certainly not the least), was the Taro Chip with Spice-Cured Salmon Tartar. I am a big fan of Salmon, so suffice to say that this was also my favorite amongst the three pass-arounds! The mild spiciness of the Salmon laid on a bed of cold creme fraiche on top of a very thin crisp of taro was more than enough to whet our appetites for the dishes to come. At this point in time, we couldn’t wait to sit around the dining table and start the ball (or the “main menu”) rolling!
While my friends started to settle down around the dining table, I peeked into my kitchen and was pleasantly surprised to see how Chef Farah and her team have efficiently setup their workstation.
It was messier than usual, but it’s something that you can call as “organized mess”. Printed copies of ingredients and what goes into every dish, plus the chef’s instructions and photos of how to plate, were carefully taped on my kitchen cabinets and refrigerator. In spite of the chaos, my kitchen never looked this “professional” or functioned this efficiently! It felt like I had my own restaurant right in my own home.
Of course while I was in the kitchen, I couldn’t help but peek at some of the dishes being cooked.
Then finally, we were served our first main dish for the night. It was this deliciously creamy Foie Gras Chawan Mushi. This is basically Japanese egg custard that was steamed in a cup and then was further enriched by the chef’s home made piece of foie gras!
The second course was Fresh Oysters served in 3 ways : Fresh with Cucumber Lemon Mint Granita (left) and Poached with Fresh Wasabi Creme Fraiche, Gelee Iodee and Ikura (right). The freshness of the shellfish here topped with the homemade mixture of several Japanese ingredients like wasabi and ikura definitely excited our taste buds!
The third Oyster (and what I think was the best among the three) was served in a separate dish : Gratin with Japanese Mushrooms and Uni Hollandaise. I was surprised to see how something as fresh and unique as Uni (Japanese sea urchin) can be made and transformed into a creamy and tasty hollandaise sauce. The mixture of flavors definitely exploded in my mouth!
Chef Farah Ylagan studied in France for many years, worked in a 3-star Michelin rated restaurant in Paris (Pavilion Ledoyen) and when she finally decided to come home to Manila, trained under Chefs Stephane Chambon and Cyril Soenen in Hotel Intercontinental’s fine dining restaurant, Prince Albert.
Her equally talented colleague, Chef Chris Bautista (the tall guy in all white) meanwhile has been her trusted partner in the kitchen for so many years now in all her private catering functions. He also had his pastry training in France, in Ecole Ritz Escoffier in Paris to be exact. Both of them are indeed a genius culinary tandem to beat!
Lining up the next seafood dish for our next course…
Palawan Lobster with Mango, Tomato Salad with Ponzu Dressing on Mild Tarragon Creme Glacee. This seafood and salad dish in one was light and refreshing. The citrusy Japanese ponzu sauce that was mixed with the fresh tomato and mango complemented the mild meaty taste of the lobster. But what surprised everyone was the presence of a tarragon-flavored frozen yogurt underneath it all! This we all agreed, made the whole dish even more delightful!
The next dish that came out of our kitchen was our first meat for the night : a wonderfully executed Kurobota Pork Belly with Spicy Miso and Squash Puree. The whole dish in itself was so delicious and tasty because the pork belly had just the right amount of fat and meat in it. This was definitely worth the wait… and the calories!
This is the “makeshift sous vide machine” that they set up in the kitchen. This was used for the next meal, an egg dish that everyone was very excited about.
The eggs were cooked in the sous-vide for about an hour in 63-degree temperature. The eggs were so delicate that the plating in these pretty glass bowls had to be done very slowly and carefully!
Finished product after an hour in the sous-vide machine : Coddled Egg with Asparagus, Truffled Browned Butter Vinaigrette and Jamon Serrano Jabugo. For someone who loves perfectly poached eggs, this dish is a hands-down winner in my books! The saltiness and crisp texture of the Jamon Serrano added that nice flavor and touch to the soft and creamy egg yolk.
To cleanse the palate, Chef Farah prepared a freshly made scoop of Green Apple and Key Lime Sorbet. This was a combination of so many things : sweet, sour, refreshing, icy and light. Definitely, it was the perfect way to get us ready for heavier and meatier dishes coming our way.
I peeked inside the kitchen again and saw Chef Chris preparing the Rib-eye steak on the griddle…
And this is how it looked once beautifully plated : Roasted US Angus Beef Rib-Eye with Escargots Sauteed a la Bourguignon, Edamame Confit and Potato Chantilly. This last dish turned out to be a unanimous favorite. We didn’t expect that a good piece of steak can blend so wonderfully with sauteed escargots cooked in the classic French Bourguignon style. We all agreed that this is one dish that only a skillful chef can do!
In spite of the busyness and chaos inside the kitchen, I always caught Chef Farah and Chef Chris smiling! This proves that they really love what they do!
Chef Farah has such a positive and happy demeanor that rubs off on all her dishes. I told her that this must be her secret! She makes all her dishes taste good because of the love and passion she puts into them.
Now to the even more exciting part of the dinner yet… Our desserts!!
We started with something light and lemon-y : Lemon Trifle with White Chocolate Ice Cream! This is made up of layers of lemon pie combined with lemon curd, meringue and freshly whipped cream. This was placed on top of their homemade white chocolate ice cream and then sprinkled with toasted almonds on top. I have to say that this exceeded my expectations. It was that good that I had to go back to the kitchen secretly and ask for another serving!
I am not so much of a fan of white chocolates as I am of lemon desserts. So this was the first time I actually loved something with white chocolate in it. I guess the sweetness of the white chocolate ice cream in this dish simply complemented the freshness and sourness of the lemon pie here.
Still feeling the “high” from my yummy first dessert, my excitement reached its climax when I went back to the kitchen once again and saw my most favorite thing in the world : Chocolates! Pure, unadulterated dark chocolate in its finest form was being prepared right before my very eyes and what would turn out to be our second dessert and our very last dish for the night!
This little piece of heaven was named in the menu as : Chocolat “Pyramid du Louvre” in reference to France’s pyramid-shaped art museum, The Louvre. This was a simple dessert dish made of dark chocolate ganache and surrounded by sweet and sour griottes (cherries from France). Simplicity in its finest form, I say. We all agreed that this was the perfect ending to our well-executed 12-course degustation dinner.
This one fine dinner with this one fine chef turned out to be one of the finest dinners I have ever had. Not only was it a gastronomic feast but it was also a memorable culinary dining experience. We were indeed lucky to have seen how each beautiful dish was created from scratch and then come to life right in the comforts of home and company of good friends.
So what’s next with the talented Chef Farah Ylagan, you may ask?
Her select clientele and foodie fans will surely miss her delicious cooking in Manila as she prepares to embark on yet another culinary adventure away from home. She is on her way to conquer the restaurant scene in Melbourne, Australia as she has been carefully selected amongst the many to head the opening of a big restaurant in the city, a place equally known for their gastronomic delights.
We wish her good luck and the very best as she continues to astound the rest of the world as one of our most talented Filipino chefs. We are honored to have experienced one of her last best dinners in Manila. Go ahead Chef Farah and bring home the bacon for us!!