Bucket list No. 5: Whip up your signature dish

“Food is a way of making  a connection with others and making memories.”

YOUR personal bucket list should be doable. Select a handful of those things that have the highest chance of coming to fruition given your time frame and personal circumstances. In tech speak, it means before your life span and energy goes into ‘ low batt mode’ and life is running out of sockets to plug into.

How about waving your magic wand in the kitchen to create just one signature dish?

Ever wonder how the Peach Melba dessert got its name? It was said that the celebrated French chef Auguste Escoffier named the confection after his friend, the soprano Nellie Melba of Melbourne, Australia.

Nellie would dine in the restaurant where he was chef and would give him tickets to the opera where she was the main draw. Nellie Melba was the late 19th century equivalent of a celebrity these days that could pack opera houses for the elite in London, Paris and New York. On a historical note, Escoffier partnered with Cesar Ritz  (from whose name the term “ritzy” is derived, to mean elegant and first class, and pricey as well) to establish the Ritz-Carlton Hotels chain.

Signature dishes are not just for the rich and famous. They are for you and me, as well. Choose just one dish. Just one from many possibilities… Choose a scrumptiously delicious one. Work on it many times until you can do it from scratch without looking at your cheat sheet and it becomes a masterpiece.

Cook it for family gatherings or potluck events. Cook it until they clamor for you to bring it because your dish is memorable. You notice that people come for seconds until it’s all gone. Clean plate and happy faces —the marks of a culinary success…

Congratulations! You’ve created your signature dish. You have placed your name on it. Best of all, you’ve created gastronomic memories, quite hard to forget because, believe you me, the gut remembers.

I have met many who have done this and it is a source of joy specially when shared with many. My friend Angel cooked Spanish Paella with original ingredients from Spain and with great flourish wearing a chef’s hat and risqué apron of washboard abs, in a class reunion held in their mountain view home. It was delicious and memorable.

Two of my sisters, Olga and Evelyn, bake Sans Rival and indeed, nothing rivals their concoction. Fresh lumpiang sariwa, with many hours of chopping, slicing and dicing of the ingredients is my mother’s and eldest sister, Olga’s signature dish.  Another sister, Rhodora, tweaked a Kare-kare recipe and that was divine. There is Agnes Jovellana’s delightful original espasol which she prepares for her parties. My sister Mitch of San Antonio, Texas prepared Buttered Mochi and her baked dish was a hit. I do a simple potato soup with bacon that is popular in the winter time. The millenials in our family love it. My daughter-in-law Elia, prepares her special recipe for Turkey with bacon on Thanksgiving and draws rave reviews from the family. My son, Rene, prepares delightful chocolate ice cream, from scratch and there is never enough. A former colleague, Malou Halili-Case who hails from Pampanga (famous for women who cook heavenly dishes) prepares Dinuguan, on slow cooker and it was special and memorable. Team it up with puto and, voila, you have a wonderful meal! There’s Tommy’s mom, Cindy Nguyen, who prepares fresh crabs, Vietnamese style. Of course, there’s Tony’s dad, David Ta, who cooks delicious beef stew, Cambodian style, like no other.

If you don’t have any signature dish, get cracking and work on one, just one dish you can enjoy preparing and putting your mark on. With time and practice, you will get better at it. Choose one that is popular with most taste buds.

Don’t let your ego rule trying to reinvent the wheel and try an exotic dish, like alligator soup, for instance. Stay away from using bats and snakes as ingredients. There is serious concern that the deadly Coronavirus currently raging in Wuhan, China and spreading to other parts of the world may have originated from that city’s wet market that sells exotic animals as food fare.

Nix the labels low calorie, low fat, gluten free, low carb. It is a bit of a downer when you have to work within limiting parameters. It doesn’t have to be original but it must be pleasing to most taste buds within your orbit of friends and family. Oftentimes, it could be just a tweak on an existing, tested recipe with a secret ingredient or a different technique of doing and presenting. Make it simple, easy and fun.

Food is a way of making a connection with others and making memories. Remember that Jesus Christ in his time ate bread, fish and drank wine with his disciples on many occasions. Those were the staples of his time and salt was the flavoring. He multiplied the bread and fish as He fed thousands who followed him to hear his teachings. Jesus knew how important it was to make a connection. Christ connects with us two thousand years later in the Holy Eucharist at Mass when bread and wine are consecrated and become His body and blood. It is a daily reminder of how God loves us — so much He sent His only son to redeem us from sin and death so we may live forever.

We use food to feed our bodies and make a connection with others. Partaking of the Eucharist to feed our souls in order to make a connection with the divine is the other aspect worth pursuing as part of our bucket list.

Food is a blessing, a visual and visceral aid that makes our life here on earth so wonderfully engaging.

Make your signature dish and the joys they bring to yourself and others part of the wonderful memories etched in your soul forever.


Nota Bene: Monette Adeva Maglaya is SVP of Asian Journal Publications, Inc. To send comments, e-mail [email protected]

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