Casa Amara (San Juan, Batangas) is famous not just for its fantastic views but also its great food. Forced by circumstance—Casa Amara is in far flung barrio with hardly any skilled labor for running a resort and restaurant—I was the cook for two years.
These are the important cooking lessons I learned on the job.
1. Cook meat and vegetables separately in their flavors and seasonings before marrying them in a stew. This is the French way.
So different from the Filipino way of cooking stew where ingredients are basically just put in a pot, sauted and seasoned together and then stewed.
2. For meat dishes, marinate the meat and sear the meat before cooking it further to lock in the flavor. I do that even with my own sinigang at Casa Amara where our pork sinigang is one of the most popular dishes. The meat is marinated the night before.
3. The most delicious way to serve vegetables is to roast them with herbs and olive oil in their own juices instead of just boiling them and letting their flavors drain away into the water.
Whether or not I serve them alone as a side dish or with meat, I always cook the vegetables separately.
4. One tip I have learned from one award-winning chef who took over the cooking from me is to have lemon or kalamansi or acid and of course, fresh herbs to add complexity to the flavor of any dish. I now put calamansi in everything, like he does, but in a very controlled way so that sourness blends with the other flavors and does not overwhelm them.
There is, of course, always a faster way to cook but if we want our dining to become an experience for those we cook for, there are only few shortcuts.
With all due respect to Martha Stewart and her one pot spaghetti where the ingredients are thrown all together, I’m not going to do that again. It may feed the stomach but not the soul.