As we wait for the plane to take off, I noticed that there’s a certain pang that I cant seem to shake off. It’s as if I’m leaving behind loved ones whom I will miss dearly. I mean, you would only feel this kind of longing for people you have spent a great deal of time with. We have stayed in Kobe/Osaka for only 7 days and yet it feels like we have known the people we have worked with for decades.
I’ve met the worst kinds of people when I was dragging my ass in call center companies (and Yes, I also met kindred spirits there) and that’s when I became cynical or distrustful to people’s intentions. I got so fed up that I just didn’t bother to bond with colleagues thinking that it would only be a waste of effort… only to lose them in the end. Somehow, I guess I missed missing people. So to help ease it off, let me talk about the people who made our stay an experience we will cherish for the rest of our lives.
I was in a crossroad dwelling on what path to take when I got a message in my facebook page from someone working for Department of Tourism asking for my contact details. We were skeptic at first because it all sounded too good to be true. We imagined the whole set up to be one like those junk emails we receive saying we were picked to be a winner of something – a good news out of nowhere. But as we all know, those spams are nowhere near from being a reality.
Then a call came with +81 area code and it was confirmed – the invitation was legit and they were asking me to be part of a program aimed to promote Filipino cuisine to be held in Kobe. What finally sold me to the idea was this other person’s demeanor. I sensed that he was not just trying to sound nice – for some weird reason, I KNEW that he was really nice. He was very respectful, sincere and humble. He was also very consistent even in our email correspondence as we iron out the logistics and work the other details of our trip. My dealing with Vice Consul Dax was a very pleasant one, to say the least.
June 9th was when we left Manila. A team of 3 was tasked to whip out 4 authentic Filipino dishes for an Independence Day celebration to be attended by some high ranking officials like Ambassador Manual M. Lopez, Kobe Mayor Kizo Hisamoto and the governor of Osaka.
We were greeted at the Kansai Airport by Sir Marnie, Sir Ramir and Sir Noel. Sir Marnie was our companion during our stay at Kobe and he brought us to the best Ramen house I’ve had in my life – it was insanely good! He was the one who patiently showed us around and made our lives a whole lot easier for he was very fluent in Nihonggo. I honestly do not think we would have maximized our stay in Kobe if he did not tag along and gave us invaluable tips on do’s and don’ts in Japan.
Since we were there for an official business – game time started almost immediately. We were scheduled the next day to purchase other ingredients that we weren’t allowed to bring from the Philippines. We were accompanied by Ma’am Ellen and Ma’am Libye. Sir Marnie was still the designated Direction Specialist. We brought our goods to Ma’am Bessie who graciously offered her own storage facility… (well, actually, it was her own place which used to be a Restaurant dedicated to serve Filipino dishes). We had a quick visit to their local Korean Market to buy some more fresh produce (radish and cucumber) and at least we can say that we got to experience a palengke setting.
Finally, we went to Consul General Ma. Teresa Taguiang’s place to prepare a taste-test-kinda-dinner for 10 people. During my Quality Assurance days, I was blessed to have been mentored by a great “Boss” one could ever ask for (Boss Michelle Quitaneg) and I had the same impression when we met ConGen. She was this cool, soft spoken and motherly authority that would make everyone feel easily at ease. Do not be mistaken though – for she exudes this confidence and intelligence that will not intimidate – but would make you truly respect her.
The dinner would have been fantastic if not for my obvious love-hate relationship with induction stoves (mung bean soup was over reduced that almost got burnt causing it also to become over seasoned. My bad coz I only discovered the blunder when I’ve already placed them into their serving bowls). The conversations were definitely great thanks to input from Consul Jerome, who incidentally shares my passion for music (he used to manage I-Axe).
Prep Day 1
Working out of your comfort zone is always risky. Especially if you have your reputation on the line. So going to Japan for the first time and work in two separate kitchens, factors like language barrier, temperature, altitude, equipment and most importantly the familiarity of everything… in my definition would be acceptable as being risky but wouldn’t really be an issue with our Challenge-Accepted-Attitude. But that will always be part of this business as we have experienced in our Catering gigs (our catering of 100pax and above is mostly done by 2 people.. yep, that’s Nay and I).
But no matter how prepared you are to address certain challenges, it would always be essential if you can get extra hands. Another uncontrollable factor is time. Since we were working on a foreign land, there were strict restrictions we had to follow. We were only given 12pm to 5pm to use the kitchen in the Sorakuen Hall (but was only able to start at around 2pm) and specifically did not allow us to deep fry. So having go-to guys that are able to deliver on crunch time is very essential. So kudos to Ma’ams Libye and Ellen, Sir Rick and of course, Sir Roland. The entire team was ever reliable despite having their own tasks so a whole lot of love definitely needs to go out to these four.
D’ Day – June 12th
We started our day where we finished prepping the night before. Our Consulate was able to make arrangements so we can continue our preparations in a kitchen owned by a non-profit organization that regularly feed some of our homeless brothers and sisters. This was inside the compound of a Catholic Church based in Kobe. Thanks to their gigantic cooking vessels and enormous patience, we were able to deliver.
Timing was very critical at that point for every minute counts – and sticking to our timelines will make or break our entire trip. The food we presented were, I must admit, not the best (I’d say 6/ 10 ) we can do in terms of presentation but I decided that an actual food that people can munch on is more important rather than making them wait while we work on our supposed presentation. We wouldn’t have completed our dishes if we didn’t get help and this time, from another proud Filipina who has her own thriving Pinoy Food Catering and humble enough to take assignments from young trio who invaded her turf.
To say the least, we made it through the service and I’m glad we did not disappoint. Our Japanese friends even had a couple of praises to share as our own Japan Ambassador Manuel M. Lopez participated in a disappearing act made by our Sinuglaw.
Our kababayans appreciated the authenticity of the dishes, judging from their reactions, had them miss home. I dare claim that it was a success and we achieved our goal – to introduce Filipino food, as Filipinos would enjoy it.
Vacay Mode On
The second we knew the service has ended, it felt like our bodies ached for our own beds. That’s why we were so thankful when Ma’ams Libye and Ellen ‘s group insisted that they finish wrapping up and gave us the entire afternoon to rest. However, the minute we arrived at Sir Ramir’s crib (where we crashed in the remainder of our stay), our celebratory spirits took over and Dave and I immediately started on our drinking binge. Later that night, most of our Consulate folks dropped by and shared a couple of laughs with us which we appreciated for we know they were all tired.
The following day, we were accompanied by Ma’am Libye and she brought us in Kiyomizu Dera. She was very accommodating and we had the chance to chat with her as we made our way to Kyoto. Her enthusiasm was very contagious as she told stories about her “Kids” and you cant really help but to admire her.
Sir Ramir and his son-in-law Joel, were the best hosts any freeloaders could ask for. He was like our Tatay who looked after our bad hangovers and Nay’s queries on directions how to go about. Sir Ding also graced us with his presence with German-built-stomach and his perspectives on a lot of my drunken nonsense and I genuinely liked the guy. I was also very grateful whenever Consul Mark would always share tidbits of helpful facts that sounded to me as if he was convincing me to finally stay in Japan. I felt his excitement and amazement when he described the changing of seasons and how beauty evolved from one color to another.
Nay and I made sure that we get to check out the Osaka Castle that has completed an already picturesque view from Sir Ramir’s terrace. This was an obvious choice for our last stop as this was only a good walking distance from where we stayed. We had to make the most of our morning as Nay was scheduled for an afternoon flight back to the Philippines.
Dave and I spent our last night in Japan determined to make our mark and I sure made a fool out of my dazed self trudging in delicate rope of becoming an embarrassment. Well not really, we were just really enjoying ourselves.
The inevitable dawned as I prep for my last duty – to share some insights on what I have experienced both in joining Masterchef and anything that had to do with food. It was a very interactive crowd and I really loved how engaging and interested the participants were. We all shared “Goodlucks” and “Godbless” over a fantastic luncheon and bid all these great souls Dewa mata instead of Sayonara.
Determined and with finality, Dave and I decided that we will surely be back in the Land of the Rising Sun to see what’s in store for us. Two weeks after my Japan gig, I still miss the place and more importantly, I miss the people. I pray that someday, somehow, our paths would still meet then share a pint with some good grub.
Thanks to ABSCBN/ Masterchef and Kris Kitchen Magazine – you guys paved way to this wonderful opportunity. I will be forever grateful.
Bigorots in Japan sounds pretty darn good to me. Hopefully very soon.