Monday, November 24, 2008

Chef Cecilia de Castro, a Wolfgang Puck Protege, in Person

On Sunday, November 23, I was lucky to meet for another time Chef Cecilia de Castro, during a project launching event at the La Canada, California residence of businessman and civic leader Mike and Nimia Cucueco. Chef Cecilia, who is the President of Academy of Culinary Education ( in Northridge, is one of the Outstanding Kapampangan Awards honorees during the Pampanga Day Celebration at the San Gabriel Hilton on December 14, 2008. We have met on several occasions in the past when she was doing cooking demonstrations and, at another time, in a party that she catered for Grace Walker, a prominent Glendale, California civic leader and entrepreneur.

But this time around our meeting was more productive, and hopefully, more collaborative. I informed the distinguished Kapampangan -- one of a growing number of American-trained chefs -- that I had begun writing a food and cooking blog, and that our meeting was auspicious because this time around I could write about her for the first time. About three years ago, I had attempted to write about Chef Cecilia for a now defunct monthly magazine. But that article never came into fruition for some reasons. I told Chef Cecilia that I had written quite a few blogs about food and cooking in since a month ago, and those articles are now accessible in the Forum and Bulletin Board of (formerly She told me that she would be very interested in rellenong bangus, and asked me if I could demonstrate how to make it to her culinary classes at ACE. Of course. Who would decline such an offer from a former Wolfgang Puck chef? Long before chefs became the new celebrity darlings, Chef Cecilia was already cutting her teeth working under the aegis of celebrity chef and culinary innovator Wolfgang Puck, making her the first FilAm to achieve such a stature.

At any rate, this blog is dedicated to Chef Cecilia and her staff. I couldn't wait for Chef Cecilia to talk about the array of foods that her catering outfit had prepared on Sunday. It included baked mussels and okoy (shrimp and veggie cakes) appetizers, which she prepared in her own signature style; Filipino-style tamales, and puto (rice cakes). Her take on the okoy was quite interesting and lent itself to convenient ingestion, as the okoys were fried while attached to forks. That way, the guests only needed to hold the fork and bite from it. Quite innovative, I must say. For the main courses, Chef Cecilia prepared a traditional Kapampangan stalwart, bringhe. What it is is a rice and poultry dish that traces its origin to the Spanish paella. It even looks like paella, with its yellow color. Chef Cecilia told the guests that she used "dilaw" or turmeric to give it a yellow color and uses coconut milk for liquid instead of water. "I also used deboned chicken," she said. "That way you can enjoy it without having to bother with the bones." She also cooked Pancit Luglug, which is Pampanga's version of the popular Pancit Malabon. The "luglug" word originated from the method of immersing the rice noodles in hot water or stock. She said that "luglug" meant shake in English, and describes the action of shaking the noodles in a large salaan ( a large colander) to take the excess water out after immersing. Her Pancit Luglug is festooned with shrimps, pork bits, sliced hard-boiled eggs, and sprinkled with ground chicharon (pork skin crackles) and given a reddish color with the addition of atchuete (anatto). The other garnish and condiments -- such as spring onions, fried garlic bits, patis, and slices of calamansi (Philippine lime) are contained in separate containers on a tray.

Mike's family cook, Amy Oliver, cooked the exquisite caldereta. I recognized it immediately for she cooked an exact same entree during the dinner that followed the performance of the ArtiSta.Rita theater group earlier this year. Amy's caldereta was so sublime, it reminds me of my mother's own take on that Filipino classic. Mike's younger brother, Jun, also an avid cook, cooked his original version of goto (porridge), in which he used not tripe, but beef tongue, sliced into small pieces. He also utilized boiled quail eggs instead of chicken or duck eggs. I do use meats other than tripe in my own version of goto. In addition to tripe, I have used pig's snout and ears. And they give the goto a more gelatinous consistency.

To cap an impressive lunch, Chef Cecilia served an exquisite sans rival and a fruits platter of sliced pineapple, watermelon, strawberries, and bunches of red table grapes. A coffee machine was burbling full time and I must have imbibed four cups of fullbore coffee before the event was over.

Chef Cecilia introduced me to her latest concoctions, a drink, and she calls it mansitini (Martini that uses calamansi juice). She said the mix is two parts of vodka, one part calamansi, and one part syrup. I tried it and I agree with a lot mansitini converts that is it very good, indeed. "It is quite potent," says Chef Cecilia. "A lot of men who thought that it was just a cocktail got drunk with it."

The Pampanga Day Celebration on December 14 at the San Gabriel Hilton Hotel will feature a food festival. Pampanga, unquestionably the Philippines' culinary capital, is the origin of a veritable array of culinary firsts. At the Pampanga Day Celebration one of the centerpiece events will be a food festival where Kapampangan and other Filipino delicacies will be offered for the enjoyment of the fair-goers and guests. Chef Cecilia will be in the middle of it all.


Rene Villaroman said..., that was fast. May I share your site to my recommended reading blogsites to my culinary students and friends that are food and wine enthusiasts?
Also here are a few corrections and clarifications. Bringhe uses "dilaw" or turmeric instead of saffron, which is harder to find, and coconut milk for its liquid. I used atchuete or anatto in the Pancit Palabok or Pancit Luglug. "Luglug" means to immerse or drain by shaking before it it served. The pre-cooked noodle in hot stock or plain water to reheat before adding the sauce and choice of toppings. As for my family and friends' favorite cocktail, Mansitini (Calamansi Martini) I use a simple syrup (1 part each of water and sugar brought to a boil for a few minutes and then chilled) instead of sugar. Calamansi is the Philippine lemon. It is sometimes called Calamondine. ACE(Academy of Culinary Education) is based in Northridge (California)( and we look forward to your coooking demo of Rellenong Bangus.

Rene Villaroman said...

Hello, Chef Cecilia,
Thanks very much for the clarification and corrections. I entered your comments verbatim myself due to your inability to post the comment because my site was not originally configured to accept comments from everybody. Now everyone who have my blogs and who wishes to post a comment can do so.
I am anticipating the day when I would make a demonstration on how to prepare Rellenong Bangus. Just let me know when, and what I would need take along with me. Thanks for your offer to share my site with some of your culinary students, and more power to you!