Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Culinary Artist Claude Tayag Wows Angelenos with His Book, "Food Tour",

Culinary expert Claude Tayag is a rare gifted individual who navigates through a maze of talents and skills and makes a dent in each discipline that he is involved in. This Angeles, Pampanga native is a chef, a culinary writer, a furniture designer, a painter and artist, and a restaurateur to boot. Whew! That's quite a handful. As if that is not enough, he is also fun to be around. A raconteur of the first order, Claude is naturally at ease talking about his craft, his family, and his most recent food and travel adventures.

He loves food, creating them, and searching for the best examples of down-home Filipino cooking wherever they can be had. For instance, a few years ago in 2006, Claude and his beautiful wife, Mary Ann, and three others, traversed the length of the Philippines, from their native Pampanga, in Central Luzon, all the way to the largest city in the world (in terms of land area), Davao City, in the big island of Mindanao. These peregrinations in search of the best dining places in the country are retold in one of two books that he introduced to Angelenos during the annual "Author's Night" at the Philippine Consulate in Los Angeles.

The "authors' night" is an annual project of the Philippine Expressions Bookshop, a mail-order importer of books written mostly by Filipino authors and other foreign authors who write about their experiences in the Philippines and with Filipinos. The event precedes the popular Los Angeles Times-sponsored Book Fair held annually in the campus of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in Westwood. "Authors' Night" is a well-attended event that Linda Nietes and her husband, Robert Little, Jr., put every year.

"This book," says Claude, holding a paperback copy of "Food Tour, A Culinary Journal by Claude Tayag," "takes you vicariously all over the Philippines. From the north all the way to the south. I would say it is the best way to see the countryside in the Philippines, next to being there in person." Claude added that "Food Tour" is akin to a tourism book, which talks about their experiences "in simple, plain English." He said the narrative is straightforward and direct. (I still have to read mine, which I had autographed by him). Claude calls these dining places, holes-in-the wall, "they are nothing fancy or sophisticated, and can be found in every town or city in the country."

The food tour took 14 days, beginning with the first leg from Pampanga to Batangas City, in the Southern Tagalog part of Luzon where they took a ferry, in what is called "roll-on-roll off" (Ro-Ro) method of traveling over land and on the bodies of water that separate the islands in the Philippines archipelago. The Tayags drove a pick-up truck, stopping at cities and towns and hunting for the best dining places in some of their destinations. "It took us 14 days to reach the south," Claude recalls. "But there was not one single negative incident that happened to us," Claude narrates. "We traveled in a pick-up, and by day's end, the bed of the truck is usually filled up with produce that we picked up along the way, like durian, mangosteen, and rambutan."

And how do they find the best places to eat? The secret is to have friends in the places that a tourist is visiting. "If you do not have friends in certain places, the next best persons to ask are the jeepney and taxi drivers. "I would ask my friends, if we had one meal to eat in their town, where would it be? Something like that," Claude says. "Or if not, we would ask a jeepney driver or a taxi driver where they would usually eat; after all they are the best persons to ask," Claude said.

Even the notoriously unsavory stories from the south -- the killings, the bombings, and the Muslim insurgency-- did not faze the Tayags from visiting Mindanao. "None of those happened when we were in Mindanao," he said. "I would say, the most ironic thing happened when we were in Mindanao; we received news that there was a bombing in Makati," Claude said chuckling. "People in Mindanao are just as scared to go to Manila."

I asked him about Tony Bourdain, who did a segment on Filipino cuisine in his Travel Channel show, "No Reservations" and Claude had very kind and admiring words for the sharp-tongued chef and writer. "Anthony Bourdain is a very nice person, a persona that is quite contrary to his television image," Claude attests. "He is very polite. He never demanded anything." Claude and some friends were the fortunate Filipinos who took Bourdain to the traditional Pampango restaurants in Pampanga, a food tour that culminated in a sit-down dinner at Claude's own "Bale Dutung" home-restaurant in the city of Angeles, where Bourdain experienced the delights and adventures of partaking in a traditional Filipino dinner that was cooked by Claude himself.

"He (Bourdain) is very courageous; more courageous than some Filipinos, in trying everything that is served to him, and at the same time, he loved it," Claude said.

Next blog: Claude Tayag talks about "Kulinarya," the other book in which he is one of the featured writers, and in which he did the food styling.

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