Friday, January 29, 2010

An Evening of Food and Music at the De la Cruz Home

This is a self-imposed assignment: rate the food and the music served up at the mid-city home of my friend and colleague Prosy de la Cruz and her husband, Professor Ike de la Cruz. I would be more at ease rating the entrees that home chef Prosy spent the whole day preparing, but I do not feel that I have the expertise to comment on the music, which was offered up by an impressive group of Fil-Am musicians. (But I will throw in my five cent's worth, anyway). The musicans are top-shelf caliber. Four are members of the newly-constituted Filipino-American Symphony Orchestra (FASO), an operatic singer, and a pianist who is also a physician.

Prosy had worked up a sweat preparing the entrees for last Thurday evening's soiree. They consist of a sotanghon-chicken soup, a lettuce-cabbage-chicken salad, braised filet mignon steaks, steamed brocolli tips with shaved Italian mozarella cheese, and a gigantic wild salmon (around 20 lbs.) baked to perfection; and for dessert, iressistible cream brulee. Prosy's take on the sotanghon-chicken soup is quite unique, not so much for the taste, but for the preparation. The chicken pieces are chunky (not pulled), a la chicken arroz caldo, and it is topped with spinach, and made richer with an ample amount of ginger strips. Prosy tells us that she used less sotanghon (cellophane noodles) to reduce the carbohydrate content of the soup; that way we could make room for the steamed rice. When she e-mailed me the invitation, she modestly told me that she would only cook a salmon. So my wife and I came in not expecting a huge feast.

The filet mignon, already baked to doneness, benefitted from a brief braising in a soy sauce mix, making them more tender and really acceptable to Pinoy palates that do not favor meat baked rare. I forego the salad in favor of the brocolli tips, and I dabble a few spoonfuls of the filet mignon's sligthly fatty gravy on my steamed rice. Then I cut a little rectangle of salmon meat from the salmon's belly, and I am good to go.

At the dining table that Ike and Prosy set up in the study I find myself face-to-face with Jamie Lazzara, the evening's special guest. Jamie is a master violin-maker who is vacationing from her violin-making shop in Tuscany, Italy. Jamie is a born-and-raised Southern Californian from Pomona. When she was 19 years old, she had wanted to be a violin-maker, and she had made that known to the owner of a violin store in Long Beach. But to her disappointment, she was told that girls do not belong in the violin-making craft. Jamie hied off to Cremona, Italy, where she attended a violin-making school. She completed the four-year course and arrived at her dream.

Jamie is a very tall girl. If she were to play women's basketball, she would be a center. But, fortunately for the music world, she decided to be a violinist and violin-maker instead. When she told us that it took four years to learn how to be a violin-maker, I was astonished. Did they have a subject on wood selection, or how to wield a carving knife and a wood saw? How to age European spruce and maple woods? Surely, her four-year investment in time and money is now paying off. She makes four violins a year, at around $11,000 each. Not that many. But if you consider how much each Lazzara violin costs, it's a huge deal, indeed. Professor Ike de la Cruz, who teaches Asian-American Studies at California State University, Northridge (CSUN), can attest to this. He bought a violin from Jamie, and from what I hear, it occupies a revered station in the De la Cruz household, probably next to Prosy's home-cooking.

Ike tells us that his Lazzara violin had been with him on vacations in various places in North America, and last year, when he and Prosy vacationed in Manila, the Lazzara went with them.

Ike is so privileged to own a Lazzara as he is in great company, like world-reknowned American violinist Itzhak Perlman, who played a Lazzara violin at President Barack Obama's inauguration last year. As Jamie tells us, it was ten degrees below zero, and Perlman did not risk using his Stradivarius because the extreme cold could have cracked it. Besides, no violinist in his right mind would treat a centuries-old Stradivarius like a cheap, commercial grade one. Jamie claims that Italian violins are solely made of European spruce and maple for their stability.

Tenor Christopher "Pete" Avendano arrives and I introduce him to pianist Dr. Charito Sison, a friend of the De la Cruzes. I tell her that Pete was lead in the original cast of opera "Karim at Jasmin", written by librettist and composer Dr. Ramon Sison-Geluz (no relations to Dr. Sison). There is instant connection between the two musicians, and I can tell they would sing and play soon.

I conclude my satisfying dinner with a serving of cream brulee, then I get ready for the musical treat that is coming in a few minutes. Prosy calls it jamming. Musicians can be likened to photographers and artists. Gather them together and they would talk shop at the drop of a hat. This coterie of musicians is no different: they are eager to jam. Musicians do not have to know each other; they only need their instruments to communicate with each other. The product is spontaneous music that touches one's soul. FASO director Bob Shroder whips out a flute; guitarist and Charmaine Clamor accompanist Rick Ickard hauls out a unique 7-string acoustic guitar; and violinists Lito Molina and Andy Tecson share the use of Ike's Lazzara violin. Tenor Pete Avendano unleashes his major pipes; and Dr. Charito Sison tickles the piano keys. Ike and Prosy's Yamaha piano and their house's excellent acoustics complemented the slowly building crescendo.

The stage is set for an evening of enchanting music: kundiman, opera, classical, folk, jazz and bossa nova. This is a major entertainment and culinary occasion. I would have kicked myself if I missed the opportunity to be here.

Pete is a sensatiion with his soaring tenor which he calmly utilized to negotiate the peaks and valleys of a whole gamut of musical genre, from kundimans to opera. Bob Shroder, Ric Ickard and Lito Molina collaborated on a bossa nova composition of Antonio Carlos Jobim; each musician exhibiting his virtousity. Giovanni, Jamie's Italian companion, indulged us with an a capella rendition of a bawdy Italian folk song that Jamie interpreted in English. Jamie played two Italian folk songs on Ike's violin, and Ike performed a kundiman, accompanied by Dr. Sison and Pete. There are numerous unforgettable musical numbers, and many more that my wife and I missed because we had to leave before the soiree ended.

The evening was an absolute success, from what I have seen and heard. Everything from the delicious dinner to the hospitality of the De la Cruzes, to the music performed by excellent musicians, are winners. As for Prosy's home-cooking? They made me a believer in her passion and dedication to the culinary arts. Here's a toast to foodies everywhere!


jonathan lazzara said...

Jamie grew up in Los Alamitos, not Pomona.

Rene Villaroman said...

Thanks for the information, Jonathan.