Friday, January 22, 2010

Music Versus Food at the Prosy and Ike De la Cruz House

This is a tough one to arbitrate. Music versus Food. Treats for the ears versus treats for the stomach. It happened Thursday evening at the mid-city home of Prosy de la Cruz and her husband, Professor Ike de la Cruz. I find myself deciding this poser: who wins, Prosy de la Cruz's cuisine or the music played by an impressive collection of musicians: an accomplished Italian-American violin-maker based in Florence, Italy; an operatic tenor; a medical doctor who is also an acomplished pianist; and four musicians that belong to the Filipino-American Symphony Orchestra (FASO)?

Home chef Prosy had worked up a sweat preparing the entrees for the evening. It consist of a sotanghon-chicken soup, a lettuce-cabbage-chicken salad, braised fillet mignon steaks, steamed broccoli tips with shaved Italian cheese, and a gigantic wild salmon(around 20 lbs.) baked to perfection; and for dessert, sinful cream brulee. Her take on the sotanghon-chicken soup is quite unique, not so much for its taste, but for its preparation.The chicken pieces are chunky, a la chicken arroz caldo, and it is topped with spinach, and made more savory with an ample amount of ginger strips. She says that that she used less sotanghon to reduce the carbohydrates, and to make room for the steamed rice. The baked fillet mignon benefitted from
a brief braising in soy sauce and the beef's natural fat and juices, making the steak reach a degree of doneness that is most welcome to most Filipino palate. I forego the lettuce-cabbage salad in favor of the brocolli spears, and I dabble a few spoonfuls of the fillet mignon's gravy on my steamed rice. Then I cut a little rectangle of meat from the salmon's belly, and I am good to go.

I go to the dining table that the de la Cruzes et up at the study and find myself face-to-face with Jamie Lazzara, the violin-maker. Jamie was born and raised in Pomona, and when she was 19, she had made her dream to become a violin-maker known to the owner of a violin store in Long Beach. To her consternation, she was told that girls did not belong in that trade. So she hies off to Cremona, Italy, where she attended a school of violin-making. She completes the four-year course and followed 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 decides to be a violin-maker and violinist instead of a basktball player.

I can't imagine how it takes four years to learn how to make a violin. But then again, I have not seen a million dollars. Did they have a subject on wood selection? Wood Selection 101, or Using a Knife 201, or how to age European maple and spruce? Surely, her four-year investment is paying its dividends today. She makes four violins a year. Not too many. But if you consider the fact that each of her violins costs a whooping $11,000, it's a huge deal, indeed. Professor Ike de la Cruz, who teaches Asian-American Studies at the California State University-Northridge, can testify to this. He bought a Lazzara violin from Jamie, and it occupies a revered station in their household, probably next to Prosy's cuisine. Ike says that his Lazzara had been to Manila and in some of his family's vacations in various places in North America. Ike is so lucky to own a Lazzara. It is like owning an expensive Mercedes Benz or a BMW. As soon as Jamie had listened to Ike's violin, she tells him it needed some fine-tuning. She immdediately works her magic on Ike's violin. The tune-up is akin to tweaking an expensive car to attain a faster top speed.

While Ike is still learning how to improve as a violinist on his Lazzara, more accomplished violinists like Itzhak Perlman, had already recognized the Lazzara violin. Perlman used one of Jamie's violins during his performance last January at the inauguration of President Barack Obama. As Jamie tells it, it was ten degrees below zero during Obama's inauguration, and Perlman would not risk taking out his Stradivarius because the intense cold could have cracked it. Besides, no violinist in his right mind would treat a centuries-old Stradivarius like a Chinese-made violin.

And speaking of Chinese-made violins, Ike says that he had heard some of them played, and says they are "loud", and can be had for as little as $400. In fact, perusing the Music section of eBay a few years ago, I found a second-hand violin for less than $100. Maybe that was made in China. Jamie says that Italian violins are made of European woods, specifically European maple and spruce. I surmise for their stability.

Tenor Christopher "Pete" Avendano arrives and I introduce him to Dr. Charito Sison, a physician- pianist friend of the De la Cruzes. She learns that Pete is a tenor and tells him that she had brought a few music sheets of some Filipino kundimans, some composed by her late husband, Ramon Sison, who was a medical doctor, musician and composer. I see a duet forming here. I tell her that Pete was lead singer in the first Filipino opera, "Karim at Jasmin", written by librettist and composer Dr. Ramon Sison-Geluz (no relations to her). I knew they would play and sing together after dinner.

I conclude my dinner with a cup of cream brulee that I heard was being served in the kitchen, then I prepare myself for a musical treat;an impromptu concert, if you will. Prosy call it jamming. Musicians are pretty much like artists and photographers. Well, more like photographers. Gather them together and they will make music, even unrehearsed. Gather a handful of photographers, and they will talk endlessly about the virtues of this or that camera, for hours on end. The musicians do not need to know each other. They only need to know how to play their music instrument. FASO director, Maestro Bob Shroder came with his flute, and the FASO guitarist, with his 7-string guitar, and Pete Avendano, his vocal cords. Prosy and Ike have a Yamaha piano, and their beautiful wood-floored house has excellent acoustics.
The stage is set for a night of jazz, classical, and folk music.

Pete Avendano is a hit, with his major pipes easily negotiating the highs and lows of a Filipino kundiman with Charito Sison. Bob Shroder and a FASO guitarist and a violinist collaborated on a Antonio Carlos Jobim bossa nova number that transports us to the 60s; and Giovanni (Jamie's Italian friend) performs an irreverent Italian fok song, a cappella, which Jamie translates. There are many, unforgettable numbers, and probably many more that my wife and I missed, as we had to leave before the soiree ended.

There are no losers. Everything from the dinner to the hospitality of the De la Cruzes, to the different music genres performed, are winners. As for Prosy's the gastronomic creations? They made me a believer in her passion and dedication to cooking.

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