Fine Food High. Dining Up in Baguio’s Manor

Baguio City

Baguio City (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Like a phoenix, the former American rest and recreation facility of Camp John Hay in the chilly hilltop city of Baguio in northern Luzon has risen out of the ashes of a devastating earthquake in 1990 and the withdrawal of the United States Air Force in 1991. It has now metamorphosed into a top destination for vacationers with its 5001 yard par 69 golf course designed by Jack Nicklaus, picnic grounds, eco-trails, and other leisure and tourist facilities. But the brightest jewel in the Camp’s cap is undoubtedly the Manor. The four-storey structure, designed to stand in harmony amidst its setting of towering pine trees and views of the majestic Cordillera mountain range, offers five-star service and world-class amenities. Its rich interiors of warm wood evoke the feel of Baguio at its most welcoming best. Above everything, what the Manor offers that really gets people to brave a trek up the zigzags road to get to Camp John Hay are the gastronomic delights at its premier dining outlet Le Chef. The “baby” of talented and charismatic superchef Billy King, Le Chef at the Manor has arisen as a de rigeur gourmand’s destination. The force and flair behind Manila fine dining institution Le Souffle, Chef Billy started cooking as a young boy in Ireland and proceeded to hone his craft in various top-drawer kitchens around the world. He then came to the Philippine where his heart found its home. “I think I’m more Pinoy than most Pinoys,” Billy reflects. “It’s fantastic being in the Philippines. This country has been so good to me. It has given me everything I have. And that’s happiness.” He unabashedly gushes about the friendships and opportunities he has found here and to his fellow expats he counsels: “Get to know as many Pinoys as possible. They’re fun. They love to party, sing and dance. And most importantly they love to eat. “

Chef Billy relates how his friends, Manor bigwigs Tito Avenceña and Heiner Muelbecker, approached him to take over as their head food and beverage man. He loved the idea, since it gave him the opportunity to get away from the exhausting hustle and bustle and intense competition in Manila.

The way Chef Billy operates is he relies on several key people who he trusts. He prefers to hire people who need a break, either jobless or novices. He runs his kitchen like a school. There is always 20 percent more staff than necessary, all undergoing constant training. To keep things fresh and innovative, Chef Billy believes in always mixing things up, never sticking to a regular dish or menu, or any fixed specialties. And despite his deep foundation in classical French cooking and huge respect for his profession, Mr. King still displays quite the rebellious streak. “I can’t follow rules. I break every rule in the book,” he admits.

But there’s one thing that Chef Billy never screws around with, and that’s the importance of good food. “Food is what I love. You can call it an obsession in a way,” he states passionately. “I hate to see food wasted and people that don’t care about food. When I get a complaint it breaks my heart and stays with me for days. It really hurts. I can only apologize and hope I’m given a second chance. But most have given me a second chance.”

With the orgasmically delicious dishes Mr. King seems to consistently dream up with ease, one can’t help but keep coming back to his cooking, not just twice, but multiple times. Who can resist the chance to check out his latest yummy concoction? “We’re always upgrading and changing, adapting our menu according to the seasons,” he explains. Being in Baguio allows him to be even more adventurous and ambitious. “There’s plenty of everything in the market. We create specialties from what we have here. I challenge my staff to do something different, come up with ideas and put something together. It’s good for them and for me. I can’t stand doing the same thing everyday.”

English: The replica of the Statue of Liberty ...

English: The replica of the Statue of Liberty in Camp John Hay in Baguio (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chef Billy and Manor General Manager Heiner Muelbecker’s next venture is the soon-to-open Manor Suites, a lavishly appointed structure rising beside the current Manor. Like a boy with a new toy, Billy enthusiastically talks about their plans for their re-imagining of the legendary 19th Tee diner which all aficionados of the old pre-quake Baguio remember with fondness and profoundly miss with an intense nostalgia. The Manor team has been hard at work on a 19th Tee for the new breed of Baguio-lovers. The kitchen is being built and menu being developed according to Chef Billy’s exacting and inventive specifications. “The menu will be very versatile,” he reveals. “I’m a great believer that not only adults, but also children should be given the option to eat healthy food. I’ve been working on a way to do affordable, healthy, quality fast food for a long time.” He does reassure us though that innovations aside, the diner will still feature the good old original American-era favorites nostalgia-hounds are sure to crave, like hamburgers, chilli dogs, and ice cream. And soda fountain buffs are sure to appreciate one detail where the new Tee will definitely improve on the old, Chef Billy reveals that they’ll be churning up their very own homemade ice cream. Cool Baguio weather and homemade ice cream, what more of an excuse does one need to move up to the Manor?

-text by Jude Defensor. first published in What’s On & Expat Newspaper, 2007

Disc-o-vering Jay: Odyssey’s Jay Fonacier

Local music retailing store stalwart Odyssey’s top guy Jay Fonacier shares his spin on life in the biz of trading tunes

On Work:

I juggle twenty things in a day, It’s my personality and also my skill, I wouldn’t be happy just doing one thing. I’m way too hands on. In fact I wish I were doing some work right now.

On Music:

I’m a real music guy, growing up I used to spend my entire allowance on records. The love of music keeps me going because retail is really challenging. You have to get fulfilment from hearing about new bands, going to concerts, and seeing hit artists fly off the shelves.

On the Digital Future:

Being a child of the 1980s I’m not totally digital yet, CDs are still my favored medium, But I have a kick-ass vinyl collection and I still have the mix tapes I made for high school girlfriends.

Besides piracy, our greatest challenge these days comes from digital downloads. We try to make the store and the products more attractive so people keep coming in. But I’ve been spending a lot of my time preparing for a digital future. We’re putting up our own download site and introducing these interactive digital kiosks into our stores. Now you can listen to an unlimited amount of music before you buy. It’s the start of an evolution to an age where everything’s more digital.

I look forward to a future where a customer would come in and he could browse through the whole catalog, choose whatever he wants, and we produce the CD for him. Since it’s all bits and bytes, it really does away with our problems regarding inventory. We could have a fantastic store where we just beam music into your portable music device.

Worst case: Nobody buys physical product anymore and they’re all downloading it for free. Nobody pays for anything digital

Best case: We’ll be there with the most popular format that the market consumes music and media in the future

On Piracy:

I think that the pirates have a pretty comprehensive offering. They’re quite creative and resourceful, I have to give them that. They have a good idea, it’s convenient. But we want to improve upon that, to offer something that’s more exciting, but legal. As the Philippine economy progresses, there should be less tolerance for piracy.

If I had my way I’d crush them under a steamroller with me driving while wearing a hardhat. They’re freaking playing dirty. I’d bury them under all the fake CDs they’ve produced. Or I’d force them to listen to really bad 1980s heavy metal, hairspray American guitar rock like Poison and Nelson.

On the Music Business:

The market is really primarily a hot hits market, it’s not very deep or into multiple genres. There are times when we tried all these titles, but they wouldn’t sell. We really have to focus on our high inventory, high turnover popular products.

A major record label may have a total of around 20 new releases out in a month, but they’ll only let 3 or 4 trickle down to the Philippine market, the rest will never hit our shores because of shipment issues. I’d like it to be more like the book industry where you can release a greater variety of material and see what really catches on. The bottleneck is the distribution policy of the major labels. Being able to release more product for the ears is what I’d really like to change.

We don’t have many niche radio stations. With the internet hopefully more people get to hear more kinds of music and the labels will be ok with trying out more vanguard, exotic titles and categories, and there’d be more radio stations for the independent listener. Hopefully they make it easy for us retailers to show them this variety. We’re only reacting to their policy that we have to keep it mainstream.

I’m happy with how some of these local indie record labels have been coming up. People have been asking after them. We want more bands of that ilk to succeed.

When there’s a certain title we really want to push, we’ll rack it out and make sure that even a blind person won’t be able to not check it out. Sometimes we’ve been successful.

You gotta support local artists. There’s this whole OPM resurgence. People think that these corporate juggernauts make so much money but that’s not really true. These guys take a lot of risks, I respect what they do. They take a bet on twenty artists and only a couple will bear fruit. Digital sort of takes out the risk in that. It’s important to show bands our support through legal means, whether physical or digital. If you guys love your music you should take a stand. Keep the ecosystem going.

Profits aside, if I could go crazy I’d just stock the stores with so many genres. Let them be a place where anybody could come in, from the coolest Brit bands to all these Brazilian samba labels. I’ll just pack them in with everything, with something for everyone.

-interview by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved. first published in Manual magazine, 2007

Man in a High Place: HP Philippines CEO Nilo Cruz

Nilo Cruz is a distinguished veteran of the wild world of high-tech mega-corporations. A loyal workhorse for IBM who then turned to running Compaq Philippines, a company he had driven to record growth just before its parent company was absorbed into the HP behemoth, Philippine IT pundits had speculated that Cruz’s chances of staying on top post-merge seemed remote, and so his ascension to HP Philippines chief was quite the stunner in an already surprise-filled saga.

Nilo took this all in his stride without missing a beat. “I never stopped looking back, but I kept on moving forward – so one step forward, two steps backward, review, learn, then move again,” is how he puts it.

It’s this continuous drive to improve himself as a boss that probably makes him such a good one. “You want to further grow, maybe there’s something different in the future,” he stresses. “So you want to prepare for it, but since you don’t know yet what’s coming, you just have to really try whatever you can. It may be products, services, competition, management, new approaches, challenges, whatever is new. If there’s any training in terms of management, I’d like to get it. If I can get hold of it, I will.”

Although most people would think that Nilo has climbed as high up the corporate ladder as one could possibly aspire to, he doesn’t believe in resting at the summit. He feels a responsibility to keep working to uplift the team he leads. “Never stop developing people because they’re the ones that will push you up, rather than pull you down. Aside from my family, they inspire me as well,” he acknowledges.

Nilo is the antithesis of the ivory tower CEO holed up his corner office. “I don’t really stay in my room so much. I’m a cubicle manager, I work with the staff, I share jokes with them, I share problems with them.  They know where I’m coming from. I can be nice but I can also be nasty. But of course, that’s the last thing I want to be.”

Absorbing, interpreting, and sharing knowledge is what seems to be key in the IT biz according to Nilo. “You get training from the companies you work with, you learn from other companies, from other countries. They also try to learn from us because we have a more challenging environment. So over the years I try to apply them. I watch the way the competition works, see how I can learn from their mistakes.”

Nilo was able to spin even the notorious Fiorina fiasco into more of a boon than a bane for HP, somewhat proving the old adage that there’s no such thing as bad publicity. “Since it didn’t affect our business here, which is my concern, I moved on. But it kept HP in the industry’s mind for a while. So every time I’d go to the doctor’s, or to cocktails and parties, people would come up to me and say that they’d read an article on what was happening at HP, and I’d tell them to check how HP stock moves. And the next day they’d see it go higher. So I’d say: ‘That’s what I’m monitoring more than what I see on CNN or in the press.’”

Nilo remains unruffled by the goings-on at the top ranks of HP headquarters and like all good mentors, is ready to pass on the baton when necessary. “Wherever I am I always try to develop someone who can replace me because I know I won’t be here forever,” he admits. “It’s nice to give back to the company the good graces that they have shared with me and not leave a vacuum. And in fairness to the people who have helped me meet my objectives, I want to make sure that they also look forward to getting a crack at my job. That’s one thing that I’m not going to be selfish about.”

Mr. Cruz’s commitment to HP, or any of his endeavors, really comes across in how he talks about himself and his company. But as the Filipino CEO of a foreign corporation, Nilo’s strongest allegiance is still to his country.

“First you have to remain focused, you have to play a role model, you have to learn how to be a bridge between the country and the regional headquarters,” he explains. “You have to represent your country well, both the business and human resources part.  You have to defend what you believe in, which is unique to thePhilippines.”

As head of the company, he has to make sure that he delivers the company objectives as regularly as possible, quite a challenge given our economic and political situation. But Nilo believes that we all need to rise to the challenge. He relates how at a speech he gave for a commencement exercise, he dared the students to stay here and make a difference. “That’s easier said than done, but you’ve got to make a decision. When you go abroad you either make it or don’t. And if you come back you’ve lost time, you’ve lost momentum.”

He encourages all Filipinos not to go for the easy dollar, to find simple contentment in those so-called greener pastures. “You can’t have it all. You have to accept that. But you can have something better, or something similar. Count your blessings, that’s what I always say,” he counsels.

Nilo hopes to stir the Filipino youth’s entrepreneurial spirit. “You can start small, from a thousand bucks,” he argues. “Those people who are big now, where did they start? They were working students! If you read their histories, they borrowed money to be able to start their businesses and look at them right now.  So if they were able to do it, what is the difference? What sacrifice did they do that our youths aren’t doing right now?”

Nilo singles out for admiration those people who he finds “more balanced”, who spend their time trying to help the country while running good businesses and practicing good governance and social responsibility at the same time.  He wants to challenge more organizations to espouse love of country. “Rather than loving one’s club, region or family, I want it love for the Philippines.  I still have to see – not tourism ads – but messages of loving the country, of pursuing what Rizal died for, or Bonifacio, or the rest that followed.”

However, Nilo also does have a more down-to-earth and not-so-secret pipe dream for himself beyond the business world.

“I’ve been sharing with my friends that one day I’d want to have a farm. I have a green thumb and I like doing gardens.  But I’m only limited to my house garden now.”

So it may not actually be too out of the ordinary to see this CEO trade in his business suit and PDA for a rake and shovel. “They say my skin color’s like this not because of golf. I got burnt in the field.  It’s a joke but it’s true.”

-text by Jude Defensor, first published in Manual magazine, 2006

Minding Your Business

Murky Laws

How do you start and run a successful business? Well, you’ve got thousands of different books, videos, seminars, college and post-grad courses costing up to hundreds of thousands of pesos and that’ll take thousands of hours for you to go through and digest. But right here, the cost of this magazine, we go all yoda on all you budding entrepreneurs’ asses. Mixing metaphors and barking aphorisms like a drill sergeant, we serve you successful business principles, sound-bite style.

Financial Foreplay

Being in business should be like sex: Enjoy it. Get a feel for it. Take it easy. Don’t rush.

Make a game of your business. Don’t get into the same rut day in and day out.

Build a Base

Customer service is key. Always keep the client’s best interest in mind. Treat them like kings & queens and they’ll come to you and won’t want to go away.

Plot your Path

Analyze your dreams. Target what you want to accomplish in life & business

Once you know for sure what your goals are

Establish short range goals (1 month to 6 months), medium range goals (6 months to 1 year), and long term goals.

Then make a road map from point A to point B. (start to finish). Write down all the possible pit stops or obstacles that will be in your way. Mark each pit stop with the projected date of when that particular hurdle should be crossed.

Standing Out

Be original & be yourself. Do what you want to do.

Do research. Then do even more research.

Don’t copy your competition. Be creative. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box.

Staying On Top

Once you’ve got yourself up and running, don’t be in a hurry to get rich. Don’t get greedy.

Procrastination is a huge negative.

Be consistent. Consistently fine tune your goals & dreams.

Give back to the community.

Lastly, don’t get caught f-ing the petty cash or f-ing with the secretary.

And don’t listen to just one source.

-compiled, adapted and edited by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved. first published as pilot for column Minding Your Business in Manual magazine, 2006

Tales of the Taciturn Temptress

first published in Blubook magazine, 2004

Jane Umali proudly answers to the titles of supermodel, single mom, and business woman. But as for temptress, she isn’t quite sure. “I’ve never been put into a situation where I had to tempt someone. I’m not like that,” she admits.

As far as Jane is concerned, getting her guy doesn’t really require that much effort.
“What I do if I like someone is I just look at them, I can get them with a look,” she reveals. “I don’t need to walk, light a cigarette, or flip my hair, my eyes are powerful enough. I believe that even if you’re not a model you can say everything with your eyes.”

And this was exactly how Jane has lured her previous suitors. In fact, she snagged one of her ex-boyfriends using nothing else but her legendary gaze. “We were at a bar that was so full of people, but there was this one moment where our eyes met,” she recounts. “I looked at him without malice, but then he approached me and asked me if I liked to dance. And he told me that the reason why he approached me is because I looked at him. But I didn’t even put any effort into it.”

Jane makes it clear that she’s no predator. “Even if I really like a guy, I don’t make the first move,” she declares. “Maybe I’ll just ask a friend to introduce me. When a guy is already my boyfriend, then maybe I’ll cook for him to show my affection.”

And what type of man does Jane feel deserve to taste her cooking? “The guy should be adventurous and do different things,” she states. “I scuba dive and go mountain climbing, so I like daredevils. But I want to be able to have a nice conversation with a guy. If he’s a man who can teach me things, who can make me mad, and make me curious. Then I’ll find him interesting.”

It’s what’s bubbling inside that matters to Jane, and not the glossy surface. “I’m more into the person. I’ve never been particular about looks,” she reveals. “If you’ve seen my previous boyfriends, they’re not all good-looking.”

Supermodels all have to start out somewhere, and Jane got her first break not far from home. “When I was 17, Bobby Novenario discovered me because we were neighbors,” she relates. “I joined contests, the Mutya ng Pilipinas, Supermodel. From there, I did runway, then print and commercials.”

Striking, statuesque, and game for anything, the vivacious Jane easily conquered the modeling scene. “I guess I was a favorite at the time,” she muses. “But I didn’t let it go to my head. I don’t really know what sets me apart. I never really thought of myself as spectacular. I was just one of the models. Joey Espino said that if you’re a model then every aspect of your life, whatever you do, you have to show to the people that you’re a model, even if you’re just walking on the street or buying something from the store. But I’m not like that.”

Throughout her extensive and colorful modeling career, one incident still stands out in Jane’s memory. “During my time, seniority was a big deal,” she discloses. “Once, all my stockings had runs. And all the other models were trying to scare me that Ben Farrales would scold me because of that. I wanted to borrow stockings but nobody would lend me any. I’d always lend my things to other models but when it was my turn to borrow something nobody helped me. My momentum was ruined, instead of being able to concentrate on stage on how I should project and walk, I was terrified about getting scolded for not having stockings. That was the worst. But from there I learned to be able to stand up for myself. Because if you don’t people will walk all over you.”

Not one to bow down to convention, Jane has always stood tall, and continues to live it up at an age when a lot of women, and models in particular, are content to settle down and rest on their laurels. “I still have a lot of plans,” she shares. “I don’t think you should ever stop. I feel like I haven’t done half of what I want to achieve.” And to her mind, she has little to regret as well. On the contrary, Jane has definitely earned the right to hold her lovely head high. “Having kids is what I’m most proud of,” she declares. “I’m proud of my titles, being a Supermodel of the Philippines, and a Mutya ng Pilipinas. I also have my own business.”

Even Jane’s friends spare no compliments in their admiration of her. “Men love to explore knowing her because she spells excitement, adventure, and stability,” raves a close pal. “She’s a friend for all time. She’s always there for you.”

Although she can certainly pull it off, Jane is no diva, and has no qualms about letting her hair down. “I’m flexible, if you want sosyalan, I’m up for it,” she maintains. “But I can also eat fishballs on the street, even if I’m wearing a sexy outfit. Some people may find me very intimidating in the beginning, but when you get to know me, I’m cool with anyone.”

It may not be evident from Blubook’s phenomenal photos that Jane was recruited for the pictorial on very short notice. But like the consummate professional that she is, Jane stepped up to the challenge and took it to the next level. As far as she was concerned, playing the seductress for us at Blubook was a piece of cake. “At first, I was really excited because it’s been a while since my last pictorial,” gushes Jane. “It’s the first time after my pregnancy that I’ve played sexy and worn clothes and makeup like that again. It was so sudden, and it was at a really weird time. And I had no idea what my outfit was going to look like and how daring it was supposed to be. But it was very fun.”

The alluring vixen who emerged at the shoot surprised us all and even Jane herself. “I may already be a mom but I can still justify wearing those outfits,” beams Jane. “I gave them what they wanted and they got it.”

For Jane, this pictorial has given her the opportunity to prove that a woman can raise her kids by herself and still look good regardless of all the pressure and stress. Despite having to deal with all the responsibilities of a working single mom, “you can still look like a model, and even be a model,” she affirms. And one look is enough to make us all agree.

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