“Tirar la casa por la ventana”: The Filipino hosts and their entertaining

It would be his birthday and he had asked his 30 closest friends to come for “a little dinner.”  Because his parties are always such wonderful occasions, no one declined.  Since his place is outside the metro, he asked us to be there by 5.30pm.

Marivic and I decided to have a convoy, although I rode with her so we could chat during the long ride.  It was a Sunday afternoon, and traffic was mercifully light.  We left Makati at 2.30pm.  We arrived at 4.00pm, without really knowing that our invitation was for 5.30pm.  His numerous staff carried our things into the house.  We were assigned the big guest bedroom.  Marivic had brought her personal assistant Mary Jane to help her dress.  Our host was in his palazzo-style bathroom, he had just finished bathing and was getting dressed assisted by his valets.

Curious about the dinner party preparations, Marivic and I wandered around the vast “little house” and into the hotel-style kitchen where there was a flurry of activity.  The numberless, uniformed staff was busy and all over the place.  We met the new head chef of the family, a 40ish Filipino-American who had taken his culinary studies at Cornell, and had actually worked at Thomas Keller’s “The French Laundry” at Yountville, at Alice Waters’ “Chez Panisse” in Berkeley, and other top restaurants.  He was very friendly and although very busy, he took the time to explain the dinner menu to us as well as offered samples of the exquisite hors d’ oeuvres that would be served during cocktails.  Marivic and I happily accepted our de facto merienda and nibbled away at the savories.

It was already a big kitchen by contemporary standards (indeed a commodious house unto itself), and it could hold long tables where the chefs could prepare dozens of plated dishes for multicourse dinners.  One side was entirely covered by antique cabinets filled with wonderful antique glassware and chinaware.   But I was surprised at the fact that it was still insufficient space for a sitdown dinner for 36 pax, service ala Russe.  Hence, the preparation area for the dinner with table after table extended to the back hallways and the service areas of the big “little house.”  I even accidentally bumped lightly into a table with several exquisite, antique crystal decanters which were to be used for the wines that evening;  good thing nothing was damaged.

The countless staff rushed to and fro.  Easily 200 of them.

I completely understood and enjoyed the complicated dinner party preparations (as long as I am not the one giving/hosting the fabulous dinner), and so did my good friend, who must have witnessed, hosted, and experienced much more as a heiress, a member of one of the country’s richest and most hallowed families.

“You can’t entertain like this without staff, more staff, and lots of staff!!!”  I commented.

“That’s true.”

We wandered into the dark and cool dining room, with its long mahogany table elaborately set for 36 pax.  36 place settings on a proper linen damask tablecloth with linen damask napkins, silver chargers, multiple silver flatware, and multiple crystal stemware.  The center of the table was occupied by big porcelain decorations adorned with fresh blooms, various French porcelain vases bearing fresh roses, and interesting carved candles.  Three crystal chandeliers lit the long room discreetly.  The dinner would be a French degustation, service ala Russe.  Naughtily and merrily, and rather improperly, we looked for our places at the table and looked at the place cards of who else would be there.  “Opap,”  “Johnny,”  “Manny,”  “Arnie,”  “Helen,”  “Cora,”  “Patis,”  “Tito,”  “Gop,”  “Snooky,”  “Tonying,”  “Ingrid,”  “Raul,”  “Reynaldo,” et al.  What fun!!!

We enjoyed watching the elaborate “backstage” dinner preparations as it reminded both of us of how our families entertained back in those days…  It was “deja vu”…

I imagined that it was quite like a “Le Grand Couvert” of Louis XIV at Versailles…  or a dinner at Baron James de Rothschild at his rue Lafite townhouse in Paris…  or a dinner at the van der Luydens’ for the Duke of Saint Austrey in Edith Wharton’s novel “Age of Innocence”…  It was a production on the scale of Cecil de Mille or Sergei Bondarchuk…

“No one does it like this anymore…”  Marivic said.

“Tita Chito…  Tito Luis!!!  Even Mommy.  Even when we were in the US.  But when we returned…  she had tired of entertaining like this.”  she continued.  (Consuelo “Chito” Madrigal-Vazquez-Collantes, Arch Luis Maria Zaragoza Araneta, Maria Luisa “Ising” Madrigal-Vazquez.)

I recalled:  “We don’t do it like this anymore.  But I enjoyed it for some 35 years.  We did during the lifetime of my Lola Charing and then during Bro Andrew’s heyday.   He passed away in early 2006, and even then no longer during his last years…

“But I’m sure you and your M cousins still do it this way…”  I conjectured.

“Not really.  Oh, there’s always a lot of good food.  Tables set with good plates, glasses, silver.  Buffet.”  Marivic related.

“It’s 2015.  I wonder if anybody has the time to plan, execute, and host these affairs…”  I mused.

“One can have these elegant dinners catered.  But the true luxury is in having everything in your own house (or houses, as the case may be):  great food and wine, a large and efficient household staff, many sets of French and English china, crystal, and silver.  Beautiful linens.  Suitable after-dinner entertainment.  Old master, modern, and contemporary paintings, antique and contemporary furniture, Eastern and European rugs, flowers from the garden.  The works…”  I thought aloud.

*unfinished*

10 Comments

  1. enrique bustos said,

    August 23, 2015 at 2:56 am

    ‘Bebe’ Virata–the world my sister knew is gone
    By: Bambi Harper

    The author delivered this eulogy on July 20, for her sister Maria Theresa Lammoglia Virata.

    My sister loved Our Lady. She was deeply devoted to Mary and whenever she would attend Mass (which was every day), she would wear white with a blue sash around her waist.

    When she was brought back to the hospital Thursday morning due to pneumonia, it seemed the following day would be her last.

    But I believe my sister was waiting for Saturday, it being Our Lady’s day.

    As her blood pressure fell and her breathing became more labored, my prayer to the Blessed Mother that Saturday night was for her to come and take her daughter home. And, indeed, Mary did.

    At 11:55 p.m., with five minutes to spare, my sister left us for the last time.

    All things beautiful

    What I remember most about our houses when I was growing up was that they were always full of books.

    My mother, Segunda, passed on to us a love of reading, but my first books (that I still have) came from my sister Bebe—fairy tales, nursery rhymes and the three books of Winnie the Pooh.

    These, in turn, I passed on to my children who, perhaps with one exception, are all readers.

    My sister never lost her love of books until she became too sick.

    Her legacy included a love of all things beautiful. She was later known as a collector but actually, she just loved beauty.

    It didn’t matter if an object was old or new. You could see that in her house. True, it was sort of jumbled but what she had were always things of beauty.

    She belonged to the era of great collectors like Lindy Locsin, “Tito” Luis Araneta and Dr. Arturo de Santos.

    There were so many statues of santos in the house in Parañaque it was actually spooky at night.

    If she wanted a Mass said in the house, she had all the paraphernalia—chalices, monstrance and patens, candelabras and antique priests’ robes that were falling apart. Not to mention retablos and remilletes, thuribles, silver frontales and crucifixes in all shapes and sizes. She even had a bishop’s chair.

    The time she started collecting was a source of great amusement among her friends. What did she see in all those decrepit, dilapidated, old and antiquated furnishings and images?

    But with the rise in the prices of Philippine antiques, she had the last laugh.

    When her husband died, I suggested she sell all those antiques and enjoy herself—go back to school, travel, rid herself of possessions.

    She gave me a side glance and told me to leave her alone. She would be buried, she said, in one of her Ming bathtubs.

    I think she had three or four seated mummies from Sagada, surrounded by her favorite porcelain pieces from the Tang, Sung and Ming eras.

    Five hundred years hence, some archaeologist would find her and be thoroughly bewitched, bothered and bewildered. You can see how her mind worked.

    The first time I went to New York, she said I had to go to the Metropolitan Museum first, and only afterwards to Saks Fifth Avenue—that palace of consumerism or beauty, depending on your point of view.

    Christmas

    To this day I love department store displays, especially at Christmas. I can no more think of Christmas and not remember my sister. It was her special time.

    When she chose a present, she would make sure it was something you would like. She would never buy just anything para cumplir, as they say.

    She would shop for hours at Christmas time and Mang Igto would wrap at least a hundred presents.

    The table in the library in Parañaque would groan with the weight of crystals, silver, evening bags and books, always books.

    She never gave only one present, usually it was two or three. And if, by chance, she missed the Christmas deadline, there was always Three Kings, Chinese New Year, even Easter.

    What else can be said of my sister? She was generous to a fault. That is, if she loved you. There was no middle ground here. She either loved you to death or couldn’t stand to see your face.

    At Christmas there would be black squid sauce for the pasta (my father’s recipe), stuffed turkey, castañas and boxes of fruits, especially cherries—her favorite—and lots of cakes.

    There was a Douglas pine sent from the States that would remain fully lit until Easter when the needles began to turn brittle and yellow. It all reminded me of a latter-day Miss

    Havisham from “Great Expectations.”

    Was it excessive? Yes. Was it because of the deprivation of the war? Maybe.

    Anybody who knew her knew that she loved chocolates, ice cream and cakes with a passion. She looked forward every December to David Choy’s present of See’s chocolates from San Francisco.

    Chocolate cake was surely her supreme favorite, and Magnum ice cream when it was introduced here.

    My son, Miguel, claims that it was his aunt who instilled in him a love of chocolates and desserts, to the detriment of his waistline.

    She loved local fruit trees. Her garden (not the manicured type) had coconuts, camachile, atis, santol, guavas and granada. Sampaguita bloomed. An ilang-ilang tree gave a wonderful fragrance at dusk until it was felled by a typhoon. Her altar always had these flowers from the garden for Our Lady.

    Manila Bay

    The world my sister knew is gone, like most of the people who lived then.

    She wanted her ashes strewn in Manila Bay. I imagine it was because it was the Manila Bay of her youth that she remembered.

    As we bid my sister farewel

  2. enrique bustos said,

    July 21, 2015 at 7:11 am

    At parties given by the late Don Luis Araneta guest who overstay expect to not to go home without the well loved callos prepared by the family cook Arsenio Tobias. The late Luis Araneta inherited Arsenio from Giovanni Sanna the Italian tailor of Pierre Cardin Manila when he emigrated back to his home land.

    At 47 Balete Drive in New Manila the house of Don Vicente Madrigal Damiano holds fort in the kitchen preparing Spanish-Filipino dishes for the Madrigal family and their guests.

  3. July 1, 2015 at 8:01 am

    Bianca:

    You can tell me right here. Or you can email me at augustomrgonzaleziii@yahoo.com . Or Facebook “Toto Gonzalez.”

    Toto Gonzalez

  4. Bianca Salonga said,

    June 30, 2015 at 9:10 am

    Dear Mr Gonzalez,

    This is Bianca Salonga of Lifestyle Asia. Do you have an email where I may reach you? Looking forward to hearing back from you soon!

  5. enrique bustos said,

    April 4, 2015 at 6:28 pm

    Don Luis Ma Araneta was fond of giving lavish parties he was very particular about his guests he made sure that everything about the affair was done impeccably during his time whenever celebrities such as Hollywood movie stars came to town he would host parties for them that was never seen before among those who came were William Holden Linda Christian John Wayne and Gregory Peck Barrio Fiesta was a favorite theme because of the delicious native food the impresses his guests the flowing champagne and lovely girls in native dresses waiting on the tables.

  6. enrique bustos said,

    April 4, 2015 at 4:05 am

    Luis Ma. Araneta: Host Exemplar
    by Felice Prudente Sta. Maria

    There were the occasional masquerades with audacious black angels and scantily-clad putties to complement those who came as elegant sun kings and moon goddesses. More in abundance were black-ties for the ambassadorial set and national personalities. But the all-time favorite theme for home parties at Luis Ma. Araneta’s seems to have been Filipiniana, whether the barrio fiesta buffet or a terno-appropriate sit-down.

    He was in love with his country. His dangerous work in the underground during World War II proved that, and it is fortunate he came out of Fort Santiago alive after having been tortured. Not only did Araneta have the foresight to save religious art when it was undervalued. He believed in the virtues of Philippine food and showed it off at its best.

    Ingredients were sliced finely and neatly if tradition called for it. Savors were balanced with no conceit to the presentation. Whether for parties, weekly lunches with historians, or quiet lunches and suppers for three in his bedroom, the food was always at its prime. There were the customary favorites: pansit bihon with tenga ng daga; chicken relleno filled with ham, chicken-pork adobo rich with fat and liver, pansit molo, tinola, sinigang, queso de bola spread, and leche flan. His kitchen announced each season with vegetable entrees like sigarillas guisado cooked with coconut milk and two staple salads: green langka with mayonnaise dressing, and paper thin labanos paired with patiently hand-shredded pomelo fruit.

    He kept his kitchen in practice. There was no telling when he would have to entertain royalty again. His reputation as gourmet and host of fabulous events spread during the term of President Diosdado Macapagal. For a party at home to honor Princess Beatrix of the Neatherlands (and now the country’s queen), Araneta called on the Bayanihan to perform in his garden and got a nicely decorated calesa to bring her around for a short paseo. He even prepared a fashion show to explain the evolution of Philippine attire, pulling out from a trunk his grandmother’s heavily gold-embroidered velvet skirt stiffened with abaca.

    Always the perfect host, Luis Ma. Araneta is a legend whose standards of refinement and understatement are a call to conserve Philippine arts and culture for all time

  7. enrique bustos said,

    March 19, 2015 at 8:01 am

    The owner before of Philippine Airlines the late Benigno Toda is one of best host and entertainer he was a great charmer.He enjoyed life and generously shared it with is friends. He is one of few Filipino that truly lived the lifestyle of the rich and famous.Beny Toda had his own plane,his own yacht which is moored in France and his own island the Hermana Mayor.In the summer he would invite friends to go on cruise with him in Cote d’Azur. his hobby was designing luxury yachts.His yacht the Kalinga with in own swimming pool was said could rival the best in the world it was usually anchored in St.Tropez where the neighboring yachts belonged to some of the world’s rich and famous. it usual route when it is cruising around the Mediterranean is Mallorca Spain Don Juan the Grandfather of the present King Felipe VI of Spain would usually come aboard he is a personal friend of Beny. Another place it would docked is Monte Carlo he would treat his friend in Hotel de Paris he will tell his lady friends dressed up formally or they will not be allowed to enter the premises and they use their best jewelries Beny Toda reserved the best table he would order the best champagne Mary Prieto one of his guest said she looked around the Hotel if i ever saw fabulous jewelry that night was it, the women in gorgeous gowns were lit up with fantastic jewelries it was like a passing parade with socialites going in and out. after dinner the group went to the gambling room which is packed with people betting in the millions they would stay for a while then went to Regine’s the disco inside the hotel the group saw a number of jet setters. Mrs Prieto said La Dolce Vita What a life and to see it in action was really something.

    When Beny Toda is in the Philippines he enjoyed staying in his private island the Hermana Mayor it is like you were in Acapulco It is also popularly known as “The Miss Universe Island” since it was the place where the candidates for the Miss Universe Pageant in 1974 had their photography sessions when you are there the main house is patterned after a nipa hut but with all the luxuries and amenities one could want among Beny’s frequent guest in his paradise island were the Sorianos,the Hagedorns,the Roxases,the Ugartes The Elizaldes that of the list read like Manila’s 400. Hermana Mayor is a 500 hectare island with its own runway a boat house, guest cabana a golf course and unspoiled interior wilderness, including jungle, a savanna, a fresh water lake, and spectacular white sand beaches. . Beny the perfect host will entertain in the evening after a day’s activities with cocktails by the beach and dinner in the garden which is beautifully decorated with lanterns in the tree and flowers on the table.somewhat like a scene in hawaii.

    https://tonetcarlo.wordpress.com/2009/07/18/hermana-mayor-zambales/

    When Beny Toda passed away they threw away the mold No one around like him anymore .

  8. Richard Enriquez said,

    February 26, 2015 at 11:20 am

    Looking forward to reading this article

  9. February 19, 2015 at 10:18 am

    Kun See Fa Chai, Gilbert & Nikki!!!

  10. Gilberto Teodoro said,

    February 18, 2015 at 1:32 pm

    Best Wishes in the year of the goat Toto!


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