Culinary and life lessons from Lolo Pepe

All in the family: Lorrie Reynoso, Leni Reynoso-Araullo and Sylvia Reynoso-Gala

All in the family: Lorrie Reynoso, Leni Reynoso-Araullo and Sylvia Reynoso-Gala

Lolo Pepe doted on his nine children and had the privilege of finding the best teachers, whether for piano, violin and marimba for my aunt Leni, banduria for my aunt Cecille, golf for my uncles Litos, Tito, and mom. He personally accompanied his children to swimming lessons in spite of his busy schedule building all the St. Paul Colleges, hospitals and chapels from Aparri to Dumaguete, and the buildings of Manila’s who’s who in Escolta and Malate after World War II.

The author chef Ernest Gala and chef Morella Gala

Lolo was a gourmet and it is no surprise that he married a Pampangueña, Africa J. Valdes of Angeles. Their house was built by the son of Juan Luna, Andres Luna de San Pedro, while Emilio Reynoso and Sons did the painting, which was de rigueur for palatial homes all over the country then. My great-grandfather knew how much Lolo Pepe loved Pampango food (though the Reynosos are from Pasig); he left his much-beloved chief cook, Apong Metyang, to live with them.

Apong Metyang was a born teacher and her greatest joy was when my Lola and her children would stay and watch her cook numerous dishes and desserts for the day. Special note: Pampangueños are finicky; one must not serve the same dish for one month, the only exception being pochero or cocido (beef and chicken stew with veggies), which is served on Sunday lunch.

Every summer, Lolo would send his family to Baguio, his three-story brown and green Swiss house was voted Baguio’s Most Beautiful home in 1952. For two months his children would accompany Lola and Apong Metyang to the market, which he considered very clean and safe. It was there that mom learned the importance of each ingredient, like how storing one rotten apple can spoil the rest; placing a paper towel over lettuce while inside the refrigerator will absorb excess moisture to make it last longer; and what condiment paired well with what dish. From there, they would make molo wrappers from scratch. The only thing mom could not bear to do was kill a chicken, turkey, or any animal to this day.

Lolo, being so observant, hurriedly went back to Manila and built an extension to the master bedroom. He surprised them all with what he called a kitchenette, replete with low and long worktable where one could prepare on one side and cook on the other with a new electric stove. He even imported a mini-refrigerator from Germany. Everything was kid’s size and this was where his children were so inspired to make ensaymada and pan de sal, or slice and chop using real small knives. He was always positive and gave strict orders never to say, “Don’t do that, you might hurt yourself” or “Stay away from fire, you’ll burn yourself.” His way was nurturing, to show children how to hold a knife properly so they would not hurt themselves. He would let them do all the preparation, called mise en place nowadays, and let the older children do the cooking with Lola and Apong Metyang by their side. He would gently explain to the younger ones that they, too, would have their turn at the stove or oven.

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Mom said one of the greatest things about Lolo was he never criticized their cooking or baking.  Once, when Tita Leni and mom presented him with their fresh butter cornstarch cookies, they noticed a slight wince. Asked if he was all right, he nodded, saying it was the best, followed by, “What ingredient do you think will make the cookies slightly softer?” This got them thinking, and from there they honed their analytical minds on how to concoct and formulate recipes just by smelling food. To be a good cook, one must smell each ingredient that goes into one’s dish, and those are the fundamentals of mastering the culinary arts. Everything mom learned she taught Morella and I, which we hope to impart to our students, from children to grownups. Teaching by nurturing: that’s how to learn cooking and baking the right way!

Copyright 2012 Sylvia Reynoso Gala Culinary Studio

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