An invitation came for a Degustation at AICA (The Academy for International Culinary Arts) last October 29, 2009. It was the graduating students’ “hell week”, meaning for one whole week they would have to simulate an actual restaurant — from decorating to cooking to serving to washing dishes. Students were free to invite family and friends over at their “restaurant” for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
Degustation involves sampling many different foods, usually a chef’s signature dishes, in one sitting. It usually consists of 7-8 courses. Serving portions are smaller compared to a regular meal’s so you don’t get too full before everything is served.
To open the palate, a spoonful of Chicken Liver Mousse (pictured above left) was served first. It was very smooth, creamy, and flavorful. I’m not fond of liver but this one was just delicious. We had to wait for quite a while before the next dish was brought out — Deep Fried Shishamo, Petit Salad in Citrus Dressing, and Ceviche of Scallops (pictured above right). Shisamo, also known as pregnant fish, is filled with eggs or roe when you slice it up. In fact, the insides of a Shisamo contain more roe than meat. It was quite a sight to behold and quite a treat for my uninitiated taste buds. It was my first time to have Shisamo.
Next in line was Prawn Bisque (pictured above left), a warm and savory cup of soup. My favorite dish of the night was served right after — Salmon Confit in Infused Almond Oil with Mashed Potatoes (pictured above right). The salmon was very tender and juicy plus I could actually taste little bits of crushed almond. If it were not a degustation I would’ve requested this dish as my dinner! I wanted more well after I took the last bite.
After the salmon came the Braised Cabbage Rolls in Tomato Basil Sauce (pictured above left). It was ground meat wrapped in cabbage leaves, sort of like those Chinese dumplings you’d have at dimsum places except that this one was served with tomato sauce. We had some Green Tea Basil Sorbet to cleanse the palate after the cabbage rolls and then it was on to the next course, Shiraz Braised Pork Knuckles with Watercress Relish in Mashed Potatoes with Port Wine Sauce (pictured below). Okay, so you’re seeing rice instead of mashed potatoes… I wondered about that too but failed to ask the students who were serving. One of the batch’s top students, Cat Ingles, explained that the pork knuckles took days of boiling to tenderize for that fall-off-the-bone softness. For dessert, Chocolate Truffles were served (pictured above right). Each person got three truffles of different flavors. I liked the nut-encrusted one best.
Did I mention that the mother of Philippine cooking, Ms. Nora Daza herself, was among those invited to the degustation? We had a photo op with her, and amusingly enough in that short encounter what she noticed was my pink Sony Cyber-shot TX-1. She remarked that she couldn’t believe that what I was holding was actually a camera since it was so tiny. I think she’ll be even more amazed when she sees the photos it is capable of taking… :p
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The Academy for International Culinary Arts (AICA)
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