Back to the Future with Slow Food Circa 1850

Dec 29, 2014

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“Ang hindi marunong lumingon sa pinangalingan ay hindi makakarating sa paroroonan.”

 

Jose Rizal quote

 

That famous Filipino salawikain (proverb) most commonly (some say erroneously) credited to our national hero Gat Jose Rizal perhaps sums up best the excitement that’s come up over Cagayan de Oro’s latest foodie craze. 

 

Circa Origins

 

Circa 1850 is a direct offspring of Sentro 1850 started by partners Rene Sia and Eric Yap in 2001. Shaped by Chef Eric with a “Distinctly Sentro” menu, which describes as ‘Modern Global Cuisine in homage to its South East Asian Heritage.’

 

Circa 1850 was mostly built from recycled timber and bricks taken from the shuttered Jacinto steel mill in Lugait, Misamis Oriental. Check out the timbers and bolts on this section of the ceiling

Sentro 1850 has since established a loyal clientele with its savory creations inspired by the family culinary tradition such as Tuna Tataki Salad with Lime VinaigretteSteamed Fish Hainanese, and Balinese Swordfish, which has since attained cult status with its patrons.

 

When a 242 square meter space at the ground floor of the new Tune Hotel became available over a year ago, Chef Eric dropped by and instantly saw an opportunity to “improve on everything that made Sentro and make an even better restaurant”.

 

Achitecture & Interior Design by Arch. Ramon Rodriguez (photo by Shaun Alejandrea Yap Uy)

 

“I am a very simple, down to earth person and I am not really sold on haute type cuisine.  No dress code, come as you are and enjoy your meal. We like to tab Circa as an unpretentious dining experience. We are a home-style, family-oriented restaurant.”

 

And culinary pedigree Chef Eric has in spades, with a golden lode of kitchen secrets handed down through generations from his grandmother, mother and his famous aunt, the late Gloria Dychauco of the famous Pots’n’Pans Home Bake & Coffee Shop, who was Cagayan de Oro’s celebrity chef in its salad days when it was still a sleepy, laid back town in the 70s and 80s.

 

Slow Food Movement

 

As a family oriented restaurant first, Circa 1850 is inspired by the Slow Food Movement started in Italy by Carlo Petrini  in 1986. A counter culture to fast food, it advocates the preservation of traditional and regional cuisine, encourages the farming of plants, seeds and livestock indigenous to the local ecosystem. 

 

Carlo Petrini

 

Its goals of sustainable foods and promotion of local small businesses are paralleled by a political agenda directed against globalization of agricultural products. At its heart is the aim to promote local foods and centuries-old traditions of gastronomy and food production. Conversely this means an opposition to fast food, industrial food production and globalization.

 

Slow Food is a global, grassroots organization, founded to prevent the disappearance of local food cultures and traditions, counteract the rise of fast life and combat people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from and how our food choices affect the world around us. (source: Wikipedia)

 

“The umbilical cord that had once connected the worlds of farmer and consumer was cut,” Petrini noted. “Today hardly anyone buys their wine directly from their trusted wine maker, or goes to the farm to buy eggs and a chicken or a rabbit; hardly anybody knows the baker who makes their bread, the charcutier who slaughters the pigs and cures the meat, the man who churns the milk of his sheep or goats to make cheese.”

 

Not long ago the local grocer’s shop and the pub, as well as being sources of food, were places for the exchange of information and knowledge, where customers did their shopping and eating informed by the wise words of people who were closely in touch with the sources of supply. But all these fonts of food wisdom were being swept away by modernization, in the form of supermarkets and fast food (URL: http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/food-and-drink/features/carlo-petrini-the-slow-food-gourmet-who-started-a-revolution-1837223.html)

 

Good, clean, and fair food

 

Since its beginnings, Slow Food has grown into a global movement involving millions of people, in over 150 countries, working to ensure everyone has access to good, clean and fair food

 

Slow Food believes food is tied to many other aspects of life, including culture, politics, agriculture and the environment. Through our food choices we can collectively influence how food is cultivated, produced and distributed, and as a result bring about great change

 

Circa advocates making the dining experience purer, and is inspired by cooking methods used in local heirloom recipes as contrasted with haute cuisine.

 

Circa 1850 Signboard

 

“We want to introduce new concept in Cagayan de Oro in contrast to fast foods and other commercial restos found in malls,” Chef Eric related during a food sampling conducted for local media and bloggers recently. “As the name Circa denotes, it is retro, vintage, traditional –the way food should taste, like Mom’s home cooking.”

 

“Preparation of foods is as close to natural as possible, with minimal condiments like salt, with food enhanced instead of smothered by gravy.”

 

“Our cuisine is focused around what fresh ingredients are immediately available in the locality  which we execute in unique uncommon ways. All our recipes are our rendition of heirloom recipes.”

 

Eco-friendly construction

 

Circa 1850’s architecture and interior design takes a similar bow to its Slow Food Movement roots with recycled materials carefully hand-picked to dampen the impact of its construction on the environment.

Door jambs made from recycled timber from the shuttered Jacinto steel mill in Lugait, Misamis Oriental dampen the new resto’s impact on the environment. _ at Circa 1850.

“Most of our door jambs, wooden beams and iron fittings are taken from the shuttered Jacinto steel mill in Lugait, Misamis Oriental, as are most of the bricks in our walls are fire bricks recycled from its kiln,” Chef Eric relates.

 

The fire bricks are particularly interesting, coming from places as distant as Torpedo, Scotland; Sandy Bay in Devon, England, and Fixed Chimney Kiln (F.C.K.) bricks from India and Pakistan.

Fire brick wall (photo by Shaun Alejandrae Yap Uy)


The right tools for the right job

 

Since he first took a look at the space at Tune Hotel, Circa 1850 took nearly a year to plan and execute, in a bow towards how projects such as these are executed in the Slow Food Movement.

 

“All details of this project have been carefully thought of in meticulous detail in advance so we can be very proud  that our cookware, bake ware, kitchen and bar tools, serving and entertainment are among the very best in the world.”

 

For instance, the investors didn’t pinch the pennies when it came to the new resto’s cooking wares: Staub cast iron skillets with enamel coating, Le Creuset Cookware & Bakeware, Vulcan stove, Toastmaster Grill made in  USA, a fully air-conditioned kitchen,  and an ISO 14001 compliant anti bacterial coating in its kitchen floor ensure food preparation is the safest, cleanest and best.

 

“All these are designed so the dishes retain their original flavor. We have to pay attention to minute details because of our clientele. We may be a small resto but we have the cutting edge in culinary technology.” 

 

For example, a La Coccote cast iron casserole made in France by Staub is prized by celebrity chefs like Mario Batali for fowl because it retains all the flavors of the dish. Staub’s cocottes have nubs on the interior of the lids, which enables condensation to collect and drip down to baste foods uniformly as they are cooking.

 

La Coccote by Staub

 

Le Creuset’s fine porcelain-enamel cookware has been manufactured in the small French village of Fresnoy-le-Grand since 1925. Chefs worldwide value Le Creuset’s elegance and performance, especially the way the cast-iron core distributes heat throughout the enamel. Gourmets find the complete, basic, nearly indestructible cookware set worth the expense. Any enamel construction can chip, but such is Le Creuset’s confidence in its enameled cast-iron pans that they carry a lifetime limited warranty against defects.

 

Kumbira Gold Winners

 

However high the quality of the tools for the job at hand, the products they produce could only be as good as the craftsmen and artisans who wield them, and Circa 1850 did not settle for second best.

 

“All our chefs are minimum gold medal winners of Kumbira competitions, we demand a high level of professionalism,” Chef Eric relates, adding how many of his best cooks gained invaluable experience working for the former La Vetta Restaurant and Cafe at nearby Limketkai Center under the tutelage of Meister Chef Carsten Radke of Berlin, Germany.  

 

And the quest for a complete dining experience extends to their food servers who are trained to pronounce the foreign terms (mostly Italian/French) properly but not make a fuss over customers who insist on their way of pronouncing them. “Our focus should remain on the total dining experience and not the proper pronunciation of words.”

 

Regional Cuisine with a Global Twist

 

Chef Eric has noted that the Circa 1850 menu is best appreciated by foodies and frequent travelers to Metro Manila, hence his advocacy to spread the gospel of Slow Food to as many diners as possible, preferably the locals.

 

He recommends that the complete dining experience is usually best started with a salad like their flagshipShrimp Scotch Eggs with Roasted Sesame DressingBeefsteak Tomato and Tuna Tare-Tare Salads.

 

The Scotch Eggs salad is most probably the first (and only one so far, we think) dish in Cagayan de Oro to usesous-vide, a method of cooking food sealed in airtight, food grade plastic bags in a water bath or in a temperature-controlled steam environment for longer than normal cooking times at an accurately regulated temperature much lower than normally used for cooking. 

 

Shrimp Scotch Eggs with Roasted Sesame Dressing (photo by Shaun Alejandrae Yap Uy)

 

Sous-vide is frequently used by top chefs Thomas Keller and Ferran Adrià, because we want to raise the bar high in Cagayan de Oro,” he notes.

 

According to Nathan Myhrvold, founder of The Cooking Lab, co-author of Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking, “The intention is to cook the item evenly, ensuring that the inside is properly cooked without overcooking the outside, and retain moisture”

 

“When the food reaches your target temperature or time, you take it out, give it a quick sear or other finish, and serve it. That’s it. And the delicate, custard-like texture of an egg poached at precisely 65 °C / 149 °F is amazing.”

 

“When cooking sous-vide, most foods will taste just as good even if they spend a few extra minutes at a target temperature, so you can relax and devote your attention to the more interesting and creative aspects of cooking.”

 

Beefsteak Tomato Salad has no beef. It’s a salad tomato known as Beefsteak Tomato in other countries, topped with white goat’s cheese, organic arugula (sourced locally)  and olive oil. A very simple, light salad. 

 

Not the least, Tuna Tare-tare Salad is made from raw sashimi grade tuna sent fresh daily from General Santos City by reefer van trucks. “Our version is tuna mixed with sriracha aioli (a type of home-made Thai hot/chili sauce made from a paste of chili peppersdistilled vinegar, garlic, sugar, and salt), mayo based concoction mixed with greens.” 

 

Tuna Tare-Tare Salad

 

“All greens are organic from Bukidnon, raised in greenhouses under controlled temperatures. Now second only to Baguio in terms of greens farming, Bukidnon has very high standards, and many Baguio farmers have farms in Bukidnon, we are so lucky.”

 

Circa 1850’s best selling dish is Uni Pasta with River Shrimp. Uni is sea urchin known locally as  swaki.

Uni Pasta with River Shrimp (photo by Shaun Alejandrae Yap Uy)

“This should taste very briny, naturally sweet, but not salty,” says Chef Eric. “Our uni is sourced from Laguindingan area to support local fishermen while the river shrimp comes from Lanao area.”

 

Bistecca Fiorentina

 

For an unforgettable gustatory experience though, try Circa 1850’s take on the  Bistecca Fiorentina, billed as the flagship of Florentine cuisine and often served as the secondi piatti (main course) of a typical Tuscan meal.

 

“This is our best selling beef dish good for four or five, inspired by Florence, Italy where it originated,” Chef Eric said. “Come and eat it with your family. After you’ve done with the meat, send the bones back to the kitchen and we’ll re-grill it for you so you can eat it with your hands.” Ummmmmm….

 “It’s very lightly seasoned with salt and pepper because we try our best to make the natural flavor of the meat come out, without any grave to smother it,” he adds. “We have gravy in case the customer really wants it but we don’t encourage it so the customer can enjoy the full experience of the meat’s flavor.”

“The dish is topped with arugula to balance the richness of the meat with the freshness and nuttiness of thearugula.   This is the way it’s done in Florence. The arugula is a cultivated variety from Bukidnon and beef is barley-fed Angus from Canada.

Bistecca Fiorentina (photo by Shaun Alejandrae Yap Uy)

 

Served in a Lodge Iron Skillet, the softest part of the bistecca is the tenderloin. A bit pricey for local standards, it’s PhP 1,480.00 good for 4-5 persons. Originally priced at PhP 2,000.00,  the partners decided to price it down to introduce and educate the consumers. A similar serving could easily cost PhP 5,000 in premium hotels and restos in Metro Manila.

 

“Call in your orders (reservations at tel#8521850 or 741850) especially during weekends  since we only allocate around 5 orders of this item daily because it takes so long to cook so we pre-cook a little to be able to serve it quicker.”

Roasted bone marrow with parsley sauce (photo by Mike Baños NPN)

 

Takeout orders are accepted but Chef Eric recommends dining-in to enjoy the full “Slow Food” dining experience. Circa 1850 opens daily  7am-2pm, 5:30pm-10:30pm at the ground floor of Tune Hotel, Cagayan de Oro, C.M. Recto Avenue, Cagayan de Oro City.

 

Benvenuto a Kagay-an! Benvenuto nella nostra casa!

 

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