Sunday, April 3, 2011

Eating in Doreen Fernandez's Footsteps

Count me privileged, I had Doreen Gamboa Fernandez as a teacher when I was in college at the Ateneo.
She was my professor in Philippine Drama and every week, for three hours every Wednesday night, for a whole semester, my eyes and sensibilities were opened to the richness of our literary tradition.
After I graduated, her enthusiasm and love for all things Pinoy actually inspired me to try and take up my masters in Philippine Literarature, while I was working as a junior copywriter.
Regretfully, the hectic schedule of advertising got in the way and after finishing only two semesters and 18 units, I came to the realization that I could either be a scholarly success or a successful hack -- but not both.
So I chose the latter.
I never quite forgot Doreen Fernandez -- we would bump into each other once in a while, she actually came to my wedding and as the years went on, I followed her rising fame as an authority on Filipino food.
I collected her books -- from the first coffee table book on Filipino Food -- which I still read and re-read today -- to her small restaurant guides called "Lasa" to her collection of essays to her weekly columns at The Inquirer.
Once, I had the temerity to submit an article to her on eating in Pala Pala, the fish market in Bacolod and was completely surprised to find that she had it published in the newspaper.
I wrote an effusive gushing thank you letter and her simple reply was "It was a good piece. It deserved to be published, why are you so surprised?"
Doreen passed away in 2002 and she left a void which many food writers and scholars have yet to fill.
She continues to inspire me to this day -- I have had the courage to write about food, and maintain this blog, in my own unscholarly, untutored way -- thanks to two people: my father who shared his love of cooking (and eating) with me and also because of Doreen, who awakened in me this desire to write, to write about food and to write about (and love) Filipino food.
Aside from being a noted and acclaimed food scholar and writer, Doreen was first and foremost a foodie.
She wrote restaurant reviews for the Chronicle and then the Inquirer and she also did a series of four restaurant guidebooks called "Lasa". This series would eventually cover not just Metro Manila restaurants but would branch out to Baguio and later on to other provinces as well.
She co-wrote them with Edilberto Alegre, who like her, was a passionate and staunch advocate of Filipino culture. They are both gone now but their work remains.
Since so many writers and bloggers are now looking to books for their inspiration and as the source of their "projects" (Julia and Julia comes to mind), let me create my own project for the rest of this year (and yes, as a source of posts for this blog).
I shall attempt to find and eat my way through the restaurants initially reviewed in the first Lasa: A Guide to 100 Restaurants by Doreen G. Fernandez and Edilberto N. Alegre.
Published in 1989, most of the restaurants in this book may no longer be around but I will try and go through the ones that are still serving up that lasa, that taste that Doreen found memorable enough to write about.
As I go on this journey, I hope that Doreen and Edilberto Alegre (and yes, my daddy too) wherever they are, will be saying to me ...
"Sige, kain na!"

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