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Kathleen A. Llemit

The ‘Little Mountain’ that could

Thursday, 04 February 2016 00:00 Published in Life Style

PATTS Group opens luxe boutique hotel in Tagaytay, striving to ‘break the mold’

Setting foot in the lobby of newly minted Hotel Monticello will leave one to think that the place has a definitive woman’s touch. One can’t help but fantasize about sashaying down the grand spiral staircase that leads to the lobby from the foyer at the second floor. Walls are washed in off white, an indication of fastidiousness, often a trait attributed to a woman-in-charge.

But the subliminal message that the “chief” with an indelible mark on this “Little Mountain,” the Italian translation of the boutique hotel’s name, is a woman is that distinct pleasant smell that permeates the entire building.
As general manager Dondi Valdez quips, his mother, the charming Mrs. Felisa “Nini” Valdez, is the “chief designer” of Hotel Monticello.
“She’s really the driving force behind all of this. Everything that you see, hear, she has envisioned in her mind. She can sit down with blueprints and stay there for eight hours,” shares the younger Valdez.
Proof of Mrs. Valdez’s dedication to lending character to the Tagaytay establishment is that she sat down to smell over 200 scents in order to come up with Hotel Monticello’s unique scent. It was not vanity that made her commission two perfumers to create the fragrance, but a dream to emulate a known five-star chain of hotels, which is known for its distinct perfume.
“Among all hotels in Manila, I noticed that whenever I go to Shangri-La, I have this certain feeling that I am in Shangri-La even if my eyes are closed. And so I researched and stumbled on two scent perfumers. I told them what I wanted. I don’t want something that will make me feel dizzy...not too fruity, not too floral. I want it just right,” reveals Mrs. Valdez. Without revealing the combination of Hotel Monticello’s scent, the elder Valdez said their signature time-released scent is “a mix of herbs.”
The lady’s touch is not limited to the lobby and its environs. Her influence extends to the rooms, especially the suites that are named after famous Italian destinations. Even their three dining outlets — Cafe Mercedes, Roma Piano Bar and Trattoria Maria — have that influence.
Both mother and son share that the hotel’s Italian inclination was inspired from their “Italian high” two years ago when the entire Valdez family went on a Mediterranean cruise to celebrate Mrs. Valdez and her husband Atty. Ambrosio’s 45th wedding anniversary.
Yet though Mediterranean-inspired, Hotel Monticello is proudly Filipino.
The Valdezes, along with the Dumlaos and Gatmaytans, are the three families who founded and run PATTS College of Aeronautics in Paranaque City. The three families built the aviation school in 1969. Over time, just like any educational institution that wishes to be relevant to the demands of the work force, the technical school started offering business and tourism programs.
The younger Valdez saw the need to assist their tourism students in landing on-the-job stints in notable institutions. Initially, he went around asking if he could strike a partnership between the school and institution. He, however, was unsuccessful. So Dondi thought of putting up a modest seven-door facility with a small kitchen and function room in their lot in Tagaytay, along the Emilio Aguinaldo Highway.
But as his parents always tended to do things bigger and better, the “chief designer” and Valdez patriarch put him up to a challenge and said that they would invest in a 41-room boutique hotel.
They started construction in January 2011. In 2014, they met a “curve ball” when typhoon Glenda, which packed maximum sustained winds and gustiness of up to 165 kph, struck Southern Luzon, which includes Tagaytay. The onslaught of Glenda delayed their grand launch to November last year.

Tasting Monticello
When they had to redo their plans to brace for future episodes such as Glenda, they also had a better perspective towards the direction they want to take now that they have started operations.
One of these is highlighting Filipino food. For this they have tapped JR Royol, their new executive chef, to revitalize their menu. Royol is a good choice as the 33-year-old is the grand winner of the Philippine version of the widely syndicated cooking reality show MasterChef. Royol stood out especially during the finale because he chose to present an indigenous Filipino dish which he called chicken bigorot, a dish made from organic goose prepared pinikpikan-style. The young executive chef, who hails from the Mountain Province, has vowed to put the spotlight on Filipino food throughout his budding career.
The general manager said that they will gradually introduce this commitment to Filipino food through their Chef’s Specials.
For now, the younger Valdez shares they are enjoying the patronage of weekend vacationers, mostly consisting of families who are on the lookout for quick and accessible respites from Metro Manila. They are also gaining ground among the fitness conscious sector, which makes them all more viable with their 25-meter, temperature-controlled swimming pool.
“Hotel Monticello is redefining the boutique hotel experience. We are breaking the mold of boutique hotels and creating a luxe sanctuary. We invite everyone to enjoy the summer capital of the south through Hotel Monticello,” ends Valdez.

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Battle of the fabulous plastics

Sunday, 31 January 2016 00:00 Published in Life Style

The scare of plastic overpopulating our surface and waters is real.

In the article “22 Facts About Plastic Pollution” by Lynn Hasselberger, published in, she highlighted these facts. Here are some of those: Billions of pounds of plastic can be found in swirling convergences in the oceans making up about 40 percent of the world’s ocean surfaces. Eighty percent of pollution enters the ocean from the land and plastic constitutes approximately 90 percent of all trash floating on the ocean’s surface, with 46,000 pieces of plastic per square mile.

The casualties from these figures are tragic. The author reported that there are one million sea birds and 100,000 marine mammals killed annually. It’s not only animals that are harmed. Humans are also threatened as, says the article, harmful plastic chemicals can be absorbed by the body. All these figures do not bode well for both animal and the human race as it has been found that it takes 500 to 1,000 years for plastics to degrade.
The figures stated in the article with regards to plastic pollution are culled from American statistics. But the Philippines, just like the rest of the world, is just as guilty.
It is common knowledge, much to our chagrin, that though we are not among the top pollutants of the world, majority of our streets are quite an eyesore. Candy wrappers and cigarette butts are carelessly flicked away after indulging our sweet cravings and nicotine fix. And, that very shameful and horrendous act of throwing out plastic cups or soda bottles while inside a moving vehicle must be put to the wall of shame.
Socialite and personality Tessa Prieto-Valdes put it rather succinctly. “You know we take a bath three times a day and yet we throw our trash out in the street. How crazy is that? We should be more conscious of our environment. We should be more respectful of our surroundings and not just think of ourselves. It’s sad people are still not educated.”
Artist and writer Igan D’Bayan could not agree more, adding that recycling and upcycling are rather easy given the availability of recyclable materials that can be upcycled into useful items.
The two personalities were witnesses on how plastic trash can be transformed into practical yet gorgeous fixtures during the three-day Amaia Land Corp.’s Upcycling Challenge held in Nuvali, Laguna, last year.
In the span of the said days, 13 participants were tasked to upcycle plastic soft drink bottles.
Three challengers took on the challenge and made the once lowly plastic bottle into works of art.
Coming in at third place is Kia del Rosario and Jose Masucol of Kneutral Manila. The duo came up with a three-in-one entry. “EpitoME” is a bean-shaped side table, with spacious storage for knick knacks or magazines inside. Since it is lined with LED lights, it can function as a lamp.
Both Tessa and Igan shared that it was a tight fight between college friends Team DJE and Team Bulahao. DJE put out a minimalist floor lamp made out of the butt of 1.5 soda bottle glued together to form the head of the lamp. They called their creation “Bubble Coral,” in reference to how it strikingly resembles the famous marine creature.
Bulahao, on the other hand, created the labor-intensive “Chandelier.” From a far, the work is an eye-catching hanging piece. Up close, it is even more impressive with the caps cut out and made into rings interlocked to form a chain the supports the main body as well as acts as dangling ornaments. Jutting out from the main body are the upper portion of a 1.5 soda bottle, that when cut from a certain height, assumes a flower form.
In the end, DJE grabbed the first prize for its marketability and practicality.
“Many people believe there isn’t a market for upcycling. Some people think they have to go out of their way to be able to upcycle but then it should be second nature. We should recycle. We should make a wonderful effort to make use of materials instead of destroying it,” ends Tessa.

100 ways to love tapa

Monday, 25 January 2016 00:00 Published in Life Style

Tapa is a staple Filipino breakfast fare. It is best enjoyed as part of what is commonly referred to as tapsilog, the quintessential all-day meal that consists of dried or cured meat jerky, eggs sunny side up and fried rice. Over the years, the tapa, like the adobo, has seen many variations.


As more and more Filipinos are exposed to different culinary traditions, thanks to travels abroad and the onslaught of many international food franchises opening in the country, the tapa inevitably gets a reinterpretation.
Chef Joseph Ventura, the executive chef/consultant of the Red Crab Group of Restaurants, shared that the tapa has gone a long way — from the simple meat jerky cured or dried for hours and days to the easier-to-prepare marinated meat.
Banking on this, Unilever Food Solutions (UFS), makers of Knorr Liquid Seasoning, recently tried to best a record where 10 chefs prepared 10 different interpretations of tapa.
From the classic tapsilog, the tapa dishes served during the record-breaking attempt held last Jan. 19 at the SMX Convention Center in SM Aura, Taguig were an interesting mix of fusion and modern reinterpretations of the classic all-time favorite. Ventura, for example, prepared a mix of Korean, Japanese and Filipino versions. Some of his dishes included the Unagi Style Fish Tapa Nigiri, Pancit Tapa Patong and Tapabimbap.
Colleague Sonny Mariano, corporate chef consultant and executive chef for Banzai and Sumosam Group, also prepared an interesting mix. Among the standouts were lamb tapa sundae, beef tapa quiche and roasted pepper and beef tapa cheesecake.
Chef Mikel Francis Zaguirre, culinary instructor at the De La Salle-College of St. Benilde and Lyceum of the Philippines, said it best about the tapa. “What makes a tapa great is its simplicity. It is very straightforward. It is either sweet or savory; you can have it as it is.”
As a celebration of the record-breaking event, Knorr has extended the celebration through the Knorr National Tapa Day set on Jan. 29.
Tapa lovers can visit UFS’ partner restaurants such as Tapa King, Rufo’s, Countryside Steakhouse, Merzci Bakeshop & Restaurant, Floyd’s and Taps for the ‘buy one, take one’ promo. The first 100 dine-in customers will be treated to the tapsilog promo.


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