ArchivesJanuary 2011How to throw a dinner for the holidays

How to throw a dinner for the holidays


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Dinners at Arlene Delloso-Uypitching’s are a performance, a theater to culinary spectacle–and always an occasion for celebration.{{more}}

In Dumaguete, there’s nothing else like it. And sure, we have all been to other dinners thrown by assorted friends, and perhaps we can even say we have had the time of our lives over good food and fine wine and splendid conversation in them. But when I think of throwing dinner in the way I think of fine art, I think of Arlene’s. She defines it.

Sometimes, with others, the food does not offer much in terms of adventure, just the usual staple of bam-i and fresh lumpia and lechon manok and what-not, but the company is nevertheless merry, and there is plenty of beer for the dressed-down lot.

Sometimes, the banquet may be an orgy of taste–but the mix of guests is not right, and the night ends up with people in little cliques, each one ignoring the other, with all wrapped up in their own little worlds.

Sometimes the host may just be a little too uptight for comfort, or is the illustration of a social disaster of such chatty proportions without the grace and the fierce and quiet intelligence needed to make a good evening feel even better.

Sometimes the place is too oppressive for the necessary vibes to get a party going. And sometimes, everything just plain goes wrong–the rain comes, the electricity goes out, the music is horrendous, the chef is missing, the wine is bad, the dog has run away with the turkey, the guests come in flip-flops to a formal dinner.

Dinner-giving is not a perfect science. It is almost all intuition, with lots of room for good luck. But Arlene seems to know a thing or two about how to make an evening memorable. She plans for it the way a painter sees the outlines of a story on a blank canvas. They are always about something, or for someone. “Let’s throw a party for Marvin and Kuya Bodjie,” she would say. Or: “Let’s do a little Balinese theme, just for friends.” Or: “Let’s look at the blue moon in Mampas.”

Then she would invite a local chef of some renown to plan and execute the menu. One time, it was Patrick Chua–otherwise known as the city’s best orthodentist–and his glorious and inventive paella. Another time it was an Uypitching cousin fresh off a culinary school from somewhere else in the world.

Giving good dinners takes practice and time. It also takes a venue that lends itself well to flowing conversation and the orgiastic partaking of delicious food. It also takes a large enough personality that attracts an uncommon crowd, a capacity for imagination that requires dazzle but with a Martha Stewart restraint, and an uncanny sense of chemistry that is able to ascertain a killer guest list and their ability to sustain each other in interesting talk.

For Christmas Eve, Arlene threw a small dinner for friends at the house she shares with husband Don in lower Valencia, an extensive estate done with an unmistakable Balinese sensibility and aesthetics. It has spots suitable for intimate gatherings. We’ve done dinners here before, sometimes alfresco.

For this night, she turned a big garage–a garage!–into a kind of Christmas wonderland, with choice picks of linen and comfortable furniture and holiday draperies and candles and carefully designed soft lighting. On one side, she assembled a dining set arranged in a square with a donut hole, which accommodated a jolly bundle of Christmas décor consisting of angels and poinsettia and what-not–with none of the garishness you will find in that other Christmas pit-stop in town. On the other side, she had appointed a lounging area ready for the after-dinner wine-drinking and comfortable boozy talk, and beside it she placed a live Christmas tree filled with 33 candles, which the Colburn and Uypitching kids lit up as dinner progressed to dessert. We played Christmas songs all night.

Ritchie Armogenia–of KRI and Likha–was the chef for the occasion, and he had a promising menu for us–herbs-encrusted maya-maya with mustard and basil butter, linguini with shrimp roasted in garlic and chili, Brazilian beef tournedos with potato croquetas and rosemary demi-glace, and finally, a roasted turkey with gravy. It was a banquet to forget diets away.

Mister Donuts’ John Colburn appointed himself the bartender for the night–and was passing everyone a delicious concoction he called chocolate patron martini, composed of tequila rose and a wisp of Baileys, then garnished with grated chocolate truffles.

“I’m going to give you something else,” he told me when I walked over to the makeshift bar. “This is my cranberry vodka delight,” he said and proceeded to prepare it in front of me. “First, you put in ice,” he said, and into the shaker went in some cubes. “Then you put two ounces of vodka. And then some Old Orchard cranberry juice. And then a touch of Malibu for the coconut taste. And then a little rock and roll.” He shook the entire mix, then poured the contents into glasses for me and another friend. “Then here’s the lemon wedge around the lid, to accent the drink. This is the key. It brings out the flavor,” he finally said. And it was a refreshing drink, subtle in its kick, just the way I liked it, the coconut flavor biting in at the last of every sip.

John’s wife, the irrepressibly charming Justine, made sure the party flow proved dynamic and fun. (And I have to say this: what I like best about Mister Donuts is the Mrs.)

And the guests–which included Don’s father and mother, his brother Ngo An and wife Maresa, Esther and Heinz Windler, the artist Karl Aguila, the Davao writer Aaron Jalalon, the photographer and painter Hersley-Ven Casero, and Student Universe’s head honcho Antonio Quiogue and his husband Jeremy Schmoll–proved equal to the merriment. We went beyond small talk into a kind of spell only intimate gatherings can provoke.

And to that, we toasted ourselves a merry Christmas, and toasted Ritchie’s merry spread, and toasted friendships old and new.

See pictures at Uypitching holiday party pictures

(Back to MetroPost HOME PAGE)

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