Food

10 Years of Overeating at Spiral

Sofitel's signature buffet is 10 years old and far from fading.
IMAGE Sofitel Philippine Plaza
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April 2006. I remember the date vividly because it was the graduation of my not-yet brother-in-law. The family reserved a table in Spiral for a celebratory lunch and the only non-family members present were me and his then-girlfriend.

As soon as we entered, the expanse and variety of Spiral struck me. I grew up in Ghent, Belgium, and upon coming back to the Philippines, I found myself always favoring non-Asian buffet options.

I don't know how many stations there were at that time. I didn't count. I was just oohing and aahing. What I remember is that we had fun, laughed, ate, laughed again when my then-boyfriend targeted the marsala—and ended up huffing and puffing because it was too spicy—and ate some more. That day, I spent a lot of time getting food from the carving stations, cold cuts, and the cheese.

We left happy, satiated, and already planning a return trip.

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Fast forward to 10 years later: I have since married the boyfriend and have come back countless times to enjoy Spiral for big and small celebrations: birthdays, Mother's Day, Father's Day, wedding anniversaries, boyfriend-girlfriend anniversaries, New Year's, Valentine's Day, and thanksgiving.

Spiral has also been part of the fabric of my work because iconic brands like to hold events there. When Spiral launches new menus, new chefs, and what nots, I find myself saying yes right away.

Sofitel has also been a top choice for staycations over the past decade—I'm thankful especially for that because on one occasion, I had just stuffed myself full after making a personal record of eating at a buffet for four hours straight a reality. I literally told my husband to not touch me, because I would burst at any moment.

For many families like ours, Sofitel has been there to mark occasions and milestones. And sometimes, I'm sure, like us, people have found ways to justify a celebration. One time, all I had was cheese and cold cuts and still willingly paid full price because they were all I was craving that time.

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When I heard about Spiral's 10th anniversary, I had to backtrack and check how many years we've been indulging in this decadence. The many memories came flashing back as I looked back with fondness on a decade of truly wonderful food experiences.

I did the "hard work" for you and rediscovered the many, many reasons for you to fall in love, again with Spiral's culinary expertise.

The Magic of 21

When it birthed 21 dining ateliers in 2012, six years after it first opened, Spiral elevated its already preferred dining status into the stratosphere of food destinations.

The concept of the atelier, borrowed from the French, is meant to showcase an artist's special workshop. In Spiral's case, the atelier is the workspace of masterful culinary artisans creating dishes of gastronomic excellence.

Through the years I've been going to Spiral, I confess: I have never successfully gotten to eat something from all 21 ateliers in one sitting. I tried, even being strategic and avoiding carbs so I could load up.

I tried starting with the 'lighter' ateliers like salads and appetizers then sushi-sashimi then Thai. I would double back to the L'Ecailler, L'epicerie (Cheese Room), and La Boulangerie before getting some meats from the French Stove, Rotisserie, and Wood Fire Oven.

Because I grew up in Europe, I would have a plate per atelier, when possible, not wanting to mix my food.

As much as I tried to reserve space for the next atelier, getting just a teaspoonful from the North Indian and Chinese Wok (both of which serve heavy, hearty dishes), I ended up with barely enough room for the Chocolaterie.

Every time I was unsuccessful in trying a little bit of everything, I vowed—telling whoever I was with that time, usually my family—on my next visit, Spiral better be ready.

On the next visit, a couple of months later, I would change up my dining strategy and give the ateliers I skipped out on the last visit the chance to shine. I'd go for Hot Japanese, some Churrasco, Asian Noodles—but still always making sure I had space for the Cheese Room.

I'd go for some Peking Duck Oven dishes and end with the Creamery.

And on it went. Stuffed, and still not able to complete all ateliers, I vowed again to come back for Steam Basket, Filipino, Korean, and La Patisserie.

21 is perfect because it is impossible to finish it all. All gourmands and connoisseurs will most likely agree: the cuisines represented like Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Italian, Indian, Filipino, and French are simply put, too delicious. And you always end up coming back for more from your favorite atelier.

Spiral has surely carved a place in every diner's heart with 21 ateliers that represent the best of international cuisine and interactive dining.

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Interactive and open

For the first time in its 10-year history, Spiral opened its kitchens to a select group of writers and guests on its 10th anniversary.

The opening of its kitchens allowed foodies to step foot into the hallowed kitchens, sacred ground to us.

Speaking with French Chef Alain, who showed how to cook foie gras with celebrity guest Sam Oh, was a treat. While he says we can buy foie gras from delis like Santi's, he prefers the Rougie, a premier French variety. He also gave reminders like using thick, cerealy bread that can absorb the fat and to use vegetable oil or salted butter when frying the bread.

Japanese Chef Hiromi, who has been a chef for 30 years, once served the Japanese emperor and empress when they visited Sofitel. He cooked alongside celebrity guest Clint Bondad.

In halting English, Chef Hiromi explained the proper ratio of flour and egg powder when it comes to preparing ebi tempura and how the stock, depending on use and intention, could be repurposed for sauces. He also advised that you can buy from Cartimar, a local market. It is also best to keep the flour cold, chilling on ice!

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He explained how, if you have a discerning tongue, you can tell when a tempura was cooked Tokyo, Nagoya, or Osaka-style as each city uses a different kind of oil. He says the reason they do surface cooking is so that the ebi tempura does not lose its flavor.

Showing the tray he used to serve the Emperor and his wife, Chef explained how there is a flow to eating and presenting and that the Japanese emperor would only use a chopstick once (even a nice one) and throw it out. And if the wasabi is served on the left, that's wrong!


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Bring Spiral home

Another first is Spiral launching a cookbook on its 10th anniversary. It's not every day that a hotel buffet shares its recipes, even less so the secrets to creating its favorite dishes.

Entitled A Decade of Spiral: Celebrating a Journey of Taste, it features 40 recipes spread over 10 sections: salads and vegetables, pork, chicken, fish and seafood, duck, beef, lamb, cheese, dessert, and wine.

Supervising Executive Chef Denis Vecchiato explained how they had to take so much time adjusting their Spiral terminologies into words that housewives and non-chefs could understand.

"If I say, brunoise, a housewife won't understand it but the reality is, it is just cutting vegetables into small cubes."

Chef Denis also shared how they knew what they wanted in terms of the recipes, "we decided for animals like chicken, duck, pork, it should be available in the local market. No seasonal items. We decided all cuts of meats and seafood. We also included a healthy section, where for a portion, it's no more than 150 calories."

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They are planning to come up with a second book, "a book for a professional chef. We had trial run with this book, so it won't be as difficult."

Chef Denis, who led a team of chefs to finish this book, remarks, "the idea is to make Spiral accessible to everybody with this book, where you open a page, follow instructions and everything comes in."

Does he have a favorite dish?

Chef answers as he smiles, "to be honest, I love all the dishes but to be honest, the pork bagnet. I love it. Because my wife is Filipina and I love very much Filipino food, it is very hearty, lovely."

Sofitel Philippine Plaze Manila General Manager Adam Laker says it took about nine months, "to do a cookbook, you have to try the ingredients, try the recipes and make sure they are easy to follow. We had a few staff in the hotel that are not chefs, no culinary experience believe it or not, follow the recipes and make sure they can follow and cook it. When we did that we learned we missed some steps or some were confusing."

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He explained how they ended up with 40 featured recipes, "we chose dishes that are not super hard to create and where you don't need certain pieces of equipment, so no long procedures like marinating overnight."

The book's intention is for anyone who wants to cook, to have friends over, they can easily whip up a Spiral dish, and entertain to their heart's delight.

Adam adds, "within the book, it explains how Spiral has evolved over 10 years. The dream is to have a little bit of a seasonal cookbook, one this year, maybe another one next year and it becomes an annual tradition that people will look forward to."

Does he have a favorite like Chef Denis?

"I like spicy food, so the Indian style foods like a nice fish curry and the natural spicy salads of Thailand, they are healthy and have a punch."

The cookbook isn't meant to be holiday-themed, but instead something that can be used and given all-year round.

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"We didn't go with a theme because there are 21 ateliers so there is so much variety of food and we didn't want to limit ourselves. So we thought of the popular dishes that people always have whenever they come to Spiral, our signature dishes that we never seem to change."

Aside from being available in all Fully Booked, A Decade of Spiral can also be purchased for P999 in Spiral 2 Go.

If you're on your nth visit to Spiral this year alone, consider getting the book for yourself or as a gift for friends.

Or just come back, enjoy your favorites among the 21 ateliers, or like me, attempt to have something on your plate from all 21, in one sitting.

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Kaye Estoista-Koo
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