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Top Filipino Chef Cooks Meals for Quarantined OFWs Instead of Going Home

Chef Jayme Natividad and his team are feeding quarantined OFWs in Taal Vista Hotel.
ILLUSTRATOR Warren Espejo
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Long been frequented as a peaceful and refreshing getaway from the bustle of the capital, the city of Tagaytay is home to one of the oldest hotels in the Philippines. The Taal Vista Hotel, since its foundation over 80 years ago, has been a tranquil place of refuge for everyone, from Manila city-dwellers to heads of government. Now, with the tourism and hospitality sector closed for the indefinite future, the hotel is functioning as a quarantine site for repatriated OFWs.

Chef Jayme Natividad, who runs the hotel’s Taza Fresh Table restaurant, was called in for a meeting when the quarantine began and told they had to accommodate workers from Global Mining Professionals. Natividad had the option to leave the hotel and spend the quarantine with his family, but he felt he had a duty to help in whatever way he can.

Chef Jayme Natividad chose to spend the ECQ in the kitchens of Taal Vista Hotel to help feed repatriated OFWs.

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Photo Courtesy of Chef Jayme Natividad.
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“For my kitchen team, I asked who wanted to help out. I called a few people whom I knew I could rely on during these times, and they came through,” says Natividad. “It was really difficult at first because there was the question of it being safe and also keeping their families safe. I totally understand their point. For those who reported to work and decided not to stay in the hotel, it was just a matter of getting through the various checkpoints. But once we got our letters and presented them to the police, it got easier by the day.”

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The hotel has since welcomed three batches of OFWs under quarantine. They come from different shipping companies; some from the U.S., some from Europe. Each group stays at the hotel for a 14-day quarantine period, although some groups extend their stay by a few days. Assisted by a DOH team, each company also sends moderators to oversee the quarantine process. 

Natividad and his team have been spending every day for the past few weeks preparing packed meals for all the OFWs. The quarantined guests are asked to not leave their rooms and to communicate with the hotel staff through the operator. The chef says the kitchen team is especially grateful when the OFW guests leave them little thank-you notes. “It is very heart-warming as they share photos of these notes in our group chats,” he says.

Natividad and his team have been spending every day preparing packed meals for OFWs.

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Photo Courtesy of Chef Jayme Natividad.

Having trained in the U.S., including in the renowned New York restaurants Balthazar and Gramercy Tavern, Natividad has a wealth of experience in running a top-class kitchen. The meals he is cooking these days are simpler than what he is used to preparing, but you know they will be of prime quality. Natividad has always prided himself on doing the simple things well. During his years of exposure to the New American cooking techniques and to traditional French and Italian styles, his dishes have not been too flamboyant, and he emphasizes fresh ingredients.

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With the disruption to food supply chains, the kitchen team needs to be creative and careful in its use of ingredients. “I wish we would get back to normal or the new normal and we go back to our lives. But that will not happen just yet,” he says. “[The hotel] won’t be that busy and we have to keep an eye on our expenses and be as frugal as possible.”

Meals for quarantined OFWS

Photo Courtesy of Chef Jayme Natividad.
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Photo Courtesy of Chef Jayme Natividad.

Photo Courtesy of Chef Jayme Natividad.
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It is uncertain how long the hotels of Tagaytay will remain closed, but Natividad is already thinking of how they must move forward. “There are a lot of things to do to get ready for when we reopen. New policies and procedures need to be made. Trainings, creating new menus, new recipes.”

The Taal Vista Hotel has recovered from the bombs of a world war and the ash of the volcanic eruption earlier this year, and now, it seeks to continue its capacity for recovery. According to the hotel management, “as an iconic institution that has served the residents of Tagaytay and witnessed significant events then and now, Taal Vista Hotel is dedicated to be an instrument to help the nation win this battle. Especially in these trying times, our management and staff shall do our part the best way we can to be of service to our fellow Filipinos who are undergoing this ordeal.”

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Ira Lee
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