MANILA, Philippines – Michele Pantoja tells me she had no plans of going into the food business at all. She had studied marketing and was doing public relations, events planning and marketing for a large group of companies in the retail industry.
But when her mother suddenly passed away two years ago, she didn’t give it a second thought. It seemed only natural that she should pick up where her mother had left off.
Michele’s mom, Tita Marie (the late Marie Vita-Pantoja), slipped into the business almost effortlessly. She had been in the garments business and had dabbled in real estate, but cooking had always been something she enjoyed.
When she decided to establish 4th Street Kitchen, she was actually picking up from where her mother-in-law, Ester Lerma-Pantoja, had left off.
Ester was a pioneer, one of the country’s first women journalists in the ’30s and ’40s, and she had passed on to her daughters the determination to be career women. But when they got married and she realized that they knew nothing about keeping house, she decided to set up an unconventional type of school that would help other young women like them.
Thus was Heart and Hearth born in the early ’70s, in the same sprawling New Manila bungalow which now houses 4th Street Kitchen. Heart and Hearth was originally just “a four-week workshop for brides and brides-to-be,” a crash course in the rudiments of cooking (including menu planning, going to market and preparing basic dishes), sewing, making a household budget, infant care, basic home decorating, etc. Eventually it expanded to include social graces (etiquette, entertaining), good grooming, even weaving and jewelry
When Marie set up her catering business, she realized that even as she was applying what she had learned in culinary school, when planning her menus, she was reaching back to the traditional dishes that her mother-in-law had been serving, using recipes which had been in the family for generations.
Michele says that today, when she sits down at her mother’s desk to fill clients’ orders—whether they be traditional fare (like lengua con setas and paella valenciana, inihaw na liempo and kare-kare) or Asian fusion which was what 4th Street Kitchen has come to be best known for (Vietnamese pomelo and shrimp salad and Thai chicken pandan with mango chutney)—she feels her mom and her lola hovering over her shoulder and smiling at her.
Michele’s personal style—which is reflected in the way she runs the business—is suited to the fast-paced urban lifestyle and the multi-tasking modern young men and women. But she is also continuing a long-established tradition. She does both full catering and food orders.
My own preference is for the Asian Fusion menu, but I’m exploring the Continental, Philippine and Mediterranean as well.
Check out 4th Street Kitchen at http://4thstreetkitchen2008.multiply.com and on Facebook.
chicken panda with mango chutney
pomelo shrimp salad