Porsche offers bright future for Pinoy trainees

The first Porsche training facility established outside Germany – the Porsche Training and Recruitment Center Asia (PTRCA) in Manila – recently celebrated its fifth anniversary.

And to mark the occasion, Porsche importer and distributor, PGA Cars, hosted a glittering birthday party  graced by Vice President Jejomar C. Binay, which also saw the graduation of the PTRCA’s tenth batch of 16 certified Porsche Service Mechatronics.

The PTRCA's tenth batch of 16 certified Porsche Service Mechatronics with the center's 5th anniversary Porsche 911 training car.

The PTRCA’s tenth batch of 16 certified Porsche Service Mechatronics with the center’s 5th anniversary Porsche 911 training car.

The idea for the center was born in 2006 when PGA Cars chairman Robert Coyiuto Jr., noted an exodus of Porsche-trained Filipino technicians for the Middle East. They were being pirated by dealers in the region – obviously impressed by Filipino ingenuity, hard work, and skill – not to mention a firm grasp of the English language.

Coyiuto discussed the matter with former Porsche AG chairman of the board Dr.Wendelin Wiedeking at a Porsche importers’ meeting and proposed to set up a Porsche technical training school in the Philippines.

At the birthday party. PGA Cars chairman Robert Coyiuto Jr. (right) with Bacolod guests Chef Stessie Hecita and SunStar writer Robert Harland.

At the birthday party. PGA Cars chairman Robert Coyiuto Jr. (right) with Bacolod guests Chef Stessie Hecita and SunStar writer Robert Harland.

Crucially, Coyiuto envisioned the PTRCA not just to train Mechatronics, but to provide opportunities for the marginalized sector of society. Aware that a disturbing 33 percent of Filipinos live below poverty levels, PTRCA partnered with Don Bosco Technical Institute (DBTI), with a long-standing track record of providing education to this undeserved class.

Hertz Pura, global certified Porsche trainer for the PTRCA, says: “The educational foundation trainees get at Don Bosco is excellent. This is a perfect stepping stone to become Mechatronics.”

The PTRCA dips from DBTI’s talented pool. A two-stage selection process for choosing the final “Porsche Service Mechatronics” begins with DBTI selecting, twice a year, 35 of the best students of the current crop. Out of these, the Porsche trainer selects 16 qualified students per class.

Bacolod guest Chef Stessie Hecita at the wheel of a Porsche Cayman S

Bacolod guest Chef Stessie Hecita at the wheel of a Porsche Cayman S

The nine month training program includes theoretical and practical lessons as well as advanced learning using the Porsche Integrated and Workshop Information System diagnostic tool with instruction from Hertz Pura.

Pura also notes that while similar educational institutions have been set up by other car companies in the country, the PTRCA is the first to assure high-paying job placement for its deserving graduates.

The center’s newest 16 graduating students from the 10th batch are already set for deployment – mainly to the Middle East and Latin America. Porsche Centers in the South Pacific and other emerging markets have also signified their intent to source talent from PTRCA.

“While we are grateful for being able to touch and change lives for the better, we continue to look at ways where we can be of service in uplifting not only people’s lives, but their dignity as well,” states Porsche Philippines Managing Director Roberto Coyiuto III.

Since the center was launched in 2008, some 159 trainees have graduated.

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In search of the perfect French Fry

For some, the McDonald’s French fry is perfect. It’s straight, skinny, salty and golden brown.

McDo says it’s known for producing what it proudly refers to as the ‘gold standard’ as far as French fries are concerned. The company’s internal surveys have shown that 30 per cent of customers come to their restaurants just to eat the fries.

But as good as they are, for me real French fries (or ‘chips’ as we call them in England) are homemade, thick, crispy and full of potato flavor.

French fries as served at Britain's White Rabbit pub. At Php45 a fry, they must be the country's most expensive

French fries as served at Britain’s White Rabbit pub. At Php45 a fry, they must be the country’s most expensive

Some of the best French fries in Bacolod can be found at the Negros Occidental Golf and Country Club (Marapara) in Bata Subdivision. Two fried eggs and a plate of their ‘chips’ make a delicious snack.

And some of the worst fries can be found in a certain so-called top class hotel, but I’d better say no more.

But first, why are they called French fries when they aren’t French at all?

It seems that when the Americans went to Belgium during World War I, they saw soldiers cooking potatoes in oil. As the official language of the Belgian military was French, the Americans called them ‘French fries.’ I suppose Belgian fries doesn’t quite have the same ring to it. As for the French, they call them pommes frites – “potato fries”.

A British 'delicacy' - a French fry sandwich. AKA a 'chip butty'

A British ‘delicacy’ – a French fry sandwich. AKA a ‘chip butty’

So how do you make the perfect French fry?

Unlike the US and Europe, here we do not have the luxury here of choosing which species of potato we’d like. In our supermarkets – it’s potatoes, take it or leave it. A pity foreign supermarkets like Tesco or Walmart are not allowed to operate here. They’d give the local boys a run for their money.

So, we have the potatoes. What next?

Wash your potatoes, and peel them. You can leave the skins on, but I refer them without.

Then soak them in cold water. This removes much of the starch thereby reducing the chances the fries will stick together. And you’ll also get a crisper fry.

The next little wrinkle is to fry the potatoes twice. The first time, called “blanching,” involves lower-temperature, longer-duration frying to thoroughly cook the potato. The next step is to brown and crisp the outside at a higher temperature.

Take a large saucepan or wok and fill it halfway with vegetable oil and heat to around 250F. It’s important to use a thermometer because it’s vital that the first frying is done at a lower temperature than the second.

Add your fries in batches that will not overcrowd the pot. Fry them gently until they are cooked through but not browned at all, about 6 to 8 minutes.

Remove them from the oil and drain them on a paper towel-lined sheet tray. Cool them to room temperature before proceeding.

One chef says he blanches his fries until they whistle to when they’re ready to come out. “Because,” he says, “the inside starts to steam, and it whistles like a steam whistle.”

Just before serving, heat the oil to 350-400F and add the blanched fries in batches. Cook them until they are golden brown, about 3 to 5 minutes, then remove, season and serve immediately.

They should about the best homemade French fries you’ve ever had.

Bon Appétit!

A Night at the Opera

It’s not everybody’s cup of Chinese tea, but I happen to like Peking Opera.

In the 1980 and 90s when I made frequent visits to Beijing (Peking), I was often able to fit in a ‘night at the opera’.

Males often sing female roles in Peking Opera

Males often sing female roles in Peking Opera

Peking Opera is recognized as China’s national opera. It’s a performance art incorporating singing, reciting, acting and martial arts. It arose in the late 18th century and was fully developed by the mid-19th century.

Although widely practised throughout China, its performance centers on Beijing, Tianjin and Shanghai. The art form is also preserved in Taiwan, where it is known as ‘Guoju’. It has also become popular in many other countries including the United States and Japan.

The famous heroine Mu Guiying in traditional Peking opera

The famous heroine Mu Guiying in traditional Peking opera

Alas, it does not have much of a following the Philippines. I once suggested to a member of the local Chinese community that we stage a Peking Opera to raise funds for the Negros Forests and Ecological Foundation. He said I shouldn’t bother as he doubted anyone would show up. A pity.

Peking Opera features four main types of performers. Performing troupes often have several of each variety, as well as numerous secondary and tertiary performers. With their elaborate and colorful costumes, performers are the only focal points on Peking opera’s characteristically sparse stage.

Opera star Kang Wansheng preparing for a performance

Opera star Kang Wansheng preparing for a performance

Peking opera is sung and recited using primarily the Beijing dialect, and its librettos are composed according to a strict set of rules. The operas tell stories of history, politics, society and daily life and aspire to inform as they entertain.

The music of Peking opera plays a key role in setting the pace of the show, creating a particular atmosphere, shaping the characters and guiding the progress of the stories.

Costumes are flamboyant and the exaggerated facial make-up uses concise symbols, colours and patterns to portray characters’ personalities and social identities.

Performers us their skills of speech, song, dance and combat in movements that are symbolic and suggestive, rather than realistic. Above all else, the skill of performers is evaluated according to the beauty of their movements.

A painted 'mal' face, or 'Jing', in a Peking Opera play

A painted ‘mal’ face, or ‘Jing’, in a Peking Opera play

Peking opera was denounced as ‘feudalistic’ and ‘bourgeois’ during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s, and replaced by revolutionary opera. But after the Cultural Revolution, performances started again.

While still popular among the older generation, Peking Opera is struggling to attract younger audiences though it is attempting to widen its appeal by improving performance quality, adapting new performance elements and performing new and original plays.

With many Filipinos going to China on holiday these days I thoroughly recommend a trip to the local opera house if they get the chance. It’s quite a spectacle.

Hazel Stuart hosted a lunch

British TV documentary film maker and Bacolod resident Hazel Stuart hosted a lunch on Thursday for Msgr. Gigi Gaston (r), who this week is cerebrating his 54th year as a priest. Joining them for the lunch was British national and Bacolod resident Robert Harland.

British TV documentary film maker and Bacolod resident Hazel Stuart hosted a lunch on Thursday for Msgr. Gigi Gaston (r), who this week is cerebrating his 54th year as a priest. Joining them for the lunch was British national and Bacolod resident Robert Harland.

Rare deer born in Bacolod

A Visayan spotted deer fawn was born recently at the Negros Forests and Ecological Foundation’s Biodiversity Conservation Center (NFEFI-BCC) in Bacolod City.

The sex of the fawn is not yet determined. It’s the fourth offspring from breeding pair Girom and Sandy. There are currently 14 deer at the center.

Mother Sandy and fawn

Mother Sandy and fawn

“The Visayan spotted deer is the largest endemic species of the West Visayas Faunal Region,” said Dr. Joanne Justo, the center’s curator.

“The species is now critically endangered and currently known to occur only in Negros and Panay islands. Deforestation and hunting for food and pet trade have greatly contributed in the decline in number of deer.”

The NFEFI-BCC is breeding this species in captivity and eventually the captive-bred animals will be released back into the wild. But this can only be done once studies have proven that the habitat is adequate and well-protected for their survival.

In the meantime, the center is involved in animal exchanges (or ‘breeding loans’) with other DENR-accredited institutions to ensure the genetic diversity of the captive population.

British Embassy Consular Clinic

Consular officials from the British Embassy in Manila will be conducting a town hall-type clinic at the Del Rio Hotel in Iloilo on Thursday, May 30. All British nationals from Iloilo, Bacolod and Guimaras are invited to attend.

British Embassy Warden for Negros Occidental, Robert Harland, said the clinic will give Britons the opportunity talk to embassy representatives one-on-one. And a great opportunity for British nationals to learn more about how the embassy can help them.

The Bacolod delegation at Thursday's British Embassy Consular clinic at the Hotel Del Rio in Iloilo (l-r) Embassy warden Hazel Stuart, Virgie Griffiths, Nelly Duckett, Elizabeth Woodhouse, Embassy warden Robert Harland, Ditas Montilla Henson, British Embassy pro-consul Victoria Buenaventura and British Embassy consular officer Jhoanna Hines  .

The Bacolod delegation at Thursday’s British Embassy Consular clinic at the Hotel Del Rio in Iloilo (l-r) Embassy warden Hazel Stuart, Virgie Griffiths, Nelly Duckett, Elizabeth Woodhouse, Embassy warden Robert Harland, Ditas Montilla Henson, British Embassy pro-consul Victoria Buenaventura and British Embassy consular officer Jhoanna Hines .

British nationals living in Negros wishing to attend should contact Robert Harland on 09163437048.

 

Please silence that cockerel

As British Embassy Wardens for Negros Occidental, fellow-Brit Hazel Stuart and I have to deal with a wide range of issues among the British community. Most of it is pretty routine such as advice on renewing passports or providing help for people applying for visas to visit the UK.

British Embassy wardens for Negros Occidental (l-r) Robert Harland and Hazel Stuart with former HM Consul Joanne Finnamore-Corkin, British ambassador to the Philippines Stephen Lillie and HM consul Brendan Gill

British Embassy wardens for Negros Occidental (l-r) Robert Harland and Hazel Stuart with former HM Consul Joanne Finnamore-Corkin, British ambassador to the Philippines Stephen Lillie and HM consul Brendan Gill

Occasionally, there’s something more serious such as an incident last year when a vacationing Brit fell ill in the province and had to be evacuated back to England.

Through direct contact with British Embassies and consuls and sometimes through the worldwide volunteer warden system, the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) received over a million consular inquiries in 2012. It also supported over 50,000 British nationals facing difficulties overseas.

But the FCO could not help everyone. It said it received some odd requests last year – perhaps the strangest was someone asking if they could silence a neighbour’s noisy cockerel. Sorry, but that’s a little beyond the remit of the British consular system.

Please silence that cockerel

Please silence that cockerel

Another unusual enquiry was a request for the telephone number of Sir Paul McCartney’s wife. And in Sweden a man wanted the FCO to check the credentials of a woman he’d met through an online dating service. Sorry chum, but you’ll have to do that yourself.

A woman in Beijing complained that she’d bought a pair of football boots which were ‘made in China’, but they were of poor quality. I’m not sure what she expected the British government to do about that.

Other odd requests included FCO staff in Rome being asked to translate a phrase for a man wanting to get a tattoo in Italian; a request by a woman in Tel Aviv for consular staff to order her husband to eat healthily and get fit so that they could have children and a traveler in Montreal requesting help to settle a 1,000 British pound (Php 63,000) wager on the color of a British passport.

As the saying goes, it takes all sorts to make a world.

While help could not be given to these people, FCO staff are on hand to assist with a multitude of inquiries and are able to help in many cases. For example consulate staff in Southern Europe were able to provide assistance to a single mother of three young children who was suddenly hospitalized after a bout of sickness, and they also helped a family of four injured in a road traffic accident.

The FCO set up a contact center in Malaga in southern Spain in February 2011 to handle the volume of non-consular inquiries received by British embassies and consulates in southern Europe. Since its launch staff have handled 131,211 calls, 39 per cent of which were lifestyle inquiries.

The center’s head, Steve Jones, said: “Our aim is to help staff at posts concentrate on what is important, but some of the inquiries we received from British nationals last year were bizarre to say the least.

“For example, one customer contacted us to ask if we could provide the name of the watch that the Royal Navy sailors wore between the years 1942-1955.”

Consular affairs minister Mark Simmonds said: “FCO staff help many thousands of British nationals facing serious difficulties around the world every year. We also receive over a million inquiries annually, so it is important that people understand what we can and cannot do to support them when they are abroad.

“We are not in a position to help people make travel arrangements or social plans, but we do help those who face real problems abroad. These can include victims of crime, bereaved families who have lost a loved one abroad or Britons who have been arrested or detained.

“We aim to continue to focus on supporting those who really need our help in the coming year,” he added.

A Royal Garden

Negros Occidental Garden Club members were treated to a private viewing on Saturday of a BBC documentary film featuring Prince Charles and the famous gardens at Highgrove House, his English country estate.

Prince Charles (r) with celebrity British gardener Alan Titchmarsh

Prince Charles (r) with celebrity British gardener Alan Titchmarsh

The film was presented by the Sampaguita Group at the club’s monthly meeting at the Sugarland Hotel.

Prince Charles at Highgrove

Prince Charles at Highgrove

The Highgrove gardens, covering some six hectares, are a showcase for the Prince’s interest in traditional and organic growing methods.

In the film, the Prince provides celebrity British gardener and broadcaster, Alan Titchmarsh, with unprecedented access to the gardens and gives a remarkably informal and candid interview thereby offering a rare insight into a royal passion.

The Prince bought Highgrove in 1980. It came with six hectares of almost featureless garden. In the ensuing 30 years, Prince Charles set about transforming the landscape into a beautiful array of diverse gardens.

Highgrove is an acclaimed promoter of the organic movement, both in terms of environmental sustainability and by its sheer natural beauty.

Tirchmarsh says the gardens are full of “floral pageantry, with vivid color composition, buzzing bees and a heady mixture of scents”.  He adds that by his reckoning Prince Charles is the best royal gardener Britain ever had, both by dint of knowledge and practical skills.

Garden club members were certainly impressed by what they saw and they hope to organize a tour to the UK to see the gardens in the future.

The Thyme Walk at Highgrove

The Thyme Walk at Highgrove

The Prince regularly invites local charities and gardening groups for tours. The gardens are also open to the general public at certain times of the year, but advance booking is essential due to the heavy demand for tickets.

Is a picture worth a thousand bites?

Who cares what someone else had for lunch yesterday?

Who cares what someone else had for lunch yesterday?

I know they exist. I have a friend in Bacolod who does it. But I’ve never understood people who want to photograph and document their meals online.

Who on earth could possibly be interested in what someone else had for their lunch yesterday?

And I’ve discovered there’s even a name for these weird people – they’re called ‘Foodstagrammers’. To make matters worse, there are even websites dedicated to them. Perhaps a sign of the times or a fashion that has yet to reach an old codger like me.

But now medical experts are saying that people who obsessively take pictures of what they are eating or cooking and post them online using Instagram, Facebook or Twitter could be ill.

Like so many crazes, this one started in the US. It’s become so popular that many restaurants are banning diners from taking pictures of their food as it disturbs other customers.

Dr Valerie Taylor, chief of psychiatry at Women’s College Hospital at the University of Toronto, says  people who religiously document each meal might be suffering from various psychological issues.

As pretty as a picture

As pretty as a picture

She believes the practice of constantly taking pictures of food and posting them online indicates that a person is beginning to have an unhealthy preoccupation with food which could lead to eating disorders.

“I see clients for whom food has become problematic. They struggle to go out and not have food be the key element of all social interaction: what they eat, when they ate, when they are going to eat again,” said Dr Taylor.

“The concern becomes when all they do is send pictures of food. We take pictures of things that are important to us, and for some people, the food itself becomes central and the rest is background,” she added.

Interestingly, others have linked the consumption of food photography to weight gain. Many have blamed our obsessive preoccupation with food with so many TV food reprograms, food websites and books about food for the bulging waistlines of today’s generation.

And a recent study in the US found that spending a lot of time looking at appetizing food online stimulated the brain and causes people to eat too much. Speaking as a chef who spends hours every day doing just that I think that study is spot on.

As for taking pictures of the meals I make and eat – perish the thought.

Pasalamat Festival – a lesson learn

As a recently-qualified tour guide, I’m learning how important good timing is.

If I’m picking up guests at 9:00am, I need to be at the hotel at 8:30. Driving north through Bacolod City? I know we need to leave early if traveling after 4pm as Lacson Street is usually very busy.

I’m getting the hang of how long it takes to get from A to B and how long an average tour will take at landmarks such as the Ruins and the Cathedral.

Pasalamat – a great festival, lousy traffic arrangements

Pasalamat – a great festival, lousy traffic arrangements

Fortunately, when I paid a visit to La Carlota recently to experience the last day of the Pasalamat Festival I did not have any overseas guests with me. Otherwise it would have been embarrassing.

The festival parade was fine – the usual drum beating, colourful costumes, street dancing and, of course, at this particular time, politicians campaigning.

So far so good. Had I had foreign guests, they would have been delighted.

The problem came when we had to leave early.

Pasalamat Festival – a day ruined by poor traffic control

Pasalamat Festival – a day ruined by poor traffic control

I had to be at the Negros Occidental Golf and Country Club in Bacolod City at 6:30pm for the awards dinner and ceremony for the Rotary ‘Golf for a Cause’ tournament. I was also due to take pictures of the prize presentations.

So, thinking  it would take around an hour, we left at 5:20 – well before the festival ended. I knew the main street would be blocked so we parked at the back for a quick getaway.

Alas, we found roads had been blocked off and there were no traffic enforcers in sight. We then spotted a rough, hand-written sign saying ‘Bacolod’ so we took that road. That’s when our problems began.

There were no further signs and we ended up driving across dirt tracks in cane fields for about 20kms. After a very rough and dusty ride, we eventually ended up in Pontevedra. Miles out of our way.

It took us another 90 minutes to reach the golf club. By the time we arrived, there was no food – just a few old chicken bones on the table. I missed out on a raffle prize as I wasn’t present when the draw was made and all the prize presentations had been made. We also wasted a lot of gas.

Needless to say, I learned the hard way that if I’m taking guests to a festival warn them in advance that leaving might take some time.

I subsequently heard there were a lot of complaints from visitors to La Carlota on the final festival day about the traffic re-routing, so we were not alone. Apparently, the traffic arrangements were a complete shambles.

Nevertheless, a lesson well learned though I shall think twice about a return visit to the Pasalamat Festival until someone in City Hall takes the trouble to do a better job with the traffic.

If the city can put on such an impressive festival, surely it’s not asking too much to arrange a smooth flow for traffic leaving the place.