Entertaining
How to Set the Ultimate Holiday Table
Crickette Tantoco, Ching Cruz, and Naynay Montilla reveal their top hosting tips and ideas for your very own fetes.
IMAGE Dix Perez
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CHING CRUZ

Things get very particular, elaborate, and polished whenever Ching hosts at her elegant home in Dasmariñas Village. More formal occasions, such as dinners for business associates of her husband, Philip, are held in several dining areas, but for more for casual meals for family and friends, the setting is usually the lush, back garden.

How often do you entertain guests?
It all depends on the season.

Ideal number?
My preferred number of guests is 12, which provides for intimate conversation and quality time with each of them. Minimum length of prep time? Six hours—from all the prep work to the finishing details.

Entertaining icon?
The stylish Babe Paley and classic Jackie O.

A store that has everything you need?
Säntis, Terry Selection, and Rustan’s.

How many courses do you serve?
About eight for dinner.

Unique staple on your table?
Grilled short ribs and fresh butterflied lobsters from Palawan.

Art in your dining area?
Paintings by one of my best friends, Isabel Diaz.

Favorite meal-time music?
Live music by Jay Cayuca the violinist and pianist Sonny Antonio. Or CD compilations from Hotel Costes.

How do you break the ice?
My guests are usually quite lively and rarely shy so there’s always laughter from the start of the dinner.

Ching’s house is filled with rooms that are ready to receive guests, like the brightly lit conservatory by the garden.

Favorite dish to serve?
I prefer hosting dinners and paella is my house specialty.

Favorite meal-time helper?
My personal assistant helps me supervise and see that everything is perfect.

How do you usually do centerpieces?
I have fresh flower centerpieces with candelabras. I change it up depending on the theme.

Usual topic of conversation?
Current events

A great appetizer?
Foie gras, caviar pie, artichoke dip, Vietnamese spring rolls, gambas and sauteed fresh mushrooms all to whet the appetite.

Favorite drink to serve?
Veuve Clicquot Champagne.

Favorite salad?
Arugula with pine nuts, fresh blueberries and Parmesan slivers.

Favorite soup?
French onion soup or fresh tomato soup with avocado.

Where do you get your wine?
Ram’s and Ralph’s.

A dessert that never fails impress? Strawberry shortcake.

Coffee or tea?
Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee and Nuit Calme chamomile tea.

Ching's tableware, slow-cooked short ribs, and French onion soup

Crystal?
Waterford and Christofle.


Flatware?
Christofle.

Linen?
My favorites are my French country ones from Provence.

Fondest hosting memory?
It would have to be a toss up between my winter wedding in Salzburg and my birthday at the Four Seasons in Hong Kong.

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There’s a problem with the food, who’s on your speed dial?
Chef Freddie (Tembrevilla) without a doubt.

Most important thing to remember when entertaining?
It’s imperative that the senses of my guests are addressed and heightened—I want them to enjoy a tasty menu, to see and be surrounded by beautiful ambiance, to smell gorgeous flowers and to hear lovely musical beats, all while having a great time. Entertaining should be natural, effortless, never forced and most importantly, enjoyable.

Sweets from Cupcakes by Sonja and Ching's stunning tablescape

Recipe to share:
Organic arugula salad with French mustard dressing 

Dressing:
Olive oil
Balsamic vinegar
Brown sugar
Dijon mustard
Thyme
Arugula
Toasted pine nuts
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

  1. Combine olive oil, Dijon mustard, thyme, and brown sugar and whisk together.
  2. To assemble the salad place arugula in a large salad bowl and toss with the dressing. Transfer to chilled salad plates and top with the toasted pine nuts.

CRICKETTE TANTOCO

While Crickette and her husband Donnie regularly host corporate functions at their light-filled home in Alabang, she prefers hosting cozy, casual, comfortable Sunday family lunches filled with lots of laughter.

Favorite caterers?
The Plaza, La Tasca, Via Mare, and Kai.

Florist?
Rustan’s Flower Shop.

Entertainment?
I usually get a band and do Rockeoke. For more formal occasions I get a harpist.

Stylist, or party planner?
Andrew Laurel.

Food stores?
Of course, Rustan’s Supermarket, Shopwise, Gourmet to Go, Benny’s and Terry’s.

Wine/liquor supplier?
Ralph’s, Titania Wine Cellar and Rustan’s Supermarket.

Meat purveyors?
Rustan’s Supermarket and Shopwise.

Dessert place?
Peninsula Manila, Judah, Yulo’s Kitchen, Vargas Kitchen, My Mom’s kitchen.

China?
Noritake, Spode, Rosenthal.

Linen?
Rustan’s OVO.

Flatware?
Sterling Silver.

Glassware?
Omega by Waterford, Baccarat.

Where do you usually purchase these items?
Rustan’s Department Store, Bloomingdale’s and Fortunoff.

How often do you entertain?
Once a month.

Ideal number of guests?
12 people.

Details from Crickette's table

Invitation style—by phone, e-mail or printed invites?
All of the above, it depends on the occasion.

Who usually prepares the food?
A caterer, our cook, my Mom.

Prep time?
A day.

Entertaining style?
Casual.

How do you seat your guests?
I use name cards for small parties. I go with free seating if it’s over 12 people.

How many courses do you usually serve?
Four to five.

Favorite mealtime music?
Chill, classical, piano.

How do you usually break the ice?
I always have welcome cocktails and I properly introduce the guests to each other.

Usual topics of conversation?
Current events, great reads, movie recommendations, travel, family catch up, personal updates, exercise, diet and beauty tips.

How do you usually style the table?
For casual parties, I do it myself. I use plants from my garden and pull out accessories from around the house to decorate the table. For more formal and themed parties, I have it professionally styled and order the flowers and candles.

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A great appetizer?
Fresh oysters, Pata Negra, assorted sushi.

Cocktail of choice?
Fresh OJ with Vodka, Bloody Mary, sparkling wines.

Signature dishes?
My mom’s turkey and my lola’s Morcon.

A dessert that never fails impress?
Croquembouche. I had this at Maxim’s in Paris and as the cream puffs were being pulled out to serve, high-stemmed roses came into view.

After-dinner drink of choice?
Grappa, limoncello, brandy.

Top hosting/entertaining tip?
Have a good mix of people, good food, and good conversation.

Some of Crickette's go-tos: a bucket of chilled wines; carrot cake, chocolate muffins and Dulce de Leche from Benny’s; and lechon and pochero.

Recipe to share:
Wagyu burger

6 Wagyu burger patties
6 lettuce leaves
6 slices of salad tomatoes
6 pieces grilled onions (round slices)
Jalapeño peppers
Dill pickles
Coarse-grained mustard
6 hamburger buns
Truffle oil
Fontina cheese

  1. Season the patties with salt and pepper.
  2. Pan-grill or cook over flame to the desired doneness.
  3. Layer the vegetables in the order that you prefer on top of the bottom bun.
  4. Melt the cheese on top of the burger and put on top of the layered vegetables. Drizzle with a little truffle oil.
  5. Serve with pickles, jalapeño and mustard.

NAYNAY MONTILLA

A born host, schoolteacher Naynay says she takes immense pleasure in entertaining at her home in Magallanes Village. She applies the same enthusiasm to the smallest of celebrations, such as an intimate afternoon tea for two with a very close friend.

Favorite caterers?
Hai Shin Lou and Thai Chef Tum Tindoy

Florist?
I usually do my own flowers, buying from the stalls at Market! Market! There is a florist there who helps me out.

Entertainment?
Good company is enough entertainment, but once I hired a choir for a Christmas party for my husband Agustin’s team at his law firm.

Stylist, or party planner?
Me!

Food store?
Terry Selection, S&R, Rustan’s Fresh, Säntis.

Wine/liquor supplier
Terry Selection.

Meat purveyor
MyOwn Meat Shop in Quezon City.

Dessert?
Homemade by Roshan, Mara dela Rama, Karla Hernandez (Dessert Fairy).

China?
Uniwide Warehouse Sale Club, Gourdo’s, Crate and Barrel.

Linen?
Crate and Barrel. I also get my own fabric and have it sewn to my specifications.

Flatware?
Crate and Barrel.

Glassware?
Rustan’s, Crate and Barrel.

On Naynay's table: lilac place settings with fresh flowers as centerpieces

How often do you entertain?
As often as I like.

Ideal number of guests?
I have a table for 12, but I would say eight would be ideal for a nice night of interesting conversation and continued laughter.

Invitation style—phone, e-mail, printed invites?
Whatever is most appropriate, depending on the inspiration. I particularly like sending printed invites so I collect all sorts of stationery.

Who usually prepares the food?
My cook, my husband Agustin, and myself—and in that order. If Agustin had the time, he would cook for me each time I entertained. He whips up a fabulous fabada. As a lawyer, he’s not always available, so I rely on my cook Gerlie who is innovative and organized. I sit down with her and plan a menu and she is always eager to try out new recipes. I also order from time to time, like Tita Morita Roces’ gazpacho, and Tita Malu Veloso’s mustard chicken. Lastly, there’salso something so cozy and relaxed about a potluck event. I once had Tony Boy Escalante of Antonio’s as a guest for dinner and he brought the greens. How perfect is that for a potluck item? You get only the best greens from Tony Boy.

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Servers?
I love to entertain so I thoughtfully train my house staff for this and they all know how to serve and set the table. I’ve never hired a waiter but I have thought about it.

Entertaining style?
I’ve done all kinds and it usually depends on the theme and the guest of honor. I’ve hosted dinners for my husband’s colleagues and associates, lunches with the moms from my children’s playgroup, an intimate fondue dinner with my high school classmates.

How many courses do you usually serve?
We like serving four courses: soup, salad, main and dessert—with coffee or tea to finish.

Favorite mealtime music?
Music is so important, and engaging! My husband and I found a great collection of songs in Hong Kong and I like using that to set the mood.

How do you usually break the ice?
More often than not, I host for close friends so there is no need for this. My children are a huge part of my life, so when I entertain they entertain with me. They usually break the ice if there is any.

Usual topics of conversation?
It really depends on the guest list, but the conversations always seem to flow and that is vital for any event. My exposed brick wall in my dining area has patiently absorbed each and every exchange—whether it is about motherhood with my Mommy Group, or about husbands and wives with my Wives Club.

A great appetizer?
The appetizer is the first thing that we serve so it is vital in setting the tone for the food of the event. I’ve used Melba toast and the lemon garlic tinapa from Blue Kitchen as a topping. I set it on separate bowls on a huge plate, and I let the guests serve themselves.

Signature dishes?
One of our most sought after dishes is our garlic and lemongrass ribs. It comes from a Thai recipe book.

A dessert that never fails impress?
I love dessert, and it is the only thing I can dabble in myself. I once created a layered ice-cream cake sprinkled with coconut shavings. I also like to serve my Coffee Nata, which is a product from my brother-in-law’s company. It is richer than coffee jelly because it is made of nata, and the flavor is distinct. I usually serve it on top of ice cream, and I also send home bottles with guests who like it.

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Top hosting/entertaining tip?
Enjoy the process, and it will be such a pleasurable event.

Fish tacos, almond encrusted chicken sandwiches and summer salad; cucumber sandwiches, Mara's Oreo cookies, Jenny Silayan's Alfajores and Royce chocolate-covered almonds; homemade lemongrass tea

Recipe to Share:
Spicy garlic and lemongrass prime ribs (si krong moo tod takrai)

500 g Pork prime ribs, washed and drained
Cooking oil for deep-frying 

Marinade:
3 to 4 cloves of garlic peeled and chopped
2 teaspoons ground white pepper
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 stalk lemongrass, hard outer leaves removed, ends trimmed, bruised and finely chopped
1 red chili, seeded and finely chopped
2 teaspoons sugar
1 tablespoon sesame oil

  1. Combine ingredients for marinade in a mixing bowl and mix well.
  2. Place pork ribs into marinade for one hour.
  3. Heat oil for deep-frying over medium heat.
  4. Deep-fry ribs for about five minutes or until they are golden brown.
  5. Remove from heat and drain well.
  6. Serve ribs immediately.

*I use beef short ribs that I normally buy in S&R and my cook boils them before marinating.

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About The Author
Jacs T. Sampayan
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