How This Stylish Couple Celebrated Their 20th Anniversary

Elbert Cuenca, president and CEO of Steak Room Concepts, and Liza Ilarde, fashion and beauty editor at Manila Bulletin, chat about memorable meals, their hopes for Manila, and celebrating their 20th anniversary.

What time did you wake up today?

Elbert: 5:30 a.m. to bike.
Liza: Early! It’s my birthday today and I’m leaving for Germany.

What’s the first thing you do when you wake up?

E: I prepare my breakfast—an espresso and a pastry.
L: Hug the dog. Then the husband! My morning ritual starts with oil pulling, which takes 20 minutes. I have to have breakfast even if it’s just coffee and a croissant. But always coffee—black.

How do you approach dressing for the day?

E: It really all depends on the day’s schedule and what I’ll be doing, both morning and evening. I try to dress just once, although the occasional dressy evening affair will prompt me to bring a change of clothes.
L: I’m not one of those people who plans her outfit the night before. It depends on my mood, where I’m going, what I’ll be doing, and if I’m feeling fat!


Favorite thing about your job?

E: My job doesn’t have a regular schedule. Every day is different and I deal with different people.
L: Traveling to new destinations to do fashion shoots or interview interesting people.

Least favorite thing about your job?

E: Going through traffic when moving between restaurant outlets.
L: Deadlines!


You both play a part in shaping Manila culture. What is your hope for the respective industries that you work in, and for Manila?

E: I really wish for Metro Manila to be identified a dining destination. We need to do what we can to elevate the standards and develop our palates.
L: They say print is dead, so I want to produce content that will engage readers and make them want to pick up the paper every Friday, when my section comes out.

Favorite clothing labels and why?

E: Uniqlo because it is the easiest way to shop, and the clothes are basic and not trendy. Oftentimes I don’t even bother fitting. Ultimately, it’s Paul Smith that’s my favorite. If I could afford it, I’d probably be in head-to-toe Paul Smith every day.
L: I don’t have a favorite, I like them all.



E: Right now, I’m liking Bata, but I really prefer to be wearing a pair of Adidas Ultra Boosts.
L: In the last couple of years, I’ve been wearing heels less, and flats more. Lately, I love mules.


E: Series 3 Apple watch.
L: I don’t like wearing a watch, but I have a Fitbit, which I always forget to wear.

Do you have a signature accessory?

E: My leather man-bag which I collaborated with Fino Leatherware to design.
L: Not really an accessory, but people know me for my prints.

Favorite scent?

E: Clinique Happy for Men and Bulgari BLV Pour Homme.
L: I love the smell of my dog after he’s had a bath. I find it so relaxing.

What ’s on your shopping wishlist?

E: A Vespa scooter (waiting for wife approval).

Favorite designers and shops?

E: Paul Smith.
L: Whenever I’m abroad, I make it a point to enter COS, Gucci, Target, and Ikea. I don’t necessarily buy anything, I just like to look.


How do you stay in shape?

E: I bike at least 300 km a month.
L: Brisk walking for 30 minutes every morning by the bay.

Dream dinner guests?

E: Anthony Bourdain, Thomas Keller, Jenson Button, Jony Ive.
L: Family members who have sadly passed away. How I would love to catch up with them.


Entertaining staples?

E: Music, and it has to be soft dinner jazz.
L: A case each of red and white wine!

Describe your home.

E: Eclectic and high tech. Cozy and functional.
L: My sister once said that it’s decorated the way I dress—that means eclectic pieces that I love and don’t necessarily go together. It’s definitely not “interior designed.”

What magazines and websites do you read regularly?

E: Lucky Peach magazine, and a lot of Facebook.
L: I read Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and Domino. Online, Business of Fashion and WWD.

What books are on your coffee table?

L: Rare Bird of Fashion: The Irreverent Iris Apfel, Fashionable Filipinas: An Evolution of the Philippine National Dress in Photographs 1860-1960, Kate Spade New York: Things We Love, and Pattern, by Orla Kiely.
E: None of the above are mine.

What music is on your playlist?

A lot of Steely Dan.


Name one positive thing that happened today.

E: I woke up.
L: I got a birthday upgrade on my Emirates flight!

Favorite restaurants?

E: Per Se for the experience, Le Bernardin for the food, and, of course, Elbert’s Steak Room.

Where are you traveling to this year?

E: We are going to Siargao. We’ve never been there.

You just marked your 20th anniversary. How did you celebrate?

We had a free-flowing party with our friends at Elbert’s Riedel Room on a Saturday, and a quiet intimate dinner on Sunday with close friends and relatives.

Any gifts for each other?

E: We don’t normally give each other gifts, but for my flight back from Germany, Elbert told me he’d pay for my upgrade on the A380—it was my first time on that plane!

In one word, describe the last 20 years together.

E: Epic.
L: Fun.

Favorite memory of being together?

You’re asking the impossible.


What do you think makes you two click?

E: We’re both Aquarians.
L: More than just loving each other, we genuinely like each other. We like to hang out together, just the two of us.

Signature drink?

E: Anything with alcohol.
L: Champagne.


What would your last meal on Earth be?

E & L: A steak.

Most memorable meal?

E: Per Se in New York with Liza. I remember the experience, but I forget what we ate.

What do you do and where do you go to unwind?

We have a relaxing dinner at Elbert’s Steak Room, or just put up our feet and pour ourselves a drink at home.

Causes you are passionate about?

E: Orphaned kids.
L: The environment. I was green before it became a thing. Even if we don’t have any kids, I think about what kind of world we’ll be leaving future generations.

What’s your idea of a perfect day?

E: Having accomplished at least three major things.
L: Being on a beach with family, breathing in the fresh air, and just drinking and chatting all day.

Guilty pleasures?

L: Munching on Doritos or Cheetos instead of having a proper dinner.


Biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome?

E: Losing my business and having no means of income after.

Best decision ever made?

E: Marrying Liza.

Biggest mistake of your life?

E: Not marrying her sooner.

Pet peeves?

E: “Sir, do you have a smaller bill?”
L: When people don’t use a perfectly functioning flush in a public restroom.

Best piece of advice received?

E: “Stay hungry. Stay foolish.” —Steve Jobs.

Values you appreciate most in a partner?

E: I appreciate that she is grounded and therefore keeps me grounded as well.
L: Being trustworthy.

What time are you going to sleep?

E: Hopefully before 10 p.m., so that I can get up early to bike. More often than not, I’ll be in bed past midnight.
L: Definitely not before midnight!

What do you hope to dream about?

E: A better world, where everyone is happy.
L: Our plans for 2018 and beyond.

This story was originally published in the April 2018 issue of Town&  Country Philippines.

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