Originally authored on June 5, 2016
Peddling nostalgia is a walk through the ancestral home of Dr. Alejandro Roces Legarda and Ramona Hernandez Legarda along San Rafael Street in Manila. This was where the moneyed gathered along the elegant neighborhood of art deco houses built during the Commonwealth era. You will find yourself caught in a time warp.
Buzz surrounds La Cocina de Tita Moning as an example of efficient re-purposing of old houses, thanks to a granddaughter, Suzette Montinola, who followed the global trend in historic adaptive reuse and devotes herself exclusively to make the house come alive again. Foremost is the planning and supervising of the meals that taste of the 30’s when the Legardas gave many dinners in this house.
Culture is indeed ingested well through the belly. The meal becomes the showcase of Filipino culinary artistry and the promise of an old world dining experience. The dishes are Tita Moning’s heirloom recipes. When she married into a family of cooking prowess, vowed to excel beyond them, and she did.
When you dine at La Cocina, you will be transported to the old world of the 1930’s with stories of the family that lived there. The tour of Dr. Alejandro’s library of medical books and first edition Encyclopedia Britannica with his written marginalia, his medical clinic where one of his sons was born, his collection of cameras (being one of the founders of Camera Club of the Philippines), the antique radio equipment room, the famous paintings, the family photos, the furniture, dining wares, and the kitchen are all valuable in bringing back the historical significance of the house.
It has gained steam since early 2000, but as they say, everything has come to an end sometime. The family decided to sell the property and on May 31, La Cocina signaled its final day. A divulge of reservations kept their lines burning. When two earlier reservations backed out it turned favorable to us, it was a fated opportunity.
It gave us a glimpse of how the Legarda family observed the impressive Filipino value of giving proper treatment and recognition to the people who serve them which surely reaped wonderful rewards. It speaks volume when you read the handout carefully placed on the dining tables for the diners to know more about the spirits behind the excellence one should find in their home. The chief cook, Russel Atipon who whipped up the original turn of the century dishes ably assisted by Marcelo and Jose. Tining Pecho, who handles all La Cocina’s business and the longest staying after getting married to the family driver, Leonor. Monette, Arlen, Marlyn serve while Raffy ensures that all the silverware, glasses and tableware are up to standard.
“They are family to the Legardas.” With heavy hearts they have yet to embrace uncertainty after closing that beautiful chapter in their lives.
“La Cocina may regret the way it ended, but it will never regret what it had”. It was just a place where the story stopped to let the busy cauldron rest – for now.
This will mark a new low in heritage.
* – credits to the owner/s for the pictures