MANILA, Philippines – Filipino veteran chef Jessie Sincioco, owner of the local catering service chosen to prepare the meals of the Pope Francis during his Manila stay in his five-day visit to the country, served him traditional Argentinian dishes and unique local desserts.
Sincioco was delighted when she was chosen among hundreds of other chefs in the country. She heard the news as early as September last year.
“I was so happy. Speechless was not even enough for me… [Then] I researched. I bought all the books about him and then tried to familiarize myself with what the Pope would like. And I made Argentinian bread for him because I knew it’s his favorite, the media luna,” she said.
Upon meeting the Pontiff, Sincioco shared how she felt on her personal encounter with him.
“I was so nervous that when I see him, I freeze. I did [freeze] for a few minutes. He’s really different. He’s really something else. There is that certain magnetism in him that when you see him, you just stare at him and you feel like hugging him,” Sincioco recalled, joyful for being able to hug the Pope at least three times.
Sincioco noticed that Pope Francis was very fond of breads but liked rice as well. She served the Pope ciabatta bread with dulce de leche glaze as he also had a sweet tooth.
“He likes our ciabatta. He gets to finish half a loaf of ciabatta. He loves bread, but he also likes rice. So when we served him our rice risotto, he really finished everything,” she added.
Sincioco also observed how the Pontiff did not like wasting food.
“The chicken chimichurri, an Argentinian dish, I served that to him also. [When the plate was brought back], what was left was the bone of the chicken,” she said.
The veteran chef, who is known to have high-profile celebrities and top-ranking officials as clients, admitted that cooking simpler food was really a challenge.
“I was told that the menu has to be really simple… And so I did the menu. I tried making everything really simple. But then, after several meetings, we narrowed down the menu to three courses so as not to somehow irritate the Pope because we prepared something really grand,” she remembered.
“We served everything plain. Like if it’s fish, it’s just the fish [and] sidings of either potatoes or rice and then dessert,” she added.
Although Sincioco kept the menu simple, she still made sure that the meals were sumptuous and nutritious.
“I want to make sure that he has enough energy because his schedule is so hectic. He’s nonstop. Like when he would have breakfast, after breakfast, he would go out and come back for lunch. After lunch, he would dress a bit and then go out again and come back for dinner,” she said.
Aside from learning Pope Francis’ meal preferences and favorites, Sincioco also got to know the Pope in a more personal way.
“I really love him so much because he is so human. He is an epitome of how servants of God would be, so loving, so caring and so humble,” she said, thanking the Pontiff for being an inspiration for many Filipinos.
With report from Cyra Moraleda