May 31, 2011

A wine story

(Romy Sia, managing director of Wine Story, inside the store’s clear-glass cellar showcasing special wines in various sizes aside from the regular size such as imperial - biggest size in 6 liters, jeroboam - 5 liters, double magnum - 3 liters, and magnum - 1.5 liters. Photos courtesy of Wine Story)

THERE’S nothing more relaxing after a long day than opening a bottle of wine and drinking it with friends. We sip, we eat great food, and laugh over the most nonsensical things. Then we all go home with a really good buzz and a smile on our faces.

But when the wine is off, somehow the get-together misses that special spark. And it isn’t such a perfect night after all. (Same is true when we get mediocre food or encounter inefficient service in a restaurant.)

Fortunately, buying wines at Wine Story eliminates most of the trial-and-error experienced when making purchases at ordinary wine stores with sales clerks who don’t even know the difference between a Shiraz and Syrah. (Actually, there is none. They are the same grape, but is known as Syrah in Europe, South America and the US, and Shiraz among the newer wine producers like South Africa and Australia.)

The first time I entered the wine store at the Shangri-La Mall, the extent of its French wines took my breath away—all excellent, top-of-the-line choices from Bordeaux. I was also met by a very knowledgeable sommelier named Carlo, who walked me through the store, as my eyes grew wider and wider at each bottle’s price tag. (There were a few reasonably priced New World wines, as well.)

Romy Sia, co-owner of this splendid wine store with childhood friend and business partner Christian Tan, is unapologetic about the expensive prices of their wine bottles. “They say, ‘Romy, it’s cheaper on the Internet.’ Then go ahead and buy there. But when is it going to arrive? You want a good bottle of wine, give me your credit card, you’ll have it tonight.” Romy and Christian are also partners at Healthy Options, the country’s first store chain for healthy-food alternatives and food supplements. It was a venture they started as an offshoot of Romy’s son’s food allergies. Another company is Bow & Wow, which caters to the needs of pet owners.

(Customers can buy a card for P1,000 that entitles them to taste the wines which are dispensed via the enomatic machines.)

Romy’s parents are textile retailers who still live in Quiapo to this day. “We were not really well-off. I used to take the jeep going to school. But my parents were able to send all of us—I’m the eldest of five siblings—to college. We had a textile store on the ground floor, and we lived upstairs. So when I was young, I saw how hard my parents worked, wala silang vacation. Walang holidays. So I promised myself never to be in retail.” The irony cracked me up. Of course, the difference is, he has a more privileged clientele, and all his store brands serve the upscale market.

After graduating with a commerce degree from the University of Santo Tomas in 1981, Romy worked in Divisoria selling Lyna, the skin-whitening product. Then he worked for HSBC, but moved to the UK after the assassination of Ninoy Aquino. “I thought I’d get a job at HSBC there. But when I got there, it was recession, so I applied to other companies. I was in the finance department of all the companies I worked for.” After eight years, he got homesick and came home in 1992, with his gorgeous British wife Janet, and their two young children.

He put up Healthy Options as a “sideline” while working in finance with the Lopez Group of Companies. But when the brand had become a major retailer and was already expanding, he resigned from his job in 1997. It is now in its 16th year.

Interestingly enough, Romy didn’t become enamored with wines until he read the book The Billionaire’s Vinegar: The Mystery of the World’s Most Expensive Bottle of Wine by Benjamin Wallace about three years ago. The mystery novel takes the reader into the twist and turns of the modern wine counterfeiting world, and pits scam artists with scientists who have their own tools to be able to detect a bottle of wine’s real age.

“I was hooked!” Romy says excitedly of the book. He then read more reference materials to complement his visits to wine stores in the UK, where he has been bringing his daughter for her studies. “That’s where I saw wine in real life. I’d eat at fine-dining restaurants and got exposed to more wines, and kept on reading.”

And to think, Romy grew up drinking the German wine brand Blue Nun, like many of us in the late ’70s and ’80s. We had a good laugh about it, because I, too, remember downing the white wine from that dark brown bottle with the graphic of a smiling nun in her blue-and-white habit carrying her basket of grapes.

“But if you mention that [Blue Nun] to wine connoisseurs, they will laugh at you,” he says, chuckling. I don’t doubt it. Now that we’ve been exposed to the more sophisticated whites and reds, I can’t even bring myself to drink a Blue Nun again. It remains just a sweet memory, a quaint accompaniment to my old gang’s hours of waxing poetic over many a great lover. Or were they idiot boyfriends?

(Wine Story offers both Old World wines as well as reasonably priced New World wines. Photo copyright Stella Arnaldo)

Like the rest of Asia, Filipinos are partial to red-wine varieties, says Romy, “which is actually wrong since our food, especially Filipino food, goes better with white wine. Although a wine expert also says, ‘Food and wine, as they taught us in school, is not as important as mood and wine.’ Ano ba ang mood mo [when you’re eating a dish]? If [red wine] works for you, fine.”

He then tells me his own experiments with wine and Filipino food. Dishes that go well with white wine, for example, are Lapid’s freshly popped chicharon (hold the vinegar, though), itlog na maalat with chopped tomatoes, leche flan and ginataang saging. Kare-kare, he says, will go well with Pinot Noir. “[My friends and I] play. There are things that work, there are things that don’t—like boiled eggs are difficult to pair with wine. But red wine is perfect with dark chocolates!” he enthuses. And what goes with Blue Nun? “Leche flan!” Romy says. Hysterical.

He stresses that at Wine Story, even if a customer asks his sommeliers what would go well with, say, chicken adobo, they will be able to give options. “All of them drink wine, and can explain to a customer exactly how a particular wine tastes. I think people would not spend P10,000 to P15,000 upward on a bottle of wine, if they don’t know what they’re drinking. So my first criteria with regard to my staff, aside from being a college graduate, is they must drink wine. I spend a lot of money in training them, taking them abroad to learn about wine, and, personally, I open an expensive bottle of wine and share it with them! So ’pag tanungin mo, ‘Nakatikim ka na ba ng [Chateau] Margaux,’ they can all look you in the eye and say, ‘Yes, ma’am!’”

He calls wine a celebratory drink, something to be shared with family and friends. “You know that the same exact bottle of wine tastes better if you have the right company? If you drink it on your own, it’s not as good maybe. And when you drink wine, you’re always happy! You drink liquor when you’re depressed and you want to forget, like beer, but wine is celebratory. You enjoy it with a good dinner, some company, and you don’t get drunk! Maybe just tipsy.” Romy adds that one must drink two glasses of water for every glass of wine “otherwise matutuyuan ka. Wrinkles ang mangyayari sa ’yo!” (Remember that, ladies.)

He extols the medicinal virtues of wine, stressing that drinking it regularly has eased his migraines. “My family, we’re all prone to migraines. ’Di ako umaalis ng bahay dati na walang banig ng Biogesic. But I don’t get as many headaches na since I started drinking wine.” Of course, red wine has also been said to be helpful in holding heart diseases at bay.

(Wine Story is located along the ground floor frontage of Shangri-La Plaza Mall in Mandaluyong City. A branch has opened at the Serendra, The Fort, Taguig City)

He notes that wine lovers are usually very generous. “It’s hard to drink a bottle of wine by yourself, so wine lovers usually encourage their spouses to drink wine, or encourage their friends.” And while doing this interview, Romy did just that—he opened a bottle of Chilean red, shared it with me and his energetic publicist Macy Pineda, while we snacked on dark chocolates. Mmmm.

Romy has just opened a second Wine Story at the Serendra at the Bonifacio Global City. Aside from a walk-in cellar, there are more chairs, with tables for those who just want to chill and sip their wines. It also has a kitchen where chefs could be invited to cook for private dinners and parties to be held there.

And while I may not have enough disposable income like most of Romy’s customers to afford his wines all the time, the hedonist in me can’t help but wholeheartedly agree with his statement that “life is too short to drink cheap wine.” So, cheers!

(My column, Something Like Life, is published every Friday in the BusinessMirror. This piece was originally published on May 13, 2011.)

Telcos invest P75M in tourism

SMART Communications Inc., and Globe Telecom Inc. are investing a total P75 million this year to support the various marketing campaigns of the Department of Tourism (DOT) to boost domestic travel and foreign tourist arrivals.

This developed as Tourism Secretary Alberto A. Lim told a press briefing on Monday that the Philippines was on track in attracting more tourists this year, with projected arrivals to exceed the 3.52 million in 2010.

He said the DOT has tied up with Smart for a P50-million domestic tourism campaign dubbed “Pilipinas, Tara Na.” Under the program, Smart and the DOT have jointly produced print and TV advertisements and billboards focusing on the country’s culture, history, ecotourism, nature and adventure.

“The growth of domestic tourism has been fantastic,” Lim said. Of the P912-billion gross income earned by the economy in 2009, for instance, he said, “P800 billion came from domestic tourism. So we want to give more emphasis to domestic tourism now than in the past.”

He said the budget air fares were possibly behind the jump in the number of domestic travelers, making travel possible for even the youth.

Under the “Pilipinas, Tara Na” campaign, Smart subscribers will also be able to text a number to get information to whichever tourist destination they are currently located at.

The DOT has also partnered with Globe for an international marketing campaign as part of the agency’s Pinoy Homecoming program this year. “This is an international promotion to bring back overseas Filipinos mostly from the US. Part of Globe’s budget is to give arriving tourists a goody bag that includes Globe SIM card, discount coupon and others,” Lim added.

Of its P25-million budget for the program, Globe will also be creating TV commercials that will air on The Filipino Channel “to promote the program to the overseas Filipinos, especially those from the US,” explained DOT Assistant Secretary Domingo Ramon C. Enerio III.

To boost this program, the DOT has requested President Aquino to sign a proclamation to declare 2011-16 as Pinoy Homecoming years. “This way, it will be a continuing program to encourage balikbayan from the US to come home and avail themselves of various discounts and promotions by hotels, restaurants, and other tourism establishments,” he added.

While the DOT has started marketing the program to Filipino-Americans, Enerio said the succeeding years will target Filipinos in Europe, the Middle East and Asia as well.

Lim also said the DOT has endorsed the tourism advocacy campaign of personal health-care company Johnson& Johnson called “Basta Pinas,” which was launched in March. “Their web site will feature conversations about tourism sites and getting the public to explore the Philippines with fresh perspectives.”

Meanwhile, Lim said visitor arrivals from January to April 2011 jumped a substantial 13.3 percent, to 1.31 million.

“By reaching this figure in the first four months of the year alone, our 3.74-million target for the year is well within reach. Our continuing efforts on the international front, especially in trade fairs abroad, will ensure that the target is met,” he said.

According to data from the DOT, tourists from Korea topped the arrivals at 286,018, up by 28.35 percent from the same period last year. They were followed by tourists from the United States at 229,200 visitors; Japan at 129,223; China 71,113; Australia, 56,681; Taiwan, 55,662; Canada, 44,978; Singapore, 42,680; Hong Kong 39,535; and United Kingdom, 36,980.

Tourists from Korea, the U.S., and Japan accounted for close to half of the arrivals in the four-month period.

(My piece was originally published in the BusinessMirror, May 31, 2011. Tourist arrivals data courtesy Dept. of Tourism.)

May 25, 2011



For four days, I really, really tried to switch off from my usual wired world as I went on a short vacation in Boracay last week. (It was a sort of post-Mother’s Day break Big Sister and I hatched up for Mama.)

The night before we left, I switched on the vacation response settings in all my e-mail accounts. I had informed most of my bosses I’d be away, had advanced a column and some news stories, but you know how it is. There could be some last-minute questions or requests made, though I was pretty sure if it was anything really urgent, the bosses would know how to reach me. Otherwise, all the e-mails could wait.

I also did not bring my MacBook. I know for some people, especially in my line of work, the computer is as vital as, well, our underwear. It’s part of our everyday wardrobe. I have friends who don’t leave home without their iPad, their MacBook Air and a Kindle!

But I thought bringing the Mac would just defeat the purpose of being on vacation. I usually don’t even watch the news on TV when I’m on a holiday, just to forget for even a teensy-weensy moment that there’s mayhem ongoing in the world. There’s nothing like a vacation killer than thinking of, for instance, the incredulous and irrational arguments against the reproductive-health bill while I’m sipping my mango shake and splayed out under the sun. (For a while there I was worried I would take so many photos of our vacation, space would eventually run out on my digicam’s memory card. Not having my Mac with me would mean I couldn’t transfer my photos and refresh the camera’s memory card.)

The entire time, I used only one cell phone with my personal number, which I needed to communicate with Big Sister as we were riding separate airlines. It was also a way for us to find each other in case we’d be going on separate walks while on the island. But usually, I’d just leave the phone in my bag, so I wouldn’t be bothered by text messages nor phone calls. For quite a few years already, I’ve kept the alert on my incoming text messages switched off even in Manila. So using just one phone and not checking messages wasn’t really such a big adjustment for me.

I had the vacation all planned out. I would lie on the beach or lounge by the pool just reading a book. There was this one book I had been meaning to finish since I bought it—gasp!—in 2005. It was a collection of short stories by various well-acclaimed writers (Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Salman Rushdie, Günter Grass, Arthur Miller, John Updike, Margaret Atwood, etc.) edited by Nadine Gordimer, called Telling Tales, which was published in 2004. And it’s been on my bedside table since I bought it—just waiting to be picked up again and read. (There are four other books on my night table, in the same state of unfinished reading. Sigh.)

But as is the usual, the best laid plans always come unhinged. The bad habits will always stomp all over my good intentions.

While I did manage to finish a few short stories while I was lying in bed—not by the pool—I wasn’t able to quite get off the Internet.

I’ve been a Facebook and Twitter user for quite some time. Although I’ve managed to unplug during Sundays, even switching off my phones, I knew four days away from the social-networking sites while on vacation would be trying. Of course, I was able to go offline during the last Holy Weekend and the years before that, going online again only on Easter Monday. But being good while Jesus was dead was a powerful incentive; a vacation, not so.

So, yes, I eventually cheated. My commitment to get off cyberspace while on vacation was broken. I posted one vacation photo on Facebook, and a couple of status updates from my phone. Yes, I’m an addict and an oversharer. I should be locked up in the basement of Makati Med.

(It was easier to stay away from Twitter though, since I usually use it to monitor breaking news. But, well, Big Sister and Mama are news junkies so I had virtually little choice when it came to channels to watch at 6:30 pm or 12 midnight when we were back in our room at the resort.)

Then when I got word that our Seair flight back to Manila had been moved to an earlier schedule—thank God!—I had to use the resort’s business center and print the new e-ticket sent to my e-mail account. Needless to say, I caved in and started checking all my e-mail, then some interesting news items, and then...hay naku! It took a lot of willpower on my end to quit the session; but it was a good 10 minutes to 15 minutes before I got back to my senses and remembered that I was on vacation. I guess I had just been longing too much for the simplicity of a bygone age when all that we actually brought on vacation was just a book and a bathing suit. There were no distractions at all. In Boracay, especially in the ’80s, it was just the sun, the sea and the sand that made everyone’s vacation a blast.

Nowadays we can’t travel anywhere without our cell phones, our laptops, the cable TV—technology is everywhere these days that it’s really quite easy to just switch on, go online, and reengage with the rest of the world. Even cell-phone manufacturers now promote handsets that are Wi-Fi-ready, or HDSPA-equipped, you don’t even need to bring a laptop anymore. You can do everything on your cell phone!

And I’d be hard-pressed to think of any island resort in the country or any part of the world for that matter that is so isolated that technology hasn’t reached it yet. And even if such island existed, I’m sure I’d be online anyway making reservations to fly to it and book a room.

Maybe next time, I shouldn’t try so hard to be offline. Technology is part of who we are, it’s really useless to fight it, even while on vacation. Most hotels and resorts now offer free Wi-Fi and even the free use of computers in their business centers. Even these establishments know that offering such kinds of free services is a big come-on to guests.

When it comes to technology, resistance is futile.

(My column, Something Like Life, is published every Friday in the BusinessMirror. This piece was originally published on May 20, 2011. Photos courtesy Discovery Shores Boracay.)

May 08, 2011

Her own moves

ON February 14, Valentine’s Day, the happiest girl in town was probably Cecile Ang, not because she had a special someone, but as owner of the Royce’ Chocolates brand locally, almost all the chillers in all of her stores were empty before that day was over. It just shows that Filipinos are die-hard romantics, and Royce’ is really one helluva popular chocolate brand over here.

Well, I must confess it is one of my favorite chocolate brands, as well. (The other one being Godiva’s dark chocolates. Mmmm.) I have probably gone through several boxes of Royce’ Nama Champagne, its bitter dark chocolates and the orange truffles. I even “steal” a couple of squares from my friend Ms. RP’s fridge whenever I pop over for a visit.

The first time I “met” Cecile was through a phone call years ago. She politely texted asking if I was free to take her call, and after I did tell her she could, she called me to ask my help in editing a lifestyle magazine/newsletter she wanted to put out for free.

I really didn't know who she was, but as I grilled her on the publication and why she wanted to put it out, and if she had enough funds to keep it afloat, it was only then that it dawned on me, as she humbly answered my barrage of questions, that she was the daughter of business tycoon Ramon Ang.

While I did turn down her offer to edit the magazine, I could tell she was a dreamer and had a lot of guts. I mean, who in her right mind would put out a free publication just because she wanted to write about food and lifestyle? But she sounded so positive about the whole idea, I wished her well. Gads, I wish I could be as positive as she was about the publishing industry.

When I finally met her in the flesh recently, she had already been running Diamond Hotel, a property her father acquired in 2005, just as Cecile had graduated from the Ateneo de Manila University with a degree in European Studies. I was so surprised how young she looked! The Filipino expression “pinabili lang ng suka” came to mind. With her hair tied in a neat ponytail, her slight frame and her face sans makeup, she could certainly pass for a teenager. But there she was, at the helm of a five-star hotel.

“I think it is definitely an incredible advantage [to have my father who he is]. Of course not everyone took me seriously, especially when I was new and looked like a high-school student. You’d hear comments like COO [‘child of owner’] from random strangers, but I don’t mind, because I really wouldn’t be where I am now if I weren’t that. I just have to work extra hard to make sure I don’t disappoint.”

Cecile says her father thought that the hotel would be “good training ground” as it would enable her to meet all sorts of people from all walks of life. “Plus at one point I was very much a foodie, so the hotel seemed like a good fit.”

She describes her first year in the hotel as “very colorful.” As it was her first job straight out of college, of course her father took care to make sure she was well prepared to take on the duties as a hotelier. Cecile spent a year training by going around the different departments and learning about the functions of each hotel employee, from the concierge to the food servers, from the chefs and their cook helpers to the general manager’s secretary. Now president of Diamond Hotel, she is in charge of setting the direction for hotel policy, and overseeing the renovations and expansions of the establishment.

“In a hotel you encounter all sorts of guests and colleagues that there was never a dull moment. Every day was a fun learning experience,” she says about her first year.

Cecile says her father, whose sheer business acumen has made it possible for San Miguel Corp. to expand beyond the food-and-beverage business, has never given her nor her siblings “formal pointers” on how to manage a business enterprise. “But I think he leads us by example. My dad works 24/7 and is incredibly generous and friendly to everyone. I see how much he values everyone around him and it has taught us, his kids, to try and give back as much as we can to everyone around us as well. And, of course, slacking off is not an option.” Typically Chinese, each one of her seven siblings, down to the youngest at eight years old, have had to work during their summer vacations.

Cecile says her favorite childhood memory was going to the “slalom car races every Sunday as my father was also a champion racecar driver. I loved being allowed to ride shotgun during races!”

To relax, she travels when she can, “I like getting lost in a city and following random strangers around. It helps me gain a new perspective on things. On a normal weekend, since I have a lot of young siblings, every Sunday is a movie+California Pizza Kitchen day.”

Like many incredibly busy career people, Cecile has shucked novels for magazines—“I think my attention span has gotten worse over the years...but I’m a big magazine subscriber: Time, Newsweek, Business Week, Economist, Fortune, Forbes, Elle Decor, Architectural Digest, Monocle, Mental Floss and Gourmet. And I try to read a short story from McSweeneys, Alfred Hitchcock or David Sedaris every night before I go to sleep.”

Asked if she still has plans beyond managing the hotel, Cecile says she still “[likes] the business.” But most definitely she has started to stretch her own wings by going into other industries. She started on this path in 2009 when she successfully bagged the right to bring in Royce’ to Manila.

I ask her if ever we would get to taste the incredibly delicious ice creams of Royce’, and she says: “We are planning to open a bigger shop that will have Royce’ ice cream and chocolate drinks and baked goods. We are just looking for an available space.” Whooopee!

She says she has other business prospects up her sleeve but declines to reveal what these are pending the conclusion of negotiations with partners. “I am also looking for new challenges and hopefully I can do that this year....I am planning to get into another business but I can’t disclose it as of the moment.”

A chip off the old block maybe, but Cecile’s moves are definitely all her own.

(My column, Something Like Life, is published every Friday in the Life section of the BusinessMirror. This piece was published on May 6, 2011. Photo courtesy Asian Dragon)

Not everyone is cut out to be in PR

ONCE upon a time, I worked in public relations.

And while I was doing mostly editorial work, helping create publicity campaigns for a prestigious PR firm’s high-profile clients and writing press releases, I still had to help out and “entertain” our targeted media practitioners quite regularly.

Sure, it’s easy to just sit around and talk shop with the media during functions, but the role of a PR practitioner takes a different turn especially when a client is in a crisis.

I remember one time there was a big issue involving a telecommunications company our PR firm was handling, and we had to deal with an impatient lot of reporters who needed answers to their probing questions. And I don’t know why I ended up answering the inquiries of one especially irate reporter, most probably because the actual spokesman—one of my bosses—was still in heavy discussions with the CEO of the company on how to handle the crisis.

That incident took a lot out of me. As a PR practitioner/communicator, one needs to have a lot of patience in dealing with nagging journalists who you know need complete facts for their stories before their deadline. I understood their predicament perfectly because I had been in their shoes before.

To explain to a bitchy reporter what our client was up to required a delicate balancing act. First, I had to try my hardest in my sweetest voice to request her to push back her deadline some more, and explained how I understood the predicament she was in. Second, even if the problem was our client, I couldn’t throw the company’s CEO under the bus and rat out his issues to the media. So that took another round of excuses, virtually lying through my teeth just to buy more time for our client.

That situation really made me uncomfortable. And while it took me a few more months and a few more publicity campaigns later for me to quit my job in that PR firm, that particular crisis with that telco already made it very clear in my head that I was in the wrong job. First of all, I have no patience in babysitting brats. And second, I hate to lie. That’s not to say that all PR practitioners are liars. But sometimes they do need to bend the truth a little to suit their client’s objectives. (It’s a lot like advertising; you say you have the best laundry detergent in the world even if there are other more effective ones out there.)

Being a PR practitioner is a special calling. You need to have a special set of skills to be in the profession. It helps to be friendly and articulate, have a good head on your shoulders to be able to absorb all the necessary information your client needs to put out his company or his product—and, most of all, tons of patience.

Of course, being articulate isn’t enough. To be able to effectively communicate a client’s thoughts, ideas and products, a PR practitioner needs to invest a lot of time and energy in forming the necessary relationships with media first. Networking is a big part of the job. It takes years to form a personal relationship with journalists; we are a naturally suspicious lot who can see beyond the free lunches or the swags handed out at press events.

(And then there are one too many PR practitioners/publicists out there who only remember to call when they need a favor. A media colleague dubs such PR practitioners as “Nokia”. Like the phone brand, these PR practitioners are “user-friendly”—they call you when they need to use you. And since the colleague’s promotion, many of these Nokias have suddenly come out of the woodwork paying her one too many visits.)

So going back, I may have lunch with a PR practitioner, but that doesn’t mean we’re friends and I’m going to write glowingly about his client the next minute. If my questions are answered convincingly and I am able to get the necessary info/data/statistics I need from the PR’s client, only then will I write a story. But even then, it’s still 50-50 that the piece will be in the client’s favor. It all depends on whether I think the story is newsworthy in the positive way President Aquino, for instance, likes all the news about his administration to be.

And even when we in media don’t see things the way a PR’s clients would like, there should be no hard feelings. A PR practitioner cannot take things too personally, and should be able to take a rejection of his client’s point of view or product as a challenge on his part to work harder at his job. Like they say, trabaho lang ’to, walang personalan. (I remember one particular female PR practitioner who would resort to banning journalists from press conferences just because she didn’t like the negative pieces those journalists wrote about her client.)

So I applaud those people who’ve managed to make a go of it in the PR profession, even more so if he used to be a journalist and had somehow successfully been able to shift his frame of mind from that one seeking out the answers, to the one giving them. Truly, I can only count on one hand the very few who are actually excellent at being PRs. (And if you think that it’s you I’m referring to, it’s likely that you’re wrong. Hahaha.)

Seriously, being in the PR/communication business is difficult. The PR practitioner has to please his client by way of increased sales of his products/services. He also has to constantly make sure the media/public is happy with his client’s products/services. These days, most PR practitioners are in the business of creating news about their client even when there is nothing newsworthy to report. And that is what separates the real pros from the rank amateurs who can’t even spell the name of a journalist correctly. These successful PR practitioners will tell you that again, it all goes to the personal relationships they have formed with the media over the years.

Not everyone is cut out for this job. And if all PR practitioner and his client can do is just blame the media for not publishing the client’s projects or efforts at reform, then perhaps it’s time to quit the job.

(My column, Something Like Life, is published every Friday in the Life section of the BusinessMirror. This piece was originally published on April 8, 2011.)

The French Connection

TO the uninitiated in the gustatory pleasures of French cuisine, the names of the dishes alone are enough to make one feel insecure about ordering. A typical French restaurant’s menu would usually have foie gras, escargot, coq au vin, boeuf à la bourguignonne, mille-feuilles...just trying to pronounce these is already quite a mouthful.

While only a few years ago there must’ve been one or two hotel-based restaurants and some standalone specializing in French cuisine, recently—maybe in the last five years or so—gustatory pleasures with a French accent have once more gained traction in the local dining scene. At the top of my head, I can count about 10 or so standalone French restaurants, located outside of hotels, in varying degrees of quality.

Two of my favorites are in Makati: La Régalade, a bistro coowned by veteran hotelier Bubot Quicho, businessman Tonyboy Cojuangco, and a veritable who’s who in Philippine industry, with a menu created by two-star Michelin Chef Alain Rayé; and Restaurant CiÇou, owned and operated by Chef Cyrille Soenen (nicknamed CiÇou), who made his name locally as the chef of Prince Albert of the Hotel InterContinental Manila. (Click BusinessMirror for the rest. All photos except for Chef Soenen's profile, is copyrighted by Ma. Stella F. Arnaldo.)