Cebu celebrates Belgium’s National Day

August 29, 2009 - THE NATIONAL DAY of Belgium was observed in Cebu with a brilliant reception at the Arctic Hall of the Waterfront Cebu City Hotel. It was jointly hosted by Belgian Ambassador Gregorie Vardakis and the honorary consul of Belgium in Cebu Enrique Benedicto and his lovely wife, Helena Benedicto.

Belgium’s National Day marks the date when the country became an independent monarchy in 1839. It has become a tradition to observe it in Cebu. In Manila, there is a grand event in September when the Belgian Embassy celebrates the birthday of King Albert II of the Belgians.

The Belgian community has grown in Cebu, gauging by their increased attendance on this occasion for the past three years. For Ambassador Vardakis, this was a way to say farewell to the many friends he has made here. His tour of duty in the Philippines has been completed, and he is off to a new assignment. (Inquirer)

There was a brief program hosted by Mila Espina, whom the ambassador singled out as the best emcee he has ever experienced during his entire career.

Cebu Governor Gwendolyn Garcia graced the occasion. So did Cebu City officials led by Mayor Tomas Osmeña and Vice Mayor Michael Rama. They would be present the next day at the Casino Español de Cebu for another diplomatic event.

Emily Benedicto Chioson was installed as honorary consul of Israel in Cebu. She is the daughter of the Philippines’ ambassador to India Francisco Benedicto and Leontina Benedicto, honorary consul general of Turkey in Cebu. She is married to Samuel Chioson, honorary consul of Portugal.

The ambassador of Israel Zvi Aviner Vapni came to Cebu for the occasion, accompanied by his gracious wife, Limor Vapni. Here was a bigger crowd, as the reception would be followed by a musical performance coordinated by the Arts Council in an adjacent room. Folding doors opened to reveal seats in theater style fronting a dais.

Featured artist was Tal Kravitz, famous in Israel and all over the world for making a musical instrument out of almost anything he can find. He also has a gift of hilarious gab, holding his audience enthralled with quick wit, and an even quicker way of shifting from one instrument to another.

He collects these instruments from all over the world and plays them. Tal asked Governor Gwen up the dais and asked her to wave her graceful hands over a magnetic field and hear what harmonious sounds came from that. Later, he applied a fiddlestick to a carpenter’s saw. What emanated was Schubert’s Ave Maria, score perfect, sounding like a soprano humming it.

After the performance, there was dinner with Ambassador Vapni, his wife and Tal Kravitz, with Arts Council officers led by president Petite Garcia. “I will be back soon,” said the ambassador. And so he was, this time, for an Israeli food festival at the Cebu City Marriott Hotel.

Young-looking chef

Guest chef was Zion Barnes, who, at 27, looks like a lad of 17 and was now regarded as the best exponent of fine cuisine in Israel. He is already famous even in the international scene, said Ambassador Vapni, adding we were indeed lucky to have him around.

Zion creates his brand of cuisine based on traditional ingredients and gives them a new twist. His salads were terrific, and so was the humus of chickpeas or eggplant. It seemed like molten butter. Rating high were the chicken medallions sautéed with pine kernels.

Come to the festival, enticed the Marriott’s general manager Roy Abraham. He explained that Chef Zion was going to prepare a varied menu everyday at the Garden Café buffet. “You’ll have something different every time,” said Roy.

Emily and Sammy Chioson were congratulated for the successful opening of the food festival and also for inviting Wilson Ng and his Asian Troubadours to liven up the evening with their music. They did Israeli popular songs and Cebuano tunes that somehow sounded Israeli. Yes, yes, agreed Elizabeth Cinco-Seidenschwarz and Wilson’s pretty wife, Melanie Ng.

Ambassador Vapni sat with the Chioson couple and Cebu City First Lady Margot Osmeña, who came with son Miguel Osmeña. He informed them that there would be more cultural events from Israel coming to Cebu in the future. Perhaps a film festival before year’s end.

The Shangri-La’s Mactan Island Resort and Spa has been having a series of welcome parties for its new general manager, Joachim Schutte. He is German, has a genial personality and has met everyone that matters in Cebu at a good and relaxing pace.

There was an exclusive reception for the Consular Corps at the resort’s Ocean Pavilion. It was a glamorous occasion, and most glam of all was Amparito Llamas Lhuillier, wife of France’s Honorary Consul Michel Lhuillier. They had just arrived from Paris a few days before.

“I like this party,” said Amparito, pointing out that one got to meet, talk, and make friends with not just Schutte but also with a whole group of top executives. A random enumeration gives us the following:

Executive chef Emmanuel Guemon, sales and marketing director Mike Albaña, communications manager Mildred Amon, Jed Arricivita, Lesley Anne Tan, Christine Gutierrez, Myra Regner and Abdul Hafid, the dynamic food and beverage director.

In the weeks that followed, he was extremely busy with two exotic food festivals. One was at the Tea of Spring Chinese Restaurant with two chefs from the Shangri-La in Fushou to prepare exquisite Cantonese cuisine. Another featured Malaysian traditional cooking
at Tides. Coming up by the end of September is a South African food festival which will be grandiose. (Inquirer)

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