Since newly-elected Pope Francis chose to live in the Domus Sanctae Marthae, the guest house adjacent to St. Peter’s Basilica, and not in the official papal apartments overlooking the Square, a lot of ink has been spilled about his austere living and eating habits both as Archbishop in Buenos Aires and in Vatican City. Yet on his recent four-day trip to the Philippines, from January 15-19, it seems the pontiff took a break from his simple routine.
According to ABS-CBN (Alto Broadcasting System-Chronicle Broadcasting Network), the oldest (1950) major commercial television network in the Philippines, he ate carbohydrate-heavy dishes like risotto and spaghetti carbonara, and extra garlicky grilled chicken with chimichurri sauce, an Argentine staple made of parsley, oregano, vinegar, red pepper and ciabatta. Jessie Sincioco, the owner of three restaurants in Manila: Chef Jessie Rockwell Club, Top of the Citi, and 100 Revolving Restaurant, was the chef chosen last September by a papal visit committee led by the Apostolic Nuncio Giuseppe Pinto and the Archbishop of Manila, Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, to prepare the Pope’s meals. Sworn to secrecy until he left for Rome, on January 20th she reported to the Philippine Daily Inquirer that Francis, like his immediate predecessor Benedict, has a major sweet tooth. “His favorites are ice cream, crepes, and dulce de leche, but nothing in excess,” she told reporter Thelmas Sloson San Juan.
There could not have been a better fit for the job. Sincioco is known for her desserts, especially her soufflés, from her years as the pastry chef of the iconic restaurant Le Soufflé. A finance graduate and a former businesswoman, she had little enthusiasm for cooking until her aunt Lita Dy encouraged her to enter the Great Maya Cookfest in 1983. She won first prize for her mango cake. Immediately afterwards she began her professional training and worked seven years at the Intercontinental Hotel Manila and the chain’s branches around Europe before her stint at Le Soufflé and then going into business for herself in 2009.
A sample of the meals she prepared for Francis follows: The first meal — saffron risotto; pan-fried sea bass with potatoes and vegetables; and mango flambé with mantecado ice cream (Francis’ favorite of Jessie’s dishes). For breakfast — cold cuts; cheeses; jams; yogurts and her trademark ciabatta. On his last day for lunch — spaghetti carbonara, roast beef, and chocolate soufflé; for dinner — consommé of asparagus and herbs, grilled sea bass with a red tomato sauce and artichoke hearts, and dulce de leche.
The Nunciature had given her precise instructions to prepare light and digestible meals so Sincioco’s only regret is that she could not introduce the pontiff to Filipino specialties such as tinola sinigang (a tamarind-based soup or stew of chicken, pork, or seafood), or bistek Tagalog (thinly sliced beef cooked in soy sauce and lemon juice and garnished with caramelized onion rings).
The gourmet tour seems to have continued on the plane ride home, which was well stocked with ice cream in a variety of flavors including pistachio, malted milk, and brown butter almond brittle. Perhaps this was in preparation for his trip in September to the United States; Vice President Biden is also an ice cream fan!