It’s oddly prescient of our food-loving relationship that Marlon and I met in the freshman English class of Doreen Fernandez, the Philippines’ foremost food scholar, food writer and food critic.
Both of us loved Doreen, although perhaps we didn’t appreciate her as much as we did after we left her class, and especially after she passed away in 2002. Maybe because in our classroom, she wasn’t the Philippines’ foremost food writer, scholar, critic and all those amazing things—she was simply Ma’am Doreen.
Her Facebook page, run by her relatives after her death, says:
She has taught us that food writing can be a scholarly pursuit, eating an erudite experience, and the celebration of Filipino cooking an affirmation of our national identity.
But what she taught me was that I was good at writing, that I could take it beyond the formal theme books of high school, and do more with it than impress teachers with my precociousness. I’m a writer today because of her generous marks on my essays; because she called me to read my writing out loud in front of the class; because when I wrote about a creepy supernatural thing that happened to me, she believed me (and told me to contact Danton Remoto and join the Spirit Questors); because of her gentle ways and ever-present smile.
It was a delicate time in my life, but I didn’t know that then. At the time I needed it most, she gave me the stimulus I needed to write, a structure within which to write regularly, and the gentle encouragement to keep writing well.
As chair of the Communication department, her door was always open for a chat. I remember talking to her about wanting to live in Europe, and if I should do it as a singer or as an English teacher. “Sing!” she said without hesitation. “If I could sing, I would! You can teach English when you’re old, like me.”
I’ve been rediscovering her food writing, or at least trying to. Her books are hard to get hold of outside the Philippines, but some of her wonderful essays are excerpted in this blog. That’s how I found this quote, which I think is a wonderful way to start the week—or any day for that matter. The reference to food makes it uniquely Doreen, and resonates with a foodie like me.
So, happy start of the week, everyone! I wish you a fresh and hopeful day, an upbeat spirit, and life that begins anew. Oh, and good food, too.