Salty, Sour, Spicy, Sweet and All Smiles
Salty, sour, spicy and sweet. These are the four S’s when it comes to Filipino cuisine. When it comes to Ruel Altares, add on a fifth S… S as in Smiles!
All smiles…for Altares and those about to appease the taste buds as the longtime Fort McMurray resident enjoys cooking for family, friends and large gatherings.
“We enjoy cooking…it is joyful…and hopefully the results are also joyful for those that we are cooking for,” said Altares, 56, a resident of Fort McMurray since 1983.
“If you are happy cooking, the results will show. The secret is that you have to enjoy it and love it.”
His love of creating gastronomic delights came from his father.
“When I was younger, I always watched my dad cooking,” recalled the affable Altares, of his father David Altares who passed away in 2012.
“He had a bakery and on Sunday’s he would cook supper for his employees and their families and our own family,” continued Altares, referring to his hometown of Pangpang in the Philippines.
“With dozens of people to feed, we (seven siblings) were always helping out.”
Altares was quick to respond, when asked what was his own favorite fare as a child.
“A local fish dish we call by our local term...Inon on. The fish was Galunggong fish. The dish had vinegar, garlic, onions, black pepper, ginger, tomatoes and of course salt.”
It was this fish dish that Altares enjoyed cooking for his mother.
“My mom doesn’t eat meat, so she would love fish all the time,” said Altares, who is a parts supervisor for Finning Canada. “One day, she asked me to cook fish for her and she enjoyed it so much that she said, “Hey…you can cook really good.
“So as a kid I liked to say to mom, “Mom do you want some fish?”’ and I would cook it for her.”
Cooking for his own family, which includes Clayton, Claire, Chantelle and Catherine, along with their mother Lolita, Altares has also brought out the wok to cook for groups of between 300 and 400 people..
“When I was president (Filipino Canadian Association of Fort McMurray,) I used to do the cooking for our annual fundraising event,” said Altares, who like his children, now adults, is well-known and well-respected in the Fort McMiurray sports community.
“We’d cook for two days or so. We would have people getting the vegetables ready with all of the cleaning and chopping. We would do about a dozen different dishes or so.”
His most popular dish, requested by friends, is pancit noodles.
“When I am cooking noodles, I am trying to make it perfect…to the right texture,” said Altares. “It is probably the most popular dish with people. Even at work, people are always requesting the noodles.”
Altares said he adds in “a combination of pancit and vermicelli noodles mixed with chow mein, Chinese sausage, chicken breast, carrots, celery, cabbage, oyster sauces, chicken broth, black pepper, onions and garlic.”
He concludes: “The preparation of getting everything ready and cutting the vegetables takes longer than the cooking.”
His oldest daughter echoes the popularity of her father’s No.1 meal.
“Dad’s well known for his home made Filipino pancit noodles,” says daughter Catherine Pate, 32, a teacher at Father Patrick Mercredi Community High School. “Because of him and my mom, whose specialties are her home made from scratch deserts and Filipino egg rolls, all of us kids, including myself, love to cook.
“The influences of our mom and dad have inspired us into working their magic in the kitchen,”
Altares said his children grew up eating traditional Filipino dishes, “When they were little, we mostly ate traditional Filipino food if we had it (supplies) in the kitchen. Going out for fast food or hamburgers was a treat for them.”
Other large events that Altares has blessed with his cooking talents include the annual Polynesian Night put on by the South Sea Islanders Association.
“It’s totally different from Filipino food as they mainly use curry. But we did sweet and sour fish for them and also the noodles. It was a good cross over.”
According to Altares, Filipino staples are “a combination of Chinese and Spanish along with Japanese cultures.”
A food experience that Altares can amazingly conjure up just about anywhere.
It was during the summer of 2002, while coaching basketball at the Legion Athletic Camp, located at the International Peace Garden on the Manitoba/North Dakota border, that Altares decided to treat about 25 staff to some traditional Filipino cooking.
The nearest grocery was in Boissevain, Manitoba, which has a population of around 1,500. They did not have all of the ingredients that Altares needed for his acclaimed pancit noodles.
Undeterred, Altares ventured into a local food establishment - Choy’s Chinese Restaurant - to convince the owners to sell him a few packs of chow mein.
“They were kind of curious why I was asking for so many noodles. That was the challenge, to find all of the ingredients but we made it work.”
Other dishes that are part of the Altares menu include Adobo, Kare-Kare, Lechon and other mouth watering delight.