Back in the ‘90s, if you wanted to read about the latest restaurants, you had to buy a newspaper. Luckily, my father subscribed to several broadsheets, one of which was the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
My relationship with renowned food writer and restaurant critic Clinton Palanca and his column was very organic. I was in college then and I would escape from the mundanity of my university life through the paper’s lifestyle pages. On Wednesdays I would read about the parties that took place over the weekend. And on Thursdays, I will read the columns of Doreen Fernandez and Clinton Palanca. It was what I cared about and enjoyed reading then, especially when I wanted a respite from the secession of the Québécois and bilateral treaties.
Fernandez, to me, was an icon. An elder stateswoman who could do no wrong. Palanca was like a playful older brother that I adored from afar. He was smart, confident, and wickedly fun—qualities I now realized I wanted in an older brother. He was a demanding English professor to some of my friends, but to me, he was just Clinton, the coolest writer I’ve known.
And so, from being lost in a course where I could not see a future, I was suddenly given a template of what I could become. I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to write about food. It was a subject I knew well and something that made me feel good writing about. And I wanted to write in a way that I thought Palanca would have wanted. Bold, honest, and witty but always with purpose. I chose to stay mum on occasions that I had nothing good to say, in true Fernandez style. However, the confidence, the straightforward stance, the “relax, its just food” attitude. Those were inspired by Palanca. Besides, there is nobody in the industry who can justifiably talk shit about other people’s food anyway. Only him.
His untimely demise had the food industry and media reeling. It got me thinking about my missed opportunity to work with him on an article. “Do you want to write about gay misogyny?” He asked me a couple of years back. I had to decline that time, hoping that another opportunity will present itself. But, that time never came. That will remain to be one of my greatest regrets.
However, while I searched through my old photos looking for our first dinner together at Gallery Vask immortalized forever in social media, I was reminded of the life food writing has afforded me. It was Palanca’s genius that inspired me to live this life that has opened so many doors to adventure and learning. It is a career that allowed me to open doors to several others as well, telling the world about restaurants and the people behind them who otherwise would not have had a voice.
While I missed that chance to work with Palanca, I’m thankful I was able to tell him a handful of times how much he meant to me. He would giggle shyly and say something self-deprecating, clearly embarrassed by the attention and the adulation of an unabashed fan. But, I knew he needed to know. In an often thankless occupation that really does not pay enough to justify the work put into it, he needed to know how his talent mattered to me and countless others. To me, he is irreplaceable.
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