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'First' among foodies.

Byline: Ruel S. De Vera

Setting aside the cliche of describing a food book as if it were a meal of some sort, one approaches "Dessert Comes First: A Book" by Lori Baltazar (Sketch Books, Inc., Taguig City, 2013, 300 pages) as the product of parallel evolution.

When Baltazar started "Dessert Comes First" (first on Blogspot and then at in 2005, it was one of the Philippines' first food blogs. As more and more people began writing online about what they ate, Baltazar got better and better at it, a vanguard of the foodie revolution.

Eight years later, "Dessert" assumes fine form as a handsome, oversized, full-color hardcover that features fullscreen photographs by Baltazar and Aldwin Aspillera and beautiful book design by Patricia Silva. The big draw is Baltazar's writing, as elegant as it is concise. In this book one finds choice essays which constitute the best of her blog posts and including several pieces that have also never seen print, the food writer's equivalent to a poet's volume of "poems, selected and new."

She takes the time to write about the things that matter to her, including the food people she looks up to (the beloved, late Ed Quimson) and their distinctive recipes (with Baltazar's notes), the food-related things she likes (the process of baking), and the things she doesn't (mint in desserts). There are also Baltazar's own recipes, including a meaningful one that has likewise never been published, making it part cookbook and part memoir.

Narrative about food

What "Dessert" allows Baltazar to do is craft a narrative about her long relationship with food. She ponders, for example, how motherhood may have sparked her delight in sweet things:

"This destiny, mine, is one devoted to dessert, and food, too. In a life as enmeshed in sweets as mine is, it may be difficult to believe that I wasn't always in possession of this dessert obsession. I've always been attracted to sugar but when I became a mom, my sweet tooth became sweet teeth and my propensity for pastry became insatiable. Do I blame pregnancy? Destiny? It matters not now."

It certainly doesn't and here Baltazar discusses why she turned to blogging about food as well as her creative process as a writer.

Later in "Dessert," Baltazar opens up about her obsession with good coffee, her sentimental relationship with her mixers, why she doesn't mind eating alone, why she loves having a husband who cooks, as well as unexpected gustatory feats. After trying out an all-liquid diet purely for the experience, she writes: "Being unable to chew has informed me as an eater. Truly, without chewing, eating is nothing. But eating, even without chewing, is also meant to be cherished."

Fittingly, the final recipe in the book is Baltazar's vaunted cheesecake, which of course has a story of its own: "Bake it and believe me when I say that this cheesecake has the power to make people love you."

A love story

From the time Baltazar tasted her mother's cooking to the time she put together this book, "Dessert" is very much a love story with ingredients and instructions.

"Dessert" is a fitting testament to pioneering work in a time when foodies have become a democratized, powerful force, and a worthy, updated successor to the compelling work of definitive Filipino food writers like the late great Doreen Gamboa Fernandez and others. Not only is it a great opportunity for people who have never read Baltazar's work online to see what all the fuss is about, but it's a collection of thoughtful pieces which just happen to be about food.

The result then is a book about food that is perfectly personal and practical, a compelling culinary coming-of-age story from one of our best food writers, online or otherwise. "The challenge now is keeping it fresh, keeping it real. As long as my passion propels me, as long as my work remains relevant to me and to those who read it, I'll keep on eating and writing," Lori Baltazar writes. "Because eating and writing, it's what I do."
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Publication:Philippines Daily Inquirer (Makati City, Philippines)
Date:Oct 7, 2013
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