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The art of slicing ham: Filipino brothers stamp mark in Spain as 'maestro cortador'.

The Lopez brothers, Michael and Mark, of the Maestro Cortador Filipino (MCF), have developed the essential skills of carving ham, which they acquired through training, experience and hard work as immigrants in Spain, and eventually distinguishing themselves as maestros cortadores, or ham carvers, that had impressed even the Spaniards with their wizardry.

'Maestro cortador de jamon means jamon master carver. In the same manner that Japan has its sushi chefs, Spain has its jamon master carvers,' said Michael Lopez in a recent news briefing in Makati City.

'It is the master carver's job to make sure that the jamon is served properly so that every bite will be fully appreciated. Carving a jamon requires impeccable knife skills and precision, which takes years to develop. And since the jamon is not really cheap, so to speak, it is also the master carver's job to optimize the meat's consumption and put every morsel on the plate,' Michael said.

A maestro cortador is needed if somebody needs their jamon served professionally. Having a maestro cortador carving on the spot is a spectacular addition to any social event.

Together with younger brother Mark, Michael seeks to promote MCF to the Philippine market and share the art of appreciating with their paisanos. This gives the Lopez brothers more reasons to visit the country more often.

MCF was launched by the Lopez brothers last year after working for more than 20 years at Restaurante Cinco Jotas. They had to quit their jobs at the restaurant in order to accommodate the vast number of private functions that require their services as master carvers.They also put up their own company, the MCF, and have hired three other Spanish master carvers who are based in Spain. Lopez said they already have a full slate of 100 weddings for the rest of the year.

Michael honed his craft when he worked as a waiter at Meson Cinco Jotas (now Restaurante Cinco Jotas) in Madrid when his maestro cortador de jamon, Pedro Seco, saw his talent in carving jamon.

'He trained me and assigned me to take over for him during his days off. After a few months, Cinco Jotas deployed me to a different restaurant branch and made me the maestro cortador de jamon there. This was in the year 2000,' Michael said,

Meanwhile, Mark started working for Cinco Jotas in 2002. He trained under Antonio Vara and, eventually, was also assigned to

another branch.

Cinco Jotas is a trailblazer in the jamon business, producing jamon since 1879.

In 2003, Michael received his maestro cortador certificate after Cinco Jotas sent him for training at their headquarters in Jabugo, a village in Spain known for producing delectable ham. Mark got his certificate in 2007. 'During the training, we carved jamon all day and were exposed to the entire production process of jamon Iberico de bellota,' the brothers recalled.

Michael recalled their clients were initially surprised they were not Spanish. 'Moreover, they thought we were Chinos or Chinese,' they said.

Right now, MCF's business in Spain is doing great. It hosted about100 events bookings for 2019. Aside from the Lopez brothers, MCF has three other Filipino master carvers in its pool.

Michael cited the importance of social media in building the business, adding that their services became popular because people attending events in Spanish cities that serve jamon criticize the organizers for not having a master carver in the parties. 'You can hire us just for the carving service or you can just buy jamon from us. Or you can avail of both, we have packages for carving service with jamon,' Michael said.

In 2015, MCF added 'Seleccion Privada' to its name. Moreover, it was during that time Michael and Mark launched their Cinco Jotas Private Selection. This means MCF personally inspects the quality of each Cinco Jotas jamon Iberico de bellota for their clients.

Carving ham for celebrities

The brothers have become in demand cortadores, jetting off to the world's most luxurious and exotic locales to carve ham for celebrities, dignitaries and other VIPs.

They are hired for their expertise in slicing, carving and serving the ham at weddings, official functions and other private events. They are the official ham carvers for the UEFA Champions Leagues, serving the superstar football players at their lounges pregames and postgames. They have also met celebrities like Penelope Cruz and Julio Iglesias, and dozens of famous chefs like Jose Andres, Joan Roca and Juan Mari Arzak, to mention a few.

MCF was even tapped by a rich Venezuelan businessman to carve ham for his birthday party in the capital city of Caracas. No less than Spanish superstar Julio Iglesias was the guest singer.

Being a top cortador, MCF's market values has gain prominence. It has been tapped by Arcos, Spain's leading kitchen knife manufacturer, as their ambassadors since 2008. When Arcos holds its events, MCF performs jamon-carving demonstrations. 'We go to Germany annually to represent them at Messe Frankfurt for the kitchen fair,' Michael said.

The MCF brand carries different types of jamon such as:

1) Jamon Iberico de Bellota (black label): 100-percent Iberico, acorn-fed, bone-in Pata Negra, minimum 36 months curing, denomination of origin: Jabugo.

2) Jamon Iberico de Cebo (white label): 75-percent Iberico, grain-fed, bone-in, minimum 24 months curing, denomination of origin: Guijuelo.

3) Jamon Serrano Reserva, bone-in, minimum 15 months curing, protected geographical indication: Trevelez.

MCF can also carve ham for their customers even if they are not holding an event. Michael said they could carve the entire jamon and put the slices in vacuum-sealed packs, which the customer can open anytime. This also works for restaurants that would like to serve jamon but do not have an in-house cortador.

Indeed, the Lopez brothers from Marikina City had gone a long way since they joined their parents in Madrid in 1993. Michael went to Madrid in 1993 and Mark followed in 1995. 'Our parents migrated to Madrid in 1983, I joined them in 1993 and Mark followed in 1995,' the brothers recalled.
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Publication:Business Mirror (Makati City, Philippines)
Geographic Code:4EUSP
Date:May 1, 2019
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