Isah Red embodied cariño brutal. He’d berate you for sloppy work or crack a half-meant joke about you being mired in poverty or something similar, and then he’d feed you generously.
More than a decade ago, when Manila Standard still held office at the Port Area, he called the attention of our sports editor, Riera Mallari, who had then just bought a brand new Honda City. “You should get your windows tinted. Have them in super black,” he said. “Nakakahiya kasi,” he added before bursting in contagious laughter. Sir Isah, of course, was then driving a BMW. Riera laughed at himself and at the not-so-subtle ribbing and had his windows promptly tinted super black.
Once, according to Nickie Wang, his protégé who would later succeed him as our entertainment editor after he retired, sir Isah blew his top during a presscon in Tomas Morato in Quezon City as the restaurant did not have enough plates. “Ano ba itong restaurant na ito? Kulang sa plato. Magsara na kayo,” he told the waiters. The owners of the restaurant reached out to him after and invited him to try their dishes again, this time with a promise of better service. Sir Isah eventually became friends with them, and the much-improved restaurant has since become a go-to place for events and press conferences.
At the office (now in Makati), you’d always associate his presence with food, and rightly so. From the walang-kamatayang pansit and donut to cakes and pizza, he was not one to think twice about sharing food. He had a soft spot for the Pantry Gang—what we call ourselves in the editorial team due to our fondness for going to the pantry to eat together. During one of those days when we did not have any food, he said in jest, “Kawawa naman kayo. You’re poor.” He then went to his room, fished out several gift certificates from a nearby restaurant, and instructed us to order whatever we wanted to eat.
He was not picky when it came to our office merienda. Hot pan de sal with cheese or Spam or Maling was enough to make him smile. He loved the lumpiang shanghai prepared by Daddy Hen, husband of our layout artist Vickie, even if he knew it could trigger his GERD. Sometimes, he would even prepare egg sandwich for us from scratch. But once, when I tried to experiment on sopas, his discerning side surfaced. “Ano ito? Is this food? Kung restaurant ka, nagsara ka na.” But he finished his cup anyway, and said in his pampalubag-loob voice, “Pwede na rin.”
Sir Isah was a lot of things. He was feared by a lot of PR practitioners even as he was fast friends with the best of them. He was a mentor to Nickie and Bernadette Lunas, who succeeded him as our lifestyle editor when his time to retire came.
He was also the reason why my column exists.
When I joined the desk in 2015 after more than a decade of covering the Malacañang beat, he suggested that I, who only knew how to write about politics and security, should start writing about demi-glace and julienned carrots, at least, once a week.
“Sawa na ako sa mga food columnists na payat. Parang hindi naman sila credible. Ikaw na lang tutal mahilig ka naman kumain,” he said while laughing out loud. I thought he was only teasing me with his crazy idea, but he was serious enough to even come up with my column name, The Joyce Of Eating, and the rest, as they say, is history (or in this case, a weekly gastronomic adventure).
Sir Isah was deeply loved, and he will be sorely missed. In the movie Ratatouille, the food critic Anton Ego said that food is memory. For Anton, the scent of a beloved dish can evoke happy memories of a mother serving her young son his favorite food. So it is with sir Isah and his generous heart. He left us with lots of fond memories to remember him by.
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