Filipino actress Liza Diño didn’t mind missing this year’s Academy Awards show because she had an appointment in Malacañang Palace.
Based in Los Angeles, California, Diño is a line cook at Spago, the restaurant owned by world-renowned chef Wolfgang Puck, who lays out the lavish Oscars buffet every year.
“Last year, I was part of the crew that prepared food for 1,800 guests at the 83rd Oscars,” she related. “It took us two weeks to prepare. We had a sushi bar and flew in Iberico ham from Spain.”
Diño joined the “vegetarian team” in last year’s feast. “There are a lot of vegan and vegetarian celebrities. They have specific dietary requirements. We had to cook these dishes separately—so there would be no hint of garlic, onion or dairy products in their meals.”
Her specialty in the resto is endive salad, but of course she can cook a mean adobo and callos at home.
This year, she just watched the Oscars on TV in Manila, cheering as her colleagues, including chef Puck, marched down the red carpet.
She opted to skip the frenetic annual banquet in order to personally accept the Ani ng Dangal award given by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts in Malacañang on February 28.
The honor was in recognition of Diño’s “achievement in acting” citation from the 2011 International Film Festival Manhattan for her work in Will Fredo’s “Compound.”
Diño was honored alongside other indie artists who won international acclaim last year: filmmakers Jeffrey Jeturian, Auraeus Solito, Remton Siega Zuasola, Loy Arcenas and Sheron Dayoc, among others.
“I got star-struck when I saw (Tony winner) Lea Salonga, who sang the National Anthem,” she said. “Plus, I got to bring my family to Malacañang.”
A first-time Palace visitor, Diño described the experience as “surreal.” She explained: “I never won awards when I was still an actress here. To be recognized now, after five years in the United States, is a great validation.”
As she enjoys a three-week Philippine holiday, she is cooking up several projects, too—including a possible foodie show for a Filipino-American TV station in LA.
“It’s the same channel that airs [actor] Bernardo Bernardo’s late-night talk show,” she said. “The station is considering a travel-cooking show for me.”
Among the present crop of food show hosts, she admires Jamie Oliver the most. “I love his series, ‘Food Escapes,’ because it’s about healthy, hearty, home-cooked meals. He did an episode on Italy and made Venetian tiramisu.”
Diño envisions a similar cooking show that will highlight Filipino cuisine which, she conceded, is largely “unknown” to foreigners. “It would be great to share Filipino food with the world, while maintaining its purity.”
Later in the year, her latest collaboration with Fredo, “In Nomine Matris,” will premiere, too. It’s a special film for her because it allows her to showcase yet another passion: flamenco dancing, which she discovered while traveling in Madrid in 2005 and which she studied under Clara Romana in Manila later that year.
When she goes back to LA later this week, she will resume her work in Spago while juggling auditions, as usual. (Apart from the short film “Imelda and Gunter” in 2009, she appeared in TV commercials in the States.)
That excites her. “It’s pilot season when I get back,” she said. “My agent is lining up several go-sees for me.”