WRITING about food is an experience both universal and personal: while everyone around you may eat the same thing, everyone has a different response to it and recall of it. That’s why, most of the time, no two articles about food are ever exactly the same.
That does not stop people from writing about food, and some of this writing has been awarded for its merit.
The Doreen Gamboa Fernandez (DGF) Food Writing Awards were named after esteemed teacher and writer Doreen Gamboa Fernandez, who expanded her reach beyond the classroom and did extensive research on Filipino culture and its expression through food, leaving behind a legacy of food writing respected today as institutions in themselves.
The contest, which selects a handful of excellent essays based on a common theme, have been awarded since 2002, the year of Ms. Fernadez’s death. This year, the theme was “Fowl,” and three winners were announced on May 9 in Pasig City. Elmer Nochesda won this year with an essay called “A Taxonmy Of Lutong Itik (cooked duck).” Christian Renz M. Torres bagged second place for “Curiosity Cured The Duck,” while “Feeling Nostalgic with Mama Pe’s Inubadang Manok Bisaya (Visayan chicken stew)” by J. Roy Paniza ranked third place.
The May 9 awards also served to launch the book Sangkap: Basic Philippine Ingredients, the second anthology from the DGF Awards, covering years 2013-2017. The book includes essays by winners from years past on the topics “Rice,” “Coconut,” “Herbs,” “Vinegar,” and “Bagoong (fermented fish paste),” with a few recipes and essays from other esteemed writers, giving a taste of the literary.
Michaela “Micky” Fenix, President of the Food Writers Association of the Philippines which compiled the winning entries of the book and now holds stewardship of the awards, says that she wasn’t that close to the late Ms. Fernandez. “I was just starting then,” she said when asked to recall her experiences with Ms. Fernandez. But she did learn a lot from her, saying, “You just have to read her, then you know.”
The awards then, are a way to protect the legacy of Ms. Fernandez, rooted in both creativity and discipline. Asked if there are any traits needed in a writer to be of Ms. Fernadez’s caliber, Ms. Fenix said, “Curiosity.”
“Curiosity is vital. You can’t simply know everything about everything. Especially with food. If you belong only to Manila, would you know about Ilonggo food?”
To give an award to in a field is to give it prestige and respect. In this case, food writing becomes almost as noble as the prospect of farming for food, or preparing it. “You have to talk to the cook, why they cook it that particular way… and then the ingredients that you use.
“Eating is just part of the experience. People think that if you can describe the taste, it’s enough. It’s not enough,” said Ms. Fenix.
Copies of Sangkap can be purchased directly from the Food Writers Association of the Philippines. Call Hannah at Studio 5 via 895-4040. The book costs P400. Delivery is free for addresses near or around Makati, but delivery charges apply to other locations. — Joseph L. Garcia