“LUZON, Visayas, and Mindanao! Are you ready!” esteemed chef Myrna Segismundo said above the buzz of culinary enthusiasts crowded into Elements at Centris on Oct. 27 for the second day of the National Food Showdown.
Ms. Segismundo — who presented at Madrid Fusion in Madrid; is a founding member of International Wine and Food Society — Manila Ladies Branch; was editor-in-chief of the culinary magazine Foodie (now sadly defunct); and author of various cookbooks and essays on the Filipino culinary spirit — was getting ready to raise the go signal on Chef Wars, the finale show of the National Food Showdown.
She bade the participants, two teams each (representing the student and professional divisions) from Luzon, the National Capital Region (NCR), the Visayas, and Mindanao to raise their hands and to wish each other good luck. Their brief was to create three dishes with a list of ingredients given just a few hours before the actual competition. The main ingredient for that day was a whole chicken, complete with liver and gizzards.
For Chef Wars, the participants from Mindanao were from Giuseppe Pizzeria and Sicilian Roast restaurant, and Saturnino Urios University. From the Visayas — the winners in the regional divisions, and thus speeding up to the finals — were the Movenpick Hotel in Cebu and the University of St. La Salle in Bacolod. Representing Luzon were participants based in Baguio — students from Benguet State University and Le Chef by Billy King. The NCR only had one team, Enderun in the student division, because, according to Ms. Segismundo, “I can’t get Manila to compete. They’re too proud to lose.”
After an hour of chopping and sauteing, and whatever else they did in there (the result was smoke and a lot of interesting smells, from the fragrant to the foul), two winners were chosen: the Movenpick Hotel swept through the finals with its Breaded Poultry Quenelles, Kare-Kare Sauce, Steamed Pumpkin Flower with Mashed Pumpkin and Alugbati Leaf, Turmeric-Enhanced Chicken Consomme, Smoked Eggplant Tortellini, Chicken Oyster, Poultry Glazed Sponge and Pipinito. Enderun, meanwhile, presented Rellenong Adobong Manok, a saute of gizzards and liver and pimiento on a bed of adlai risotto, Sinampalukang Manok, complete with gizzards and liver, a molo dumpling, and a chicken empanada.
After two days filled with competitions, many schools placed in various categories, but St. Anne College in Lucena, Quezon, won the overall Presidential Award for having the most students place in different categories ranging from food service to presentation: from soup to dessert, food styling and table setting.
“You get to see what the culinary scene is out there. It’s really heartwarming to see that they’re trying, and vying for higher standards, which are validated in the competitions here,” said Ms. Segismundo on the regional winners gaining top prizes.
“Enderun, obviously, is way up there,” she said, noting the distinction of the posh college complex up in BGC, Taguig. “I sometimes think about how fair is it for the others who don’t have the same opportunity and exposure. Then again, that’s the standard, and they’re showing it to you. You want to aim for that.” She’s quick to point out however,” Schools like St. Anne… are not Enderuns, and yet they do so well.”
The National Food Showdown, now on its 12th year, started out as Ms. Segismundo’s pet project from back when she was still affiliated with the aforementioned Foodie magazine. The competition has gained a life of its own in the years since. “It started out as a passion, it’s become an advocacy.” The goal at the end is to raise standards and develop Filipino talent. “Obviously, that the industry will be better for it. You have good workers, naturally, your operations will follow.”
While Manila is inundated constantly with a new this or that, the way to Ms. Segismundo and the other judges’ heart was a return to basics, which could be seen in this year’s theme, “Learning to Win.” “We’re looking for technique more than creativity. With technique will actually follow taste. Creativity is really all the trappings — the little trimmings — that go with an outfit, for example,” she said.
“The common mistake is the focus on creativity, more than technique. But they have to go together.” — Joseph L. Garcia