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When Irish pork meets Filipino cooks

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A DISH called Bisperas ng Pista (Eve of the Festival) by Donie Bigcas

WHEN Irish pork meets Filipino cooks, the result is a winning dish of hamonado pork jowl, camote mash, and atchara.

The five finalists for the Irish Government Food Board’s (Bord Bia) East Meets West culinary competition may have already won a trip to Ireland, but they still had to prove themselves in a final round earlier this week. The stakes were less high as the winner received a gift certificate for a stay at the Grand Hyatt in BGC. The contest was judged by Philip Golding, Founding Chairman of Disciples de Escoffier International Asia-Philippines, and Mark Hagan, Executive Chef of Grand Hyatt Manila.

The culinary competition was held by Bord Bia in an effort to promote Irish beef and pork products. Over 100 entries were submitted throughout August, and five were selected from the pool earlier this month. The five finalists who won a culinary tour of Ireland were: Nathaniel Deocaris, a chef from Cainta, Rizal; Francis Dave Lacson Selorio, Executive Chef at Crypto Café from Iloilo; Marichu Jung from Apicius Culinary Arts–Parañaque; Donie Bigcas of Center for Culinary Arts–Manila; and home cook and financial advisor Karl Kenneth Watson.

For the competition held on Oct. 27, Mr. Selorio made a laing-stuffed pork belly with adlai in rambutan sauce (laing is taro leaves cooked in coconut milk), while Mr. Watson made a medium-rare beef striploin with roasted onions, calamansi (a small local citrus) gel, and bistek sauce (bistek is a sort of beef stew with a sauce of soy sauce and calamansi). Ms. Jung made a classic Filipino pot roast with beef short ribs, pureed baby carrots, and balsamic caramelized shallots, and Mr. Deocaris made a crispy pork belly kare-kare (a meat and vegetable stew with a peanut based sauce) with homemade peanut crackers and tomato and shrimp fondue. Mr. Bigcas made and named a dish called Bisperas ng Pista (Eve of the Festival): it was made of braised hamonado pork jowl (hamonado is pork stew sweetened with pineapple juice), sweet potato puree, and pineapple atchara (pickle).

Guests were allowed to view the competition remotely via Zoom, due to the pandemic (the contestants were also required to take a COVID-19 test prior to the competition, for reasons of safety). While the contest was held remotely, it was strangely intimate. One heard details one may not have heard if the contest were held live and onstage. For example, BusinessWorld heard a judge praising a dish all throughout, then pointing out to a contestant the fingerprints he had left behind while plating. Then there was the story about one of the contestants having been held hostage at knifepoint in Colombia, and later Mr. Bigcas telling judges about the fiestas in his Capiz hometown that inspired the dish. Mr. Bigcas bagged first place that day.

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In a Facebook message to BusinessWorld, Mr. Bigcas discussed his winning dish. “The pineapple atchara reminds me of the colorful banderitas (bunting) during the festival, while the sweet potato puree is an attempt to promote the crop which is a staple in our region,” he said. “I created this dish because I want to inform and raise awareness for the younger generation, to promote the importance of heirloom recipes with the use of high quality and sustainable ingredients.”

The two judges also shared their own thoughts about awarding the dish top marks. “What I like about Donie’s dish is the story behind it. He’s able to link the heritage of the old Filipino dish. The story of fiesta or holiday and family gatherings — recreating something that is family and what grandmothers used to create,” said Mr. Hagan. Mr. Golding, for his part, said, “It’s very simple: I will eat and pay for that in a restaurant. It was very good comfort food, nicely put together with a nice sauce, a very nice texture of the Irish pork meat. It had a very strong Filipino influence.”

The contestants will jet off to Ireland in about a year or so, but they already have a lot to look forward to: Mr. Bigcas said, “I would like to see the actual production of Irish pork and beef so I can increase my knowledge as a chef on how to utilize it more in my recipes.”

Meanwhile, Ms. Jung said, “I am looking forward to knowing something about their culture — how the Irish farmers look after their animals to make it sustainable and traceable.” Most of the contestants shared the same enthusiasm for Irish farming techniques. Mr. Selorio said, “Personally, when I was a seafarer, I used to go to other places, but I didn’t have the luxury of time to travel enough. I am very excited about Ireland because this is my first time to go there and I would like to experience Irish food culture. In addition, I want to learn how the Irish pork and beef industry works — from the producers to processing to the distribution.”

Jack Hogan, Market Specialist at Bord Bia, had a few guidelines on where to get Irish beef and pork here in the Philippines. He named Healthy Options and Delidrop Gourmet Grocer as sources, then listed Raging Bull in Shangri-La at The Fort and Old Manila at the Peninsula as restaurants which use their products. “Irish pork producers have long established relationships with their partners in the Philippines, and supply large restaurant groups and food processing companies such as the leading chicharon (pork crackling) producers.”

For chefs or restaurant owners interested in purchasing Irish pork and beef, Mr. Hogan advises visiting www.bordbia.ie. — J.L. Garcia

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