Saturday, February 13, 2016

Galing Bulacan brings out cooking talent of the province's students and potential professional chefs

By Nancy T. Lu

Sons and daughters of Bulacan aspiring to pursue a culinary career stepped forward to be counted at the Galing Bulacan Cooking Contest in front of the Bulacan Provincial Capitol Gym in Malolos last January 29. The late Teresita "Mama Sita" Reyes, a Malolena and an icon when it comes to flavorful mixes and sauces in authentic Philippine cuisine, must have smiled with approval from above on seeing a promising younger generation show flair and talent for cooking.

Fourteen teams of would-be chefs, all students with ages ranging from 14 to 18, came from different places in Bulacan, including Bustos, Baliuag, Calumpit, Plaridel, San Rafael, Pulilan, Bulakan, Paombong and Malolos, to compete and to learn from the critiques and evaluations of the very experienced and professional chef judges.The Mama Sita Foundation and the Bulacan Provincial Government through the PHACTO Tourism Division made the project possible.

The contestants and their all-out supporters were privileged to hear in what seemed like an open-air cooking school some truly useful pointers and meaningful advice directly from chefs like Sau del Rosario, Richard Ramos, and Nancy Reyes Lumen.

Despite the not-too-ideal setup of the cooking area, the well-prepared contestants carried out their tasks smoothly within sight of their coaches, thereby earning positive remarks from  the judges for their culinary performance.One team was thrilled to be finally told that they were, in fact, worth hiring for a restaurant.

The contestants' chosen ingredients were the first to call attention that beautiful morning. The interesting display of a potted basil plant on one table prompted though a judge to express hope that leaves would not just be plucked and introduced on a dish without washing. Meanwhile fresh aratiles fruits required by one recipe fanned nostalgic memories of childhood days spent playing in a backyard dominated by a fruit-bearing tree.LGBT awareness even in cooking was noted in the entry of Team Bulacan State University - Inipit na Baklang Alimango sa Caramba ni Mama.The crustacean's gender was said to see to the preferable consistency, taste and texture of the aligue.

Sau del Rosario, a French-trained celebrity chef who is the culinary director of The Cravings Group,  openly said that he would like to see the contestants wow him with their use of the Mama Sita products. A surprise to him was the inclusion of a dessert recipe using Mama Sita distilled cane vinegar in the competition.  This Triple Coated Kesong Puti dish (top photo) whipped up by the team from Bustos went on to emerge the grand champion. All other included recipes like the runner-up entries of Beef with Banana Bud and Waterleaf in Oyster Sauce - a  pasta dish - of Team Baliuag  University and Stuffed Prawn with Mama Sita's Oyster and Barbecue Sauces with Quinoa of Team Centro Escolar University of Malolos were main courses.

Richard Ramos, whose years of working with Eurest in California, USA, taught him to be passionate and innovative about food, shared his culinary expectations. This scion of the family behind Eurobake - famous for inipit and ensaymada - sought to find balance in the food presentation. He pointed out a lack of carbohydrate on a plate sometimes. He also wanted to see color in the food presentation to satisfy a need to visually whet appetite. He likewise had an eye for height in the food on a plate.

The stories which the contestants told for the day often highlighted the influence of mothers who were traditional homemakers known to cook lovingly for their families. The judges naturally hoped to discover Bulacan's culinary heritage through the contest participants  and to find out how old recipes had evolved in modern times.

The judges, including this writer, followed the visual feasting on the food with actual tasting. Taste, texture and aroma were given 40 percent  in the judging. Preparation and cooking skills took 25 percent while presentation and appetite appeal got another 25 percent. Ten percent went to overall impact.

Sau del Rosario urged all the teams to promptly present the food - each dish a labor of love and a work of art - when newly cooked in order to earn higher points in the judges' score sheets.

Nancy Reyes Lumen, famous food researcher and chef with the reputation of Adobo Queen, remarked that the joy in the eyes of a cook somehow got carried over to the dish he or she worked on. Her random suggestions worthy of note included letting achuete do the special coloring of the rice to go with Team Plaridel's Milkfish Longanisa. She questioned the presence of a whole pitcher of aligue sauce when a small serving already there sufficed in Team Bulakan's entry of Crab Stuffed Prawn in Aligue Sauce.

Clara Lapus, president of the Mama Sita Foundation, shared her advocacy in protecting the environment at the cooking event. She reminded the students not to pollute the river so as to preserve the natural food bounty there and to keep the shrimps used in a delicious dish, for example, safe for the dining table..

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