EVERY year, in November, I get on a plane and head for Iloilo to take part as a member of the Board of Judges of the annual Tabu-an: Western Visayas Ilonggo Heritage Cuisine Cooking Competition and Food Fair organized by Iloilo’s very own Chef Rafael ‘Tibong’ Jardeleza II. The competition has been going on for the past three years, and this is my third year in Tabu-an along with my husband Raff and Philippine Daily Inquirer’s food columnist Micky Fenix, and I’ve watched the annual event grow year after year. ‘Tis why I was happy to be back in Iloilo last November, specifically November 22 to 24, 2013. The Board of Judges “imported” from Manila has also grown, this year numbering eight plus another one from Cebu. Making this possible was Tabu-an Promotions’ partnership with the Department of Tourism (DOT) Region 6, headed by regional director Helen Catalbas, the Province of Iloilo and the Iloilo City Government.
Chef Tibong also had a star attraction this year, celebrity chef Pablo ‘Boy’ Logro, doing a live cooking demonstration at The Shops at Amigo Terrace Hotel, site of this year’s competition. Chef Boy also sat as a member of the Board of Judges on the first day of competitions.
There were seven competing teams vying for culinary supremacy this year, with each team having to prepare three dishes – an appetizer, a main course, and a dessert – that adhere to the Ilonggo heritage cooking theme. Each dish had to resound with Ilonggo vibe and, unlike in most culinary competitions where the competing teams need only to prepare two portions of each dish – one for presentation and one for the judges’ sampling – Tabu-an required the competing teams to cook for a dinner crowd of 200 people. The culmination of the competition was to be a buffet dinner cum formal awarding ceremony, where part of the agenda was to have the dining crowd choose the winners for the Diners’ Choice Award.
LET THE COMPETITIONS BEGIN
The first day of competitions took place in a vacant area of The Shops at Amigo Terrace Hotel which was a mini mall standing adjacent to Amigo Terrace Hotel, one of the major sponsors of this year’s Tabu-an competitions. Another vacant area served as the Judges’ Lounge, where tasting, deliberations and scoring took place among the judges. This year, aside from Ms. Micky, Raff and me, the Board of Judges had Chef Myke ‘Tatung’ Sarthou, Bandera’s food columnist and book designer Guillermo ‘Ige’ Ramos, Inquirer’s senior lifestyle reporter Evangeline ‘Vangie’ Baga-Reyes, food historian and cultural maven Felice Sta. Maria, cookbook author Niño Angelo Comsti, Philippine Star food columnist Stephanie Zubiri-Crespi, and Cebu’s travel writer Boboi Costas, with special participation by Chef Boy Logro.
Unlike the past two years, which had the competing teams prepare all three dish entries in one day, this year’s competition divided it into the dessert competition on the first day and the appetizer and main course competition on the second day.
One of the main aisles of The Shops at Amigo was cleared and set up with tables and a stage for Chef Boy Logro’s much-anticipated cooking demo. Before and after his cooking demo, Chef Boy was with us for most of the time, checking on the competing teams as they cooked, tasting the food as each dessert was served, and jotting down his observations on his judging folder.
But when the time for his cooking demo came, Chef Boy’s energy level was super high, unmatched by anyone I’ve seen doing a cooking demo in the past. I’ve seen him do cooking demos in the past and worked with him on shoots countless times even when he was not yet a celebrity, but how he has reinvented himself and continues to surpass his own accomplishments makes me stand in awe of him. His memory is excellent, his humility awesome and his energy boundless. Chef Tibong made the perfect decision when he decided to have a Chef Boy Logro cooking demo as one of the main features of this year’s Tabu-an event. He had an enthralled audience before him.
After his demo and the score sheets have been submitted to the organizing committee, we all had a good rest before it was time for dinner at Breakthrough. But Raff and I were whisked away to do short shoots with Esca’s Chef Miguel Cordova and Dulgie’s Chef Mae Pido.
Dinner was mainly a seafood affair at Breakthrough, followed by an indulgent dessert with coffee at Maridel’s at Plazuela de Iloilo. Chef Boy was with us all the time, and people were having pictures taken with him but he wasn’t complaining. We maximized our time with him, for he was leaving on a flight back to Manila early the next day.
THE HARD WORK IS ON
The following day, November 23, 2013, was when the hard work had to be done by the competing teams. They assembled in the open area at the back of Amigo Terrace Hotel and The Shops at Amigo, where tents had been set up for them. It was where they were to prepare their appetizer and main course entries.
Again, the members of the Board of Judges did the rounds of the tents, where the competing teams were working, and then hied off to the Judges’ Lounge, where the appetizer and main course entries were brought for tasting once they were ready.
By late afternoon, after we’ve tasted the last entry, we knew who our winners were. We had time to wash up and change before it was time for the formal dinner cum awarding rites at the Grand Ballroom of Amigo Terrace Hotel. Iloilo City Mayor Jed Patrick Mabilog was guest of honor and personally handed out the awards to the winners along with members of the Board of Judges. An area of the ballroom showcased the table settings put together by the competing teams to present their dish entries. Across the ballroom, two separate buffet spreads featuring the dish entries were set up for all guests to partake of.
Highlight of the evening was, of course, the awarding of the winners.
For Best in Table Setting, Western Institute of Technology of Iloilo City took first place, followed by Colegio del Sagrado Corazon de Jesus of Iloilo City in second place and Hercor College of Roxas City, Capiz, in third place.
Best in Appetizer was Hercor College for its Atchara nga Gulaman nga May Tikhan (Pickled Seaweed with Bamboo Shells) in first place, Western Institute of Technology for its Kinilaw nga Isda nga May Inatchara nga Batwan (Fish Ceviche with Picked Batwan) in second place, and University of St. La Salle of Bacolod City for its Hinanggop nga Balinghon nga May Rabanos kag Marguso (Sundried Anchovy with Radish and Bittermelon Salad) in third place.
Going home with Best in Main Course honors was Hercor College for its Seafood Zarzuela in first place. Not too far behind were Western Institute of Technology for its Mechado nga Bordon nga May Chorizo de Bilbao (Beef Bordon Mechado with Spanish Chorizo Bilbao) in second place, and University of St. La Salle for its Duck Adobo in third place.
For the Best in Dessert, the big winner was Colegio del Sagrado Corazon de Jesus for its Pinirito nga Ibus nga May Dinulce nga Ube, Paho, Langka nga May Dulce de Leche Sarsa Linatik nga Lubi (Caramelized Rice Cake Stuffed with Ube Halaya, Mango, Jackfruit Jam with Light Custard and Coconut Meat Reduction). Placing second and third, respectively, were the Barangay Nutrition Scholars of Sta. Barbara, Iloilo, for its Guava/Pineapple Empanaditas and Kryz Culinary Arts and Restaurant Services Institute Inc. (KCARSI) for its Binukayo nga Lubi (Candied Coconut).
The Diners’ Choice Awards went to Hercor College in first place, Western Institute of Technology in second place, and University of St. La Salle in third place.
Finally, the grand overall champions were announced, following the grand total of the scores given to the seven competing teams in the three dish categories. Emerging as the grand champion was Western Institute of Technology. In second place was Hercor College. Placing third was Happy Kitchen. The winners celebrated, while the non-winners looked forward to next year’s competitions.
But the activities of the Tabu-an: 3rd Western Visayas Ilonggo Heritage Cuisine Cooking Competition and Food Fair did not end with the tears of happiness shed by the winners and all the revelry of the night’s festivities. On the third day, February 24, 2013, it took on a more serious tone, as the Tabu-an organizers and the members of the Board of Judges journeyed to Concepcion, Iloilo, the place hardest hit by Supertyphoon Yolanda in the Western Visayas region.
The three-hour road trip showed us the great devastation that the typhoon wrought on Concepcion, which had not quite been able to rise from the fall. The roads had sustained great damage. Fallen trees were everywhere. Crops were destroyed.
We journeyed on to Villa Gloria in Sitio Belen, Brgy. Kalamigan, Concepcion, for our feeding program, bringing with us cooked rice, pork and fish balls sautéed in vegetables, soup and meatloaf sent by Tabu-an sponsors. Angelo had also brought with him boxes of Fudgee Bars and Tiger Biscuits, which we gave away to the residents of the nearby communities. In lieu of a food tour around Iloilo before we embarked on our journey back to Manila, we were having this feeding program, and it was well worth it to see how, in our own little way, we were able to bring smiles to the faces of the residents, particularly the children, who had suffered the wrath of destructive Yolanda. It’s not enough, but it’s a first step.