Originally uploaded on April 20, 2012
I MET Chef Rafael ‘Tibong’ Jardeleza II, one of Iloilo’s most prominent chefs, through Woman Today editor Marita Nuque in November last year (2011). He was organizing Tabu-an: The 1st Western Visayas Ilonggo Heritage Cooking Competition and Food Fair at that time and was looking for Manila-based chefs and culinary journalists to invite over to Iloilo to serve as judges in the culinary competition. It was his pet project, as supported by the Department of Tourism (DOT) Region 6 headed by director Helen Catalbas, and naturally wanted it to be a success. Of course I said yes. I spoke with him over the phone a few times, and before I knew it, my husband Raff and I were on an Air Philippines flight to Iloilo with good friend and Inquirer food columnist Micky Fenix. Another good friend, Pampanga-based chef , artist and Philippine Star food columnist Claude Tayag, was to follow the next morning, we were told. And so Ms. Micky, Claude, Raff and I joined a few culinary luminaries in Iloilo on the Board of Judges for the whole-day competition the next day.
We spent the next day checking on the progress of the five competing teams, who were supposed to prepare three Ilonggo dishes (one appetizer, one main course and one dessert), scoring their dish presentations, tasting the actual dishes, deliberating on the strengths and weaknesses of the dishes presented to us, deciding on the winners, then handing out the trophies and other prizes to the winning teams during the formal awarding ceremonies held at Esca’s that evening. It was hard work, but it was a lot of fun.
Chef Tibong, ever a generous host, rewarded our efforts the next day with a marathon food tour around Iloilo, the highlight of which was the Tabu-an lunch that he prepared for us right in the heart of the Central Market. It was a no-frills lunch that gave us a good taste of authentic Ilonggo dishes as the Ilonggos enjoyed them. A long table in the section of the market called Tiles, which stands right beside the fish and native chicken sections, was lined with fresh banana leaves, and all the dishes, from fresh Lato and Tomato Salad and Guinataang Bagongon (snails) to the Lechon Manok sa Tanglad and Sinabawang Managat, were laid out boodle fight style. We all gamely dug our hands into the freshly prepared food and had our fill. It was one of the best meals I’ve ever had.
Chef Tibong would, after that, be known for this dining innovation, and, through his Mr. Tibs Catering, would put together one Tabu-an lunch after another. It’s so popular now in Iloilo that people have been calling him to book for Tabu-an lunches, not only in the original venue, which is Central Market, but also in the more high-end venues of Camiña Balay na Bato and Concepcion Chalet or right in the comfort of their own homes.
That same evening, we boarded Air Philippines Flight 2P-954 and was on our way back home to Manila, bringing with us loads of foodie pasalubongs from Chef Tibong and even bigger loads of fond memories and a strong friendship forged between us.
The ties that bind remained and became even stronger through text messages and Facebook PMs. Chef Tibong made sure he kept in constant touch with his newfound friends, and this is something I really appreciate about him.
Days after we left Iloilo, he sent an air cargo of freshly baked Cinnamon Rolls for us (Ms. Micky, Raff and me; sorry, Claude, Pampanga is so far away…) for no reason or occasion at all. Just out of the blue. And last March, when he came to Manila to attend to a personal matter, he brought cakes for us. There were three kinds – Potato Kamote Cake, Kalamansi Cake and Royal Tru Orange Cake – in the box. He had posted a picture of the Royal Tru Orange Cake on his FB account a few days before that, I made a comment, and he promised to give me a taste of it the next time he came to Manila. Well, he kept his promise! He even accompanied it with two more unique and delicious cakes. Happiness!
Chef Tibong’s cakes are simple and, just like his savory masterpieces, no-frills and straight-forward but oh-so-delicious. Both the Royal Tru Orange Cake and the Potato Kamote Cake don’t even have icings on them, but when you take a fork-full, I swear you’ll redirect your fork to the cake and take another mouthful, and another… You don’t need icing to mask the cakes. You take them nude, just as they are, and it’s the best way, really, to enjoy them. My favorite is the Potato Kamote Cake.
Chef Tibong actually sells these cakes in Iloilo, “by order,” he says. Aside from the Potato Kamote Cake, Kalamansi Cake and Royal Tru Orange Cake, his list of cakes include Ube Cake, Buco Royale with Meringue and his original Caramelized nga Ibus nga may Paho kag Langka (Caramelized Suman with Mango and Langka, known as YSL). Chef Tibong’s cakes are special because he personally makes them when there are orders and he uses fresh local produce that jives with Ilonggo heritage cuisine, which he always promotes. The three cakes that I got to taste are recipes of his grandmother.
Chef Tibong accepts orders through his Facebook account, through Mr. Tibs Catering and Tabu-an, or through 0917-6206800. But he doesn’t deliver, so everything is for pick-up, and he doesn’t ship elsewhere, of course. So it’s only in Iloilo that one can get his cakes.
The next time I’m in Iloilo, I’ll make sure I get another taste of Chef Tibong’s unique and delicious cakes, especially his Potato Kamote Cake.