In this culinary battle, it's Philippines vs Italy

by Patrick Camara Ropeta, ABS-CBN Europe News Bureau

Posted at Mar 10 2014 04:06 PM | Updated as of Mar 11 2014 12:06 AM

LONDON - Have you ever wondered what happens on a fight between rice and pasta? You might just find out from a new culinary experience in the British capital, where dishes from the Philippines are set to battle it out against cuisines from Italy and other parts of the world.

Fourteen cooks representing nations from Europe to Asia are on a mission to impress foodies and cultural adventurers at the newly-launched Flavour Expats Culinary Battle, a pop-up restaurant series aiming to fuse together two different cuisines over eight nights of urban dining.

“The Flavour Expats series will see some of London's most exciting supperclub chefs facing each other every week, over a six-course menu inspired by the flavour of their own countries,” Rob Cenciarelli, organiser and chef-founder of the popular Italian supperclub, Backdoor Kitchen, said.

Pepe’s Kitchen, a Filipino pop-up restaurant by UK-based cook Mae Magnaye Williams, will represent the Philippines against the successful 7th Floor Supperclub from Italy.

“The Philippines has high chances to impress the guests. I see us as the underdog here, especially against one of the popular cuisines in Europe, but Filipino food has plenty to offer,” Williams told ABS-CBN Europe.

“One common ingredient in both Filipino and Italian food is tomatoes, from the influences of Spain and Mexico, we inherited tomato-based stews against tomato-based pastas. Italians have spaghetti and we have pancit. Now that is an interesting battle.”

The self-taught chef, who was born in the Philippines, will serve three of her favorite Filipino dishes, starting with her own version of a classic, Ginataan na Tahong, or mussels in cocunut milk.

“I learnt this dish from my father,” she said. “It’s originally cooked with catfish and fresh turmeric. My twist is that instead of catfish, I'm using mussels and I’m adding chopped leeks to the dish.”

Her main dish comes in the form of Bisayan Humba, braised pork belly in soy sauce, vinegar, palm sugar, bay leaves and star anise, served with mango salsa and rice, followed by a “surprise dessert”.

“I grew up eating fresh regional dishes. My father had a small piggery, some chicken and plenty of homegrown vegetables. I was spoilt with fresh ingredients,” she recalled, adding she identifies herself as a “probinsyana”.

William’s start-up food business, which is named after her father, is steadily gaining recognition in the London culinary scene. She started with sporadic catering commissions at small private events, including functions at the Philippine Embassy in London, before moving swiftly on to a series of pop-ups in 2013.

In the same year, she represented the Philippines at the first ever Southeast Asian Street Food Market, where the humble kwek kwek became an instant hit. She also launched an online food show on YouTube, simply called “Filipino Food by Mae”.

Most recently, between January and February 2014, she completed a two-month catering residency at The Sun & 13 Cantons in the trendy Soho neighborhood, which attracted some positive attention from the British press, including Time Out London, Fabulous Magazine, Londonist, and The Daily Telegraph.

Later this month, on March 22, Pepe’s Kitchen is also hosting Kamayan Filipino Feast.

“I feel fantastic,” she confessed. “I'm very proud to represent my country and show off Philippine cuisine. British people don't know much about Filipino food, and I'm here to tell them about it as an emerging cuisine in London.”

Flavour Expats Culinary Battle was launched on February 26 with a “Team West Meets Team East” taster event. The series kicks off with “France vs Mauritius” (March 8), followed by “Italy vs China” (March 14), “Australia vs Japan” (March 29), “England vs Vietnam” (April 5), “Italy vs The Philippines” (April 12), and “Italy vs Singapore/Malaysia” (April 26).