PH food takes the spotlight at Madrid food congress

Alex Alikpala, ABS-CBN Europe News Bureau

Posted at Feb 15 2017 04:16 PM

Celebrity Chef Myke Tatung Sarthoumeets with Spanish chef Mario Sandoval

MADRID, Spain -- Food experts from various parts of the world are predicting that Philippine cuisine will be the next big food trend and is set to conquer the world in 2017. 

It’s still too early in the year to see if this will come to fruition, but Filipino food certainly got some international exposure and appreciation at the Madrid Fusion food congress held recently in Madrid, Spain. 

Madrid Fusion is one of the most important gastronomic events in the world, held every year in Madrid since 2003. It brings together top chefs from all over Spain and the rest of the world. Representatives of different countries and companies set up booths for people to sample their wares.

This is the third year that the Philippines has sent a team to participate in the congress. The Department of Tourism, in cooperation with Philippine chefs, set up a booth where participants could sample and learn about Filipino food. 

During the festival, chefs gave presentations on a wide variety of topics, such as using seawater in the kitchen, cooking gluten-free dishes, and the process of making chocolate from cacao. 

Chef Myke Tatung Sarthou gave the presentation on behalf of the Philippine contingent, as he talked about the different ways that the Philippines uses salt in its cuisine. 

He also discussed food dating back from before the Spanish colonized the Philippines, particularly, Muslim cuisine. He demonstrated the process of cooking one of these dishes -- fish with burnt coconut as part of its sauce, which he said is unique to Filipino Muslims.

COOKING BESIDE ROCKSTAR CHEFS

As part of Sarthou’s participation in Madrid Fusion, he was invited to cook in Michelin-starred restaurants in collaboration with famous and highly respected chefs. He said the experience showed him that Filipinos can hold their own alongside them, no matter how sophisticated their techniques are. 

“It’s empowering to know that you can interact and work together and face off with any foreign chef without having to imitate them. You can be a Filipino and present quality cuisine at par with other recipes of the world, without apologizing for what we have to offer,” he said.

Sarthou, who owns Agos restaurant at the SM Mall of Asia, said the chefs were intrigued by the ingredients and techniques that he used in his dishes. 

He believes that original Philippine recipes should be prepared as they are. In one of the meals he prepared, he made a simple cassava cake.

“Everyone was amazed by the flavor, the texture, and it really shows you don’t have to overdo things. You just have to do things that we Filipinos have learned to love because they are classics. They are already good on their own. You don’t have to ruin what makes it great to be accepted internationally.” 

MADRID FUSION COMES TO MANILA

The Department of Tourism has brought Madrid Fusion to the Philippines through Madrid Fusion Manila, which will have its third run this year in April. As in the past two years, Madrid Fusion Manila will bring world-class chefs from all over the world to the Philippines. 

Tourism director Verna Buensuceso said the DOT is holding the event because they want the Philippines to be considered as a center of gastronomy. 

“Before this, Philippine cuisine was one of our best-kept secrets. Not many people knew about how good the food that we have is,” she said.

She believes that bringing the foreign chefs to Manila helps in promoting Philippine food to the rest of the world. “These chefs are opinion leaders, and as they discover our ingredients and by using it in their own cuisine, this brings Philippine cuisine and our ingredients to the fore and gets known worldwide,” said Buensuceso. 

Madrid Fusion Manila (MFM) will be held from April 6 to 8 at the SMX Convention Center of the SM Mall of Asia, and will have a theme of “Towards a Sustainable Gastronomic Planet.”

The festival has three components: the first is a gastronomy congress, where top chefs from all over the world will share their innovations and projections about the future of food. There’s also an international gastronomy expo with exhibitors from different parts of the world showing new products, ingredients, and technologies in food and gastronomy. 

Finally, there is the Flavors of the Philippines calendar of activities from March until the end of April where there will be festivals, gastronomic and gourmet markets happening all over the country.

REACHING OUT, LOOKING IN

Madrid Fusion Manila organizer Mielle Esteban, meanwhile, said the event has also made Filipinos look more closely at their own culinary tradition. 

“It makes us look inward. People ask us about our cuisine and we have to answer. We begin to educate ourselves, to ask ourselves questions about our own cuisine and it deepens our understanding of who we are. As we reach out to the world, we are also taking a step back and trying to understand the origins of our cuisine. We discover the ingredients in our own country that are not utilized by our own chefs and seek our full potential,” she said. 

Esteban added that Madrid Fusion Manila helps Philippine products as well. “We have been able to put our heritage ingredients in the limelight. With events like these, we can protect these products for the use of future generations,” according to Esteban.

READY TO BE THE NEXT BIG THING

Sarthou is confident the world will soon appreciate what makes Philippine cuisine unique. “It’s one of the most sophisticated in the world because of the range it has to offer. We have the simplest and most elegant dishes, such as the kinilaw, the tinola, but we also have dishes like the kare-kare which are very complex.”

He also believes that the country’s culinary history is one of its strengths. “Each dish has a story to tell, which makes Philippine cuisine more interesting than other cuisines in the world,” he explained.

Buensuceso is also optimistic about prospects for the year. “In the New York Times and Bloomberg, Philippine cuisine has been mentioned as the next big food trend that’s coming up, so we’re really very excited about all these developments,” she said.

This enthusiasm is not limited to Filipinos, either. A Madrid Fusion regular who has also visited the Philippines, Spanish journalist Alberto Fernandez has recognized the potential of Filipino food to be a rising star.

“The Philippines is like a melting pot. You have the Asian influence, then you have the Spanish and American influence. You have all the ingredients and the biggest biodiversity in the world. All these make Filipino food full of surprises that change in each island,” he said.

Fernandez added that Philippine cuisine is the last frontier for foodies. “They have everything to be one of the best in the world, like Peruvian, like Japanese, Mexican, or Spanish. It’s only a question of time that everybody knows that Philippine cuisine is one of the best in the world,” he said.