Cebu eats: Pinoy food takes center stage at Waterfront's UNO

Angelo G. Garcia

Posted at Jun 12 2017 04:29 PM

Chefs Roland and Jackie Laudico. Handout photo

Ngohiong cones, sinigang bites and palabok bites. Handout photo

Balut Napoleon. Handout photo

Spicy Bellychon. Handout photo

Queso de Bola Cheesecake and Tsokolate Oh with Peanut Butter. Handout photo

CEBU – Filipino hotel buffets normally offer a wide range of cuisines to cater to motley guests. Unfortunately, more often than not, the local cuisine takes a back seat, giving the spotlight to cheese, wine, steak, pasta, sushi and pizza, among others.

For years, the Waterfront group of hotels has the usual Filipino fare on offer for guests and tourists willing to try the local cuisine. Recently, however, the homegrown hotel chain decided to give Pinoy cuisine its much deserved place in the spotlight.

Waterfront Cebu City Hotel and Casino and Waterfront Airport Hotel and Casino Mactan partnered with Filipino celebrity chef couple Roland and Jackie Laudico to put together a special menu of the best of Filipino cuisine at their UNO buffet restaurant.

“UNO’s Modern Filipino Taste: A Filipino Feast for All Senses” is a festival of local flavors featuring Filipino and Cebuano favorites. The lunch and dinner food fest will run until August 31.

“Filipino food has so many flavors and variations to offer. We’re bringing a new era and new excitement for the future for Cebu as a culinary destination, not only in the Philippines but the entire world,” said Waterfront Cebu City general manager Anders Hallden.

The hotel chose the celebrity chef tandem because they are known for championing local cuisine, owning several Filipino restaurants in Manila, including buffet restaurant Guevarra’s.

“Ever since we became professionals in the field, our advocacy is to really promote Filipino cuisine. We’ve been to several countries abroad, we have done several food festivals in different hotels and restaurants abroad, and it’s always Filipino flavors that we champion,” Chef Lau explained.

“It is really with great passion and love that we always try to promote Filipino cuisine. It is such an honor for us to be able to do it at the country’s only Filipino-owned hotel chain,” his wife Jackie added.

The couple added more than 40 new dishes to UNO’s Filipino cuisine repertoire, bringing the total to about 65 items for the special food festival.

Chef Lau shared that he even went around Cebu to sample the traditional local fare. They visited Pasil Fish Market in the city to hunt for local ingredients and see what the locals are eating.

“What I enjoyed here is I went around Cebu tasting traditional Cebuano fare. We went to Pasil and we went there at 2 a.m. We noticed that they were eating this fish stew, it’s like sinigang but we made it into like a bouillabaisse style. It’s called nilarang. Then there’s the balbacua, the one here is more soupy. What we did is we simmer the skin, knees, feet, and we reduced the stock until it’s really rich and extra gooey,” he said.

MODERN TWISTS

UNO’s Filipino feast has an extensive menu, even turning traditional dishes to modern eats.

Cebu is famous for its lechon or roast pig, and Chef Lau made four versions—regular pig, spicy lechon belly, baka (cow), and kambing (goat). To make his lechon unique, he added a local herb called sangig (lemon basil) to the usual aromatic herbs and spices used in a Cebu lechon.

Other must-try dishes include his version of ngohiong, a lumpia-like Cebuano fried spring roll dish which he turned into cones; the sinigang bites (crispy kangkong with bangus mousse) which provide a single bite of classic Pinoy flavors; inasal siomai which fuses Chineses and Visayan techniques; pinaupong nilasing na manok, a local play on beer can chicken; rich balbacua; and classic pork humba.

There’s also the dessert, created by Chef Jackie. Some of her desserts on the special menu include the bicho bicho yema, suman panna cotta, queso de bola cheesecake, and many more. 

But a definite must-try is the molten tableya cake, a moist mini cake with Davao chocolate inside. The dish is made to order and served in a small ramekin. 

TIME TO SHINE

According to the Laudicos, it’s high time that Filipino cuisine gets the attention it deserves, especially in the global culinary scene. As advocates of Filipino food, they do not only promote the food but also its traditional preparation.

“We started doing Filipino food 18 years ago. We really wanted Filipino food to be respected globally, not just here and that’s happening. Finally, it’s happening, it should have happened many, many years ago. I think it would just continue to grow. The number one problem with Filipino cuisine is convenience products, all that instant crap. We do not only advocate Filipino food, we promote the traditional way of Filipino food. It’s not the cuisine that’s at fault, it’s the person that cooked it,” Chef Lau said.

The Laudicos are also pleased that they are doing this food festival in collaboration with a wholly Filipino-owned hotel chain that has branches in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. 

For Chef Lau, putting an event as big as this is not easy, but Waterfront’s kitchen staff has assisted them very well. Celebrity chef Tristan Encarnacion, the executive sous chef and resident Filipino chef of Waterfront Cebu City, also helped the couple put everything together.

“The challenge is you’re working with a team that you have never worked with before. You’re working in the kitchen that is new to you and anything could go wrong but we’re used to that. There’s always something that goes wrong. But that’s what makes our job exciting,” Chef Lau said.

“Getting into others’ kitchens and getting to train the people on how to improve and make good Filipino cuisine is also an exciting part of the job,” Chef Jackie added.

The Waterfront group has many years of experience in the hospitality sector. It has been recently renovating and upgrading its facilities to keep up with the trend. These include newly renovated presidential and bridal suites, a separate reception area for big groups, and a state-of-the art business center.

Waterfront Cebu City has been an icon in the Queen City of the South because of its unique architecture. Its 4,000 seating capacity ballroom has been a witness to many major events.

Waterfront Cebu City also has several restaurant concepts including Chinese restaurant Tin Gow, Japanese resto Mizu, and Italian eatery La Gondola. And, of course, Waterfront hotels are known for their in-house PAGCOR casino and duty-free shops.

Waterfront Airport Hotel and Casino Mactan, on the other hand, is a favorite among tourists and businessmen alike because of its proximity to the airport.