Nat'l Food Showdown kicks off in Manila

by Kristine Servando,

Posted at Sep 04 2009 04:23 PM | Updated as of Sep 07 2009 11:19 PM

ABS-CBN President Charo-Santos Concio graces the opening of the National Food Showdown in Makati. She is flanked by Glenda Barretto, Jill Sandique, and Myrna Segismundo.

MANILA - The 2009 National Food Showdown officially kicked off on Friday, marking the start of the country's "only national culinary competition" and the "UAAP of the culinary world."

The competition's organizers said in a press conference last week that the 2009 Food Showdown promises to be bigger and more exciting because it has more judges, participants and sponsors.

The competition started three years ago as a way to promote both FOOD and Foodie magazine.

It is now the country's premier culinary competition because of its reputation for keeping the contest rigorous but friendly. It also serves as a venue where chefs can "raise their spatulas in friendly camaraderie."

Through constructive criticism from the event's volunteer judges and fostering a good learning environment, the Food Showdown aims to elevate the level of expertise of the country's culinary and hospitality industry members.

More importantly, the event aims to create world-class chefs and develop Filipino talent.

Learning more than winning

"It's really more about a learning exercise for both professionals and students, rather than winning. Because really, when you think of it, all the competitions are a simulation of what the real food service industry is all about. Competition is all about bringing out the best in you," said Myrna Segismundo, over-all chair for the event.

The competition events include the Gourmet Cold Buffet Challenge, Fruit and Vegetable Carving, Cuisine Rapide, Set Menu Challenge, Flairtending or Cocktail Mixing and Flambé (cooking food in a hot pan with dashes of alcohol).

There are also Table Setting, Cold Desserts, Petits Fours or Pralines, Pastry Showpiece, Baby Cakes, Wedding Cakes, and Creative Cake Decoration events, as well as brand competitions, which are not compulsory, with themed cooking based on cooking products of sponsors.

The event, which runs from Spetember 4 to 5, was launched in partnership with ABS-CBN's Cable Print and Media Group and the Lifestyle Network.

Food fight!

The highlight of the event is the "Chef Wars" competition called the "Battle of the Experts" where culinary students and professionals slug it out in an "Iron Chef"-esque setting.

Under time pressure, the participants have to produce a line of original and tasty dishes based on a "mystery ingredient", which was revealed to them weeks prior to the competition so they could practice. Food categories include classical European and Filipino cuisine.

The finalists, some of whom came from as far as Iligan City, were chosen from thousands of participants who joined elimination rounds in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao.

The teams have three members each and compete in both student and professional categories at the A. Venue Events Hall in Makati City.

They will be rated in terms of taste, texture, technique, originality, the temperature of the food, presentation, as well as grooming, sanitation and food safety practices.

Who can cut it?

Chef Jill Sandique, Chair of the Chef Wars competition, said she came across strange or daring dishes during the elimination rounds for Chef Wars including Ground Talakitok in Panna Cotta, Tanguige and Buko Salad, Tuna in Gelatin, or Fried Tuna Slices coated in Chocolate.

"You can only go so far in terms of creating dishes that are off the track. But actually, you can see the improvement from the first year that we started because the students and professionals are more exposed. They know that they have to bring up their level of competition higher," she said.

"At the end of the day, food is for eating. No matter how beautiful your food is, but it tastes bad, then you won't remember it. It's much better if it looks good and tastes good too, and you did well in terms of technique and sanitation - that's world-class," Sandique said.

Glenda Barretto of the famed Gloria Maris restaurant chain said a valuable component of the Chef Wars incorporated last year is the on-site debriefing, where the chefs will be told what went wrong with their dish or how they could improve it.

Barretto is the food showdown's Chair of Judging and Appeals.

More culinary and hospitality schools

Segismundo said she was happy with the overwhelming response for this year's competition. She said they had to "close their doors" to some culinary schools or establishments because they could not handle the sheer number of competitors.

In Mindanao alone, there were over 15,000 students and 20 hotels and restaurants who joined the regional tryouts.

The organizers narrowed this down to 26 schools and 15 professional establishments or organizations nationwide for the finals. They will be judged by 63 chefs and food critics who work for free.

Volunteer judge mainstays include pastry and bakery master Norbert Gandler of the International School for Culinary Arts and Hotel Management, Colin Mackay of Sala Bistro and People's Palace, pastry chef Ernie Babaran, Mike Borja of the Magsaysay Institute of Hospitality and Culinary Arts, and executive chefs of premier hotels.

Glamorous job?

Segismundo said the huge number of participants this year can also be attributed to the slew of culinary and hospitality schools cropping up all over the Philippines and the culinary profession's glamorization in the press.

"It must be the uniform or all these TV shows where chefs become celebrities. If they only knew, it's hard work. But what they do is exciting. This is a profession where you can actually find work where you don't have to pay for your meals. At the end of the day, food is universal in appeal," she said.

Segismundo added that more and more students enter the hospitality and culinary industry because of growing demand for chefs, waiters, or hotel workers, especially abroad. Report by Kristine Servando, Photos courtesy of ABS-CBN Cable Print & Media Group and FOOD magazine. is the online news department of ABS-CBN Interactive Inc., a subsidiary of ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corp. ABS-CBN and the Lifestyle Network are both part of the Lopez Group of Companies.