Hosts of international food shows have visited the Philippines through the years, like Anthony Bourdain tasting “the best lechon ever” in Cebu and Andrew Zimmern trying tamilok in Palawan for the first time. Sashi De, the host and producer of Maximum Foodie, decided to delve a bit deeper.
Now on its second season premiering this August 15 on the Asian Food Network, this food and travel series goes to Hongkong, Hanoi, Mumbai, and Bali, plus the Philippines where De chronicles the fascinating journey of cacao from South America to the Philippines, as he visits a cacao farm in Davao, faith healers in Siquijor Island, and one of the country’s top restaurants in BGC.
ANCX was recently invited to a preliminary screening of one of the Philippine episodes (both are airing on August 22), where we chatted with Sashi De himself about the series, his experiences, and what blew his mind about cacao in the Philippines.
Sashi De describes Maximum Foodie as a show without a set theme. Instead, “it’s basically cataloguing my journey” which is what he has been doing since 2005 through his work as a filmmaker and producer of travel content, as he went “to every single spot you can imagine in South America, Africa, Antarctica, most of Asia, most of Europe.” He shares, “Eating with different people in different walks of life, different professions, you’re ingrained into their culture and their way of life because of the manner that we film.”
De is no stranger to the Philippines, as he has visited countless times, even filming an episode here for the first season of Maximum Foodie. But in this new season, he takes a different approach, preferring to experience the country through the eyes of a chef. He elaborates on this approach, “My goal is to show people, the armchair travelers, that besides what you know about a particular destination, there is so much more. Because we focus on food and some of the best chefs in the world, we provide that insight into their lives, into their personal projects that’s going on.”
In the case of the Philippines, it’s the personal project of Chef Chele Gonzalez of Gallery by Chele that leads De to cacao as the overarching theme of the two Philippine episodes. While Gonzalez may be Spanish, he’s been living in the Philippines and researching about local ingredients long enough to be able to share knowledge about local cacao that many Filipinos may not even know about.
During the screening, we watched De and Gonzalez fly to Davao and meet with cacao specialist and entrepreneur Rob Crisostomo who brings them to a cacao farm to explain the process of transforming cacao pod into chocolate. They taste the sweet-ish seeds straight from the cacao pod, go in search of the rare ancestral Criollo variety that was first brought from South America by the galleon trade, and watch cargadors load sacks of fermented and dried cacao beans for export.
The following episode brings De, Gonzalez, and Crisostomo to the island of Siquijor where the shamans and faith healers have an altogether different use for Criollo cacao. De relates, “Because their potions are meant to be extremely potent, they only work with this ancestral variety which is Criollo. So to see Criollo naturally growing in healers’ backyard was amazing enough, but to learn that they actually use it in their potions for its healing properties was totally unbelievable.”
Thankfully, De is a chocolate lover who can appreciate it in all its forms. “I’m on a complete cacao kick as of that episode, I love sikwate, I love the health benefits of it, I love the flavor profile... In terms of the finished product of the chocolate bar, I tried a couple and it’s hard to explain the taste profile. It’s definitely very unique. I just can’t recommend it enough.”
De ends his cacao journey at Gonzalez’s restaurant in BGC to see how the chef cooked a whole meal with cacao in every course. De provides a sneak peek to what he cooked, “[Gonzalez] used the mucilage which is like a jelly coating that covers the seeds. It’s got a very citrusy, fruity element and taste profile, so he basically collected that mucilage from a whole bunch of cacao and he used that as a vinaigrette dressing… We picked up some uni, some sea urchins from Siquijor, and it paired amazingly well with the uni.”
Sashi De came away impressed with what he learned about cacao in the Philippines. “People are consuming it on a daily basis. Filipinos have made it uniquely their own, and now, I think, they’re on that stepping stone to take cacao from the Philippines into Asia, and hopefully all over the world.”
Two short episodes on TV can only skim the surface of the huge topic that is Philippine cacao, but what we do learn can be illuminating. While De sees each viewer as taking something different from the show, he also believes, “If you love food and culture, you’re going to absorb that information like a sponge, even inspire you to go out to Davao and check out cacao and learn about them and the chocolate industry there.”
Maximum Foodie airs every Saturday, August 15 to September 12, 2020 at 10:00 pm on the Asian Food Network (SkyCable channel 248, Destiny channel 22, and Cignal channel 62). Catch the Philippine episodes on August 22, or visit AFN.com where all episodes will be available four days after airing