Stuffed week-old pigeon (kuyabog) cooked in tuba reduction sauce. A 45-day-old wild boar (baboy talonun) lechon served with liver sauce and lumpiang ubod ng niog. And a kalabasa dulce de leche and batwan sorbetes. These are just three of the stars of the 9th Tabu-An Western Visayas Ilonggo Heritage Cooking Competition held recently at SM City Iloilo Southpoint grounds.
The said entries belong to the team from Western Institute of Technology (WIT) in La Paz, Iloilo City. The group is composed of instructors Achilles Capuso and Oscar J. Salazar III, and students Glecymar Tabares, France Louise Necitos, and Randy Salvilla. They bested nine other contenders from different parts of Western Visayas, winning first place in three categories—appetizer, main course, and dessert—as well as the grand prize.
The school also won the top awards back in 2018 and 2019, so this year has been a great comeback for them, says Capuso. “We did a lot of research on heirloom recipes and local ingredients that are not known to the younger generation of Ilonggos, yung makikita mo lang sa rural areas and small communities,” he tells ANCX.
The competition gets more challenging each year, Capuso says, as teams are expected to keep showcasing innovations in preparing traditional Ilonggo cuisine. As in previous years, the teams were only allowed to use charcoal for cooking and each step of the process should only be done using their hands.
The dishes are judged according to flavor, presentation, innovativeness, use of local ingredients, and mise en place. The dishes and the cooking process went under the scrutiny of respected figures in the food scene—chef and cookbook author Angelo Comsti, corporate chef of The Raintree Restaurant Group Kalel Chan, Linamnam restaurant founder and chef Don Patrick Baldosano, Stonehill Suites' executive chef Don Angelo Colmenares, and the competition’s founder Chef Rafael “Tibong” Jardeleza Jr.
Jardeleza lauds the WIT team’s use of wild boar in the competition. “The talunon was really good because it has a distinct flavor. Its meat has an inherent sourness. The team was able to achieve a crunchy, flavorful lechon using our local aromatics,” he says.
Chef Kalel Chan agrees. “Nanalo sila not because they presented a lechon, but because they exercised constraint in their use of ingredients,” he says. “The lechon was also well-cooked.”
Meanwhile, the stuffed kuyabog, which was slow-fried, was very juicy, says Jardeleza, and all the components of the dessert—Quezo de Bola Cheesecake, Kalabasa Dulce de Leche, Batwan Sorbetes, Calamansi Cream and Cashew Crisp—perfectly complemented each other.
Jardeleza, who recently released a book titled “Flavors of Iloilo,” says the Tabu-An cooking competition aims to sustain traditional Ilonggo heritage cuisine, and make it world-class not only in terms of flavor but also in the way it’s presented.