MANILA – A finalist of “MasterChef Pinoy Edition,” a lechon specialist from the Visayas and a group of guys selling “cronuts” were among the crowd favorites at this year’s Ultimate Taste Test held at the Rockwell Tent last Saturday.
The third edition of Rockwell’s popular annual food event drew 50 food vendors, most of them home-based, as well as hundreds of foodies acting as “food critics” for a day. Ticket holders were given ballot cards where they rate the different vendors on a scale of 1 (lowest) to 5.
This year’s food spread ranged from traditional crowd favorites like chicken wings and burgers to unique, almost gimmicky treats, like rice meals rolled into a bite-sized ball and a spread made from marshmallows. There were also several vendors peddling healthy eats like veggie sisig and malunggay cookies.
But despite the sheer number of food on hand, there were a number of genuine standouts. We picked 10 items that truly impressed us.
Roast beef with Saucy Gravy
The Sultry Chef
Ivory Yat, without her signature flower, shows off a slab of roast beef. Photo by Jeeves de Veyra for ABS-CBNnews.com
So this is what Ivory Yat is doing after her runner-up finish in “MasterChef Pinoy Edition.” While she didn’t take home the crown, Yat is certainly pursuing a career in cooking. And based on her successful showing at Ultimate Taste Test, she is certainly on the right track. Although we arrived at 4 p.m., her roast beef retained an acceptable level of tenderness but in terms of flavor, it was just oozing with all that smokey, barbecue goodness that we look for in roast beef. This certainly beats many of those offered in pricey hotel buffets.
A tasting portion of Generals’ garlic lechon. Photo by Jeeves de Veyra for ABS-CBNnews.com
This was the only booth that we had to line up for – twice. The first time, they ran out. So we tried the other booths and returned only to see a longer queue. It was worth the effort. One bite of the garlic lechon and we were in pig heaven even without the sauce (a choice of the traditional lechon sauce or vinegar). General's Lechon comes from San Carlos City in Negros Occidental. The first time I tried its original lechon flavor was at the Fiesta Bahia at SM by the Bay, which was already impressive. But the garlic flavor simply took the lechon to the next level. Definitely General's Lechon will be a name to watch out for as it starts its expansion in Manila.
GoldenducK's Premium Meat Products
The duck burger surrounded by bits of salted duck egg, which is sold separately. Photo by Jeeves de Veyra for ABS-CBNnews.com
Manila has seen a boom in gourmet burgers but this social enterprise has found a delicious niche within this competitive segment. The idea is actually simple since who doesn’t like duck meat? The burger, even without all those sinful toppings, almost has an umami quality, a yummy aftertaste that more than makes up for the drier texture. There was at least one other booth specializing in burgers but GoldenducK easily trumps it with this winning sandwich.
Flavors on Fire
A serving of pasta Alfredo with chicken. Photo by Jeeves de Veyra for ABS-CBNnews.com
With all the creative culinary tweaking going on with many of the Ultimate Taste Test participants, it’s easy to overlook this rather standard item from Flavors on Fire. Chicken filet on pasta? What’s so special about that? But when we tried the dish, we were just taken away by the flavor – lightly creamy at first but with a surprise chili kick that woke up our taste buds. The paprika chicken also had that deceiving flavor that worked so well with the pasta. This dish certainly made pasta interesting again.
Schmidt’s Gourmet Hotdogs
A bite-sized portion of the Wagamama. Photo by Jeeves de Veyra for ABS-CBNnews.com
Even before the Ultimate Taste Test, Schmidt’s is already on my list for its home-made hotdogs ever since I first tried it at the Cucina Andare food truck park in Glorietta. I would always order the chili dog over this Japanese-inspired hotdog. But for last Saturday’s event, Schmidt’s made a pitch for the Wagamama, which is topped with nori strips. The spare toppings, in my opinion, further emphasized the high quality of the hotdog itself. The finesse of this hotdog certainly lives up to Schmidt’s “gourmet” label.
The cream cheese croissant-donut. Photo by Jeeves de Veyra for ABS-CBNnews.com
We were not surprised to find yet another new entry to the growing list of cronuts being sold in Manila. One would think that this food fad has already peaked but Bronuts not only has humor, it has come up with a product that makes you truly grasp what the hype over this donut-croissant hybrid is all about. The guys at Bronuts offered three versions: Belgian chocolate, cream cheese and blueberry. It was easy to impress with Belgian chocolate which is heavenly on its own but one’s enjoyment was extended to the cream cheese and the blueberry, as well. The reason is the pastry itself. This is one “cronut” where one can fully appreciate the flaky, buttery consistency of the croissant and the flavors are just the bonus. The use of savory cream cheese took the craze to a new level, turning the “it” dessert into a solid treat, perfect for breakfast or a heavy snack.
Cinq Dessert Boutique
The Aurore chocolate tart of Cinq. Photo by Jeeves de Veyra for ABS-CBNnews.com
There were plenty of baked desserts to choose from at Ultimate Taste Test and Cinq managed to stay ahead of them by the sheer elegance of this chocolate tart with macadamias and caramel. There was none of the cloying sweetness or the gimmicky indulgence of many of the cakes on offer. This was a classy dessert that one can expect from five-star hotels, with its austere sophisticated exterior and well balanced taste. I expect to hear more from Cinq in the future.
Artisan Ice Cream
Jack Frost Premium Ice Cream
Various ice cream flavors in the freezer. Photo by Jeeves de Veyra for ABS-CBNnews.com
The flavors were not the type to whet your appetite like the basil ice cream. But Jack Frost was just miles ahead of the ice cream/gelato pack at Ultimate Taste Test in terms of quality of the ice cream itself. The creaminess, the texture, had an adult sophistication that we appreciate. Sure, ice cream can bring out happy memories of childhood but sometimes you also want an ice cream that isn’t purely about juvenile joys. Jack Frost, despite its name, is an ice cream for grown-ups.
Tablea with Siling Labuyo Ice Cream
Cream of the Crop
The various ice cream flavors of Cream of the Crop. Photo by Jeeves de Veyra for ABS-CBNnews.com
If Jack Frost was all about premium quality, Cream of the Crop got into our list for the sheer audacity of its Pinoy flavors. Chocolate with chili isn’t anything new but we were still delighted by this very Filipino flavor, which is a take on the Mexican mole. The chocolate taste isn’t overly sweet and the heat from the sili refreshes instead of overwhelms, achieving a nice balance. We also tried the surprisingly pleasant Malunggay ice cream with pureed langka, while the Sulu coffee with salted muscovado had the perfect bitter crunch of the coffee beans, like having iced coffee on a humid Philippine summer afternoon.
Malagos 65% Dark Chocolate
Malagos Agri-Ventures Corp.
Chocolate bars from Malagos. Photo by Jeeves de Veyra for ABS-CBNnews.com
We have all heard about the Malagos cheeses from Davao. Well it seems the bright minds of Malagos Agri-Ventures Corp. are also developing a line of premium chocolate. Its first product, a 65% dark chocolate, is comparable to popular imported brands. For that alone, we’re including it in the list.