“Chef Wars” is a national competition among various schools, restaurants and hotel establishments.
There are contests in bar-tending, bed-making, table-setting displays, dessert-making, wedding cake displays, chocolate sculptures, bread-making, appetizer plates, etc. Among all these, the highlight are the cooking competitions.
There are student and professional categories. Much like “Master Chef” on the Food Network, participants are given a main ingredient and made to prepare their own dishes to impress the judges. This competition is headed by chef Myrna Segismundo and is conducted around this time every year.
As one of the judges, I go to Baguio for the Luzon elimination round, Bacolod this year for the Visayas leg and Cagayan De Oro (CDO) every year for the Mindanao competitions. Winners from the three regions plus NCR are then made to compete in the National Food Show-down held in Manila.
Just last week, we were in CDO for an event organized by Cagayan Hotel and Restaurant Association (Cohara), held annually for the past 19 years. In the early years, I was blessed to be an invited judge and I have seen how the level of participants has jumped from where they were to the international standards that are now common in this area.
To us judges, apart from giving suggestions to improve the participants’ entries, visiting CDO has become our rest and recreation. I personally look forward to reconnecting with the organizers who have become friends; and I also anticipate the food trips we will experience or simply discover food we don’t have in Manila.
New Chinese resto
From the airport, we were immediately treated to a yummy lunch buffet at the newly opened Chinese restaurant, Ah Fong. Behind the success of this new dining place is Nelia Lee, one of those responsible for making us leave CDO with bulging tummies.
At the Lim Ket Kai mall, our first food trip were loads of sweet mangosteen, marang, durian and rambutan sent from the farm of chef Jill Sandique. Delicious!
I learned to peel a rambutan with one hand and also discovered that there are different varieties of some of these fruits. In one of our breaks in judging, we sneaked out to have lunch at Sunburst Fried Chicken where we hummed away enjoying the crunchy fried puwet ng manok or chicken ass.
After a very tiring day, we headed back to the hotel, where awaited a sumptuous dinner arranged by the organizers.
A surprise came from the husband-and-wife tandem of Doy and Joanna Yu—a new restaurant making waves in CDO called Boy Zugba.
Nestlé Philippines hosted our dinner here. We were a group of around 40; laid in front of us, boodle-style, were eat-all-you-can herb-laced mini lechon, lechon manok, inihaw na baboy, barbecue, inihaw na pusit, sugpo, kropek, scallops, oysters, kinilaw, cheese-stuffed longganisa (made in the restaurant’s kitchen) and a lot more.
Anyone trying to diet never succeeded. With ice-cold imported beer, it was the best and largest boodle fight I had ever attended. All hopes of losing weight flew out the window. I just focused on the lechon ribs, longganisa, red egg and rice. With spicy suka as sawsawan, I ignored everyone and just ate.
The next winning dinner was at a newly opened place called Ribs and Bibs. Owners are Sasa and her mom Ging. Chef Rose and Sasa are both graduates of the culinary school International School for Culinary Arts and Hotel Management (ISCAHM) headed by chef Norbert Gandler, who is also a fellow judge.
Chef Norbert must be proud of his successful graduates. ISCAHM was the overall winner in the recently concluded Philippine Culinary Cup competitions held at SMX Convention Center in Mall of Asia. Galing!
We were served ribs, fish, roast beef and other dishes. I don’t remember what else was there for my focus was zeroed in on the fall-off-the-bone barbecue ribs and broiled corn.
Chef Robby Goco, Manny Torejon and I downed two baskets of the yummy nachos topped with ground beef and cheese! This place will do good in Manila.
I love going to the CDO competitions and can’t wait for next year. I love surprises in the food our hosts serve us in that wonderful province.
Ah Fong is at Grand Central Building G/F, Hayes St., Cagayan de Oro; tel. (088) 8803299
Boy Zugba is at Corrales Ave., Ramon Chavez St., CDO; tel. (088) 8805555.
Ribs and Bibs is at JR Borja cor. Corrales St., Cagayan de Oro; tel. (088) 8807783.