What normally is a gala dinner held in plush places like the front lawn of the Beaux-Arts mansion Nelly Garden in Iloilo City turns into a benefit kitchen for 1,200 frontliners in answer to the call of the times
Photos by Ray Tabafunda and Kevin de Asis
No thanks to this long-staying pandemic, the sixth edition of Sabores de Visayas has had to be postponed several times. The last postponement was announced just a couple of days before in the middle of May when, all invitations out, guest chefs as well as other guests, including ourselves, were already in town to partake of the annual eat fest, which was to be held al fresco on the front lawn of the 93-year-old Beaux-Arts mansion, the Lopez Heritage House Nelly Garden, in Jaro.
Sabores de Visayas is a brainchild of Iloilo chef and culture champion Rafael Jardeleza Jr., chef Tibong as he is known, whose goal when he came up with it in 2015, together with former Department of Tourism (DOT) Region VI director Helen Catalbas, was to discover, explore, preserve, and promote the heritage cuisine of Western Visayas. Every year, although there were years Sabores was held twice in the same year, he would invite nationally and internationally renowned chefs like Margarita Fores, Sandy Daza, Chele Gonzalez, Angelo Comsti, Kalel Chan, Josh Boutwood, Don Baldosano, Francis Lim, and more, along with food critics, writers, and editors, to take part in the activity, side by side with some of the best Iloilo chefs and cooks. Most previous editions of Sabores de Visayas have been held in Iloilo City, although Chef Tibong has had one edition in Roxas City, Capiz. He is at the moment dreaming up an edition in Antique, where he traces his maternal roots.
This year, however, Chef Tibong has a different idea for Sabores de Visayas. He had decided to push through with it, despite tight restrictions in Iloilo City due to a surge in the number of COVID-19 cases. This time, though, he has pivoted to a celebration of what food is all about in times of need, transforming what has been a gala dinner in the past few years into a benefit kitchen as a gesture of thanksgiving to the frontliners of Iloilo City. With a little tweak that turns out to be quite dramatic and impactful, he calls this edition “Sabores de Visayas Gives Back.”
‘Although it has always been a cultural benefit designed to elevate Western Visayas cuisine and to provide opportunities for the region’s chefs, cooks, and food producers, Sabores de Visayas this year transforms into a version of a soup kitchen while remaining true to its mission to promote, preserve, and propagate Ilonggo heritage cuisine.’
As such, the participating chefs in this year’s Sabores de Visayas prepared Ilonggo heritage dishes served hot to 1,200 frontliners on three installments at the vaccination center currently housed at the Iloilo Convention Center in Mandurriao.
The first meal was held on May 31 consisting of pancit Molo, inihaw na porkchop, fish with tomato and onion sauce, and suman sa latik. The second installment, which was held on June 1, served mongo with pata ng baboy and alugbati, ribs with tausi, Fort San Pedro chicken inasal, and buco pandan. A third installment is to be held tomorrow, June 4. Also on offer in the Sabores de Visayas hot kitchen at the Iloilo Convention Center were 600 servings of Mama Dra fishballs with mango sweet or spicy sauce.
“Although it has always been a cultural benefit designed to elevate Western Visayas cuisine and to provide opportunities for the region’s chefs, cooks, and food producers, Sabores de Visayas this year, in answer to the call of the times, transforms into a version of a soup kitchen while remaining true to its mission to promote, preserve, and propagate Ilonggo heritage cuisine,” says Tibong.
Among the participating local chefs this year are Frances Aimee Tiu, Ariel Castañeda, Karl Hibionada, Rey Parreño, and John Marie Chavez.
Sabores de Visayas is a passion project of Chef Tibong Jardeleza presented by the Department of Tourism-Region VI in cooperation with the Iloilo City Government, Manila Bulletin, and JS Layson Co. Inc., RJ Creative Events Management Services, with a lot of help from Jackie Tinsay and Ray Tabafunda.