From 197 entries, the East Meets West Culinary Competition sponsored by the Irish Food Board (Bord Bia) reached its climax one entertaining afternoon at the Grand Kitchen of the Grand Hyatt BGC. This is a promotional vehicle for European pork and beef; and over the years, it’s been a wonderful opportunity for young chefs, cooks, and culinary instructors, to put their imagination and cooking skills on the line, coming up with recipes and executing them under the practiced eye of established chefs and past winners.
Five contestants made it to this final stage, and they were given one hour to produce their dishes, and have them judged. The judges for the afternoon were Mark Hagan, executive chef at the Grand Hyatt; Philip J. Golding, chairman of Escoffier Philippines; and Donie Bigcas, the 2020 winner of this very competition. From my perspective, the five finalists had come up with exciting concepts of bringing traditional Filipino recipes to the tweaking board, using the quality pork and beef from Ireland, and refreshing them into exciting new presentations. The question left hanging would be how well they could execute these concepts, and merit the approval of the judges.
A bevy of prizes and trophies were set up on a table, and it was nice to note just how many culinary products were part of the prizes that these winners would take home. The excitement on the part of the contestants were palpable, with so much at stake to help jump-start their culinary careers.
There was a Pork Adobo Tangine, with made-from-scratch Pita and Harissa. There was a Pork Jowl Curry, that had roots from Davao. If you were looking for complete meals, I liked how one dish was Short Ribs mixed with Mushrooms, Adlai and floral petals, with green garnishes. It all made for a showcase of the imagination and inspiration that these young culinary enthusiasts bring to their professional careers, whether inspired by their hometown, or the family heirloom recipes of their lola or mother.
The eventual winner that day was Joaquin Carsi Cruz, while runners-up were Miguel Lorino and Bianca Abola. Mae Almirante and Marc Espinosa rounded out the five finalists. And it was nice to see the camaraderie between the group, their knowing that they’ve all achieved significant accomplishments by reaching this final stage. In fact, as host Issa Litton disclosed, the difference in scoring between the first place and second place was very slim percentage points.
Unanimously, the five thanked the Bord Bia for embarking and sustaining this competition. Irish pork and beef products were of great quality to work with, and they loved how the competition really allowed them to experiment with recipes from home, utilizing world-class ingredients, and being rewarded for the effort. Congratulations to Bord Bia and their Philippine representative, Donatella Chua, for putting on such a great initiative.