Philippines’ Most Promising Students Compete 2nd Grand Culinary Challenge

Last November, hundreds of culinary arts students from different universities and colleges in Metro Manila and nearby provinces converged at the World Trade Center in Pasay City for the 2nd Grand Culinary Challenge.

About the Grand Culinary Challenge

Mr. Victor Warren, Chief Executive of the Grand Culinary Challenge, was gracious enough to spend a few minutes with me to explain the concept behind this culinary arts competition.

contestant at the Grand Culinary Challenge

One of the contestants plating his entries at the Grand Culinary Challenge

The Concept

Unlike many of the other culinary arts competition happening in the country where majority of the contestants are professional chefs, the Grand Culinary Challenge is where the most promising students pursuing a degree in either culinary arts or hospitality management compete with each other. In fact, this competition is supported by the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) and the Department of Education (DepEd) in the Philippines.

In addition to winning cash prizes, Mr. Warren pointed out that the competition would help the students become more confident of their skills. And since food costing plays a major role in the judging of the winners during this event, the students are given a glimpse into the business side of a culinary arts career. That way, he explained, these students would not only have the skills to work in some of the most prestigious establishments worldwide. They will also have the confidence and the know-how in setting up their own respective businesses.

table setting at the Grand Culinary Challenge

A close-up of one of the festive Christmas-themed table settings entered during the Grand Culinary Challenge

Beyond Cooking at the Grand Culinary Challenge

Another thing that made the Grand Culinary Challenge unique was that this was a competition that was more than just a showdown on who can prepare the most appealing and delicious dishes. This was a competition that tackled all the other things students learn as they pursue a degree in hospitality management.

One of the main highlights was the table setting competition where the different students conceptualized and designed a table setting inspired by a particular theme. Being close to the holiday season, it’s no surprise that the table settings centered around a Christmas theme. There was also a waiter olympics competition and a bar tending competition.

A Tribute to Filipino Cuisine

While going around the venue, I came across a table where different versions of the Filipino dish Sinigang were displayed. Mr. Warren explained to me that this was another thing that they wanted to advocate with the Grand Culinary Challenge: focusing on the uplifting of Filipino cuisine.

In many of the other culinary competitions, the contestants would often prepare foreign dishes. The people behind the Grand Culinary Challenge wanted to break that by encouraging many of the dishes to feature a twist on otherwise humble Filipino dishes.

I have to say, I was truly amazed on the creativity of the students. On display were so many varieties of sinigang. Sure, there was the traditional pork sinigang in a clay pot (locally called a palayok) like the one below.

traditional sinigang at the Grand Culinary Challenge

Traditional sinigang in a palayok entered in the Grand Culinary Challenge

But there were others that presented them using various Western cooking techniques, just like in the case of the winning dish pictured below.

winning sinigang entry at the grand culinary challenge

The winning entry for the Sinigang Challenge, one of the competitions held during the 2nd Grand Culinary Challenge

Had I not known in advance that this was an entry to their Sinigang challenge, I would have easily mistaken it for some fancy Western dish you’d find in a really posh fine dining restaurant.

On display on the next table were renditions of popular Filipino snack foods. I couldn’t help but smile as I made my way and looking at each entry. Just like the table featuring the Sinigang challenge entries, there were some that were rather traditional. However, two entries really caught my attention.

The first was this Lumpiang Ubod (a specialty from the province of Negros Occidental which is a crepe-like wrapper filled with sliced heart of palm and served with a sweet peanut sauce) and Shrimp Okoy (shrimp fritter popular in the Ilocos region).


Lumpia and Okoy at the Grand Culinary Challenge

Fresh Lumpiang Ubod (left) represents the south while the Fried Okoy (right) represents the north in this entry to the Grand Culinary Challenge

For me, this entry showcased more than just two popular snacks in the Philippines. It is a great representation of Filipino cuisine on a plate. Here, you have a representative from both the north and the south. On one side of the plate, you have the love of the Filipinos the sweet, fresh and delicate. On the other side, you have the sharp, distinctive sour and salty flavors Filipinos enjoy.

But the one thing that really captured my eye was this elegant-looking cassava cake.

cassava cake at the Grand Culinary Challenge

My favorite entry at the Grand Culinary Challenge: a twist to the humble cassava cake

I was truly amazed on the amount of creativity and cleverness that went into this otherwise humble Filipino snack. The caramel at the bottom was admittedly not really that polished, but it definitely made this one stand above the rest (no pun intended). I really love the very delicate looking caramel swirl that was so thin and delicate. This, for me, was definitely a work of art.

Final Thoughts on the Grand Culinary Challenge

I left the Grand Culinary Challenge with a sense of admiration and respect for these culinary arts students. From their spectacular table settings to the impressive renditions they made on popular Filipino dishes, I often had to remind myself that these were creations not by professional chefs and those with vast amounts of experience. These were the works of aspiring students dreaming of making their name in the hospitality management industry.

This is the future of culinary arts in the Philippines. Thanks to the organizers of the Grand Culinary Challenge, it looks like that the future of this industry in the country is going to be a very bright one.

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About Adeline Yuboco

A natural-born foodie with an eye for detail, I started Life and Leisure to be a place where I can share on how to travel and live in style within your means. At the same time, I cover various events for DigitalJournal.com where I'm a contributing journalist. If you got a great story idea or have an event you'd like me to cover, drop me an email at the Contact page, message me on Twitter, or Connect with me on


  1. I admire anyone who is creative and I bet this challenge taught the students a lot. I did like the cassava cake and I have never seen anything like it.
    Be sure to check out Susan Oakes’s most recent post…Profitable Business Through SpecialisationMy Profile

  2. That cassava cake looks amazing! It’s not enough anymore to prepare an amazing dish – presentation has gone from “attractive and appetizing” to “high art.” And a healthy dose of culinary construction skills and innovative ideas are needed, as well. Now that “humble snack” looks ALMOST too good to eat!
    Be sure to check out Holly Jahangiri’s most recent post…Goals ChangeMy Profile

    • I know what you mean, Holly. Usually, cassava cakes are sold in simple aluminum foil trays with a bit of grated cheese. In fact, that’s how most Filipino dishes are usually served. Seeing them taken into a whole new level that they become edible works of art is really such a welcome. Thanks so much for dropping by.

  3. Adeline,

    Another great post, your blog is so inspiring. I am thinking about startng something similar for Detroit next year.

    Keep up the great work,
    Happy blogging,

  4. The images of the food are mind blowing. I’m afraid my culinary skills are much more limited in terms of recipes and presentations. i greatly admire chefs with the talent and patience to create these amazing dishes!
    Be sure to check out Jeannette Paladino blogging, branding’s most recent post…Letting Our Imagination Take Us Beyond Our LimitsMy Profile

    • Thanks so much, Jeannette. The most admiring thing about the food presented during the competition is that these were not done by chefs, but by culinary students aspiring to become chefs someday.

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  6. What a treat for the eyes (and the stomach, I believe). My choice would be Lumpiang Ubod-sounds like something that has unique taste. I like this concept, and in general, I would support all the culinary ideas. We are what we eat, so, food is essential for our “maintenance”…and when it is all packed so nice as the Philippine students make it, then they are making me an offer I cannot refuse!
    Thanks for the tasty share!
    Be sure to check out EleonoraEOF’s most recent post…Lean1 Review by Nutrition 53My Profile

  7. I wish I’d been at this competition. Everything looks so gorgeous and tasty. Your photography is amazing, btw–really clear, stylish images. Makes me feel like I’m leaning in to take a bite. (And I wish I was!)

  8. I’m amazed at how elegant the cassava cake looked in the last photo! Surely, this must be a very technical dish. I wish i could’ve seen this.
    Be sure to check out Dana’s most recent post…The Future of The Internet: 5 Web Innovations IT Students Should Be StudyingMy Profile


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