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