Photo by Jacob Bravo

We Went to an Ilonggo Cooking Convention to Stare at Food All-Day

By joseph batcagan and glory moralidad

bukayo, bitcho bitcho, bandi - project iloilo
Probably the only time you can see kakanin featured in a swanky setting. Photo by Jacob Bravo.

“We can now claim that Western Visayas is the food haven of the Philippines.”

People already know that Iloilo is the go-to paradise for eats nowadays. But to hear someone to say it out loud? Well, it’s been getting featured on Sunday magazine shows almost every week now, so we might as well own it.

chef tibong at flavors of western visayas - project iloilo
Chef Tibong begins his cooking demo onstage. Photo by Jacob Bravo.

The man behind this statement? None other than Chef Rafael ‘Tibong’ Jardaleza, Jr. For long-time readers of Project Iloilo, his statement might have sounded familiar because he also said the same thing here, back when we interviewed him on a deep-dive talk on Ilonggo cuisine. But concepts, as much as they’re fascinating, aren’t why we came face-to-face with him this time around; we’re just all about the food here at the moment.

Superstar chefs and food experts graced the two-day ‘Flavors of Western Visayas: The Hidden Treasures’ convention, which occurred from October 9 to 10, 2018 at the Iloilo Convention Center.

buffet table at flavors of western visayas - project iloilo
Put food, draw queues. Photo by Jacob Bravo.

At the outset, ‘Flavors’ looks like another showcase for the best of Ilonggo cooking. The difference this time around is its scope: it served as an umbrella for two other specialty events that were also booked on the same venue: the Agro-Industrial Exhibition and Trade Fair and Chef Tibong’s own Tabu-an Ilonggo Heritage Cooking Competition, which was already on its fifth year.

The two-day affair gathered hospitality schools, renowned chefs, food writers and historians, food instructors, and, of course, other hangers-on. It seemed like the conference hall, as well as the outside premises, were packed with people who were there just for ‘Flavors’.

fresh lumpia - project iloilo
Mmmm… lumpia. Photo by Jacob Bravo.

The breadth of the topics covered by the presentations at the event was quite diverse. There’s culture and history (food writer and historian Micky Fenix on “Do you Know your Western Visayas Cooking?”, chef and author Myke ‘Tatung’ Sarthou on “Similarities and Differences of Visayas Cuisines”, and Zarraga Integrated Diversified Organic Farmers Association Chairman Joby Arandela on his socially-tinged talk, “Rice – The Soul Food”); panel discussions on organic food [Editor: We’re right ahead of you, buddy] and culinary tourism; and, perhaps our most favorite segments of the event, the cooking itself.

chef tibong jardeleza and chef boy logro - project iloilo
Chef Tibong introduces Chef Boy Logro. Photo by Jacob Bravo.

Chef Don Colmenares, a Negrense native, dropped jaws with his unique spin on manok sa ubod with mongo, which is arguably a dish associated with Western Visayas as much as anywhere else in the country; as an item on the Visayan Daily Star noted, “Chef Don shaped the ubod like a cansi bone and stuffed it with dehydrated mongo, mongo puree and chicken flakes, topped with fried pepper leaves, with concentrated chicken stock as soup.” We know what you might be thinking: “hybrid”. If his demo showed anything though, it’s that old food standbys are well and good, but there’s also equal value to be had with experimentation.

On the other hand, Raphael Angelo Cristobal and Jorn Erik Fonseca of the Purple Yam restaurant in Malate conducted a cooking demo using with “Western Visayas Endemic Herbs and Spices.” And celebrity chef Boy Logro presented a demo featuring the “Bounty of the Sea.”

buchi - project iloilo
Just goes to show that Chinese fastood isn’t just the domain of buchi anymore. Photo by Jacob Bravo.

However, one of the sub-events that might have rivalled the talks inside the convention center might be the Tabu-an cooking competition. Seeing that it has always been one of the events associated with Chef Tibong as far back as anyone can remember, the cooking competition kicked off the programme by having the six participating schools start at 7 o’clock in the morning. Western Institute of Technology placed first on the competition, followed by Roxas City’s Hercor College and Colegio del Sagrado Corazon De Jesus, on second and third places, respectively.

tabu-an cooking festival at iloilo convention center - project iloilo
Participants getting busy at the Tabu-an Cooking Festival. Photo by Jacob Bravo.

Director Atty. Helen J. Catalbas of the Department of Tourism (DOT) Region VI, whose agency was one of the partners for ‘Flavors’, said she believed that “tourism, agriculture, and education are necessary for the locals, travelers, and the young ones to fully appreciate Ilonggo cuisine and its impact to today’s generation.”

Which is all well and good. Generally, those two days were just good to us because we’re full for food.

Joseph Batcagan is the editor and a writer for Project Iloilo.

Glory Moralidad founded Bata Ako Ph, which aims to bring back the lost art of storytelling to children. She has also been nominated and awarded for her work on various children's books.