Two days, two cooking contests! One in Quezon City and the other in my quaint and lovely hometown. In both cases, I – together with other members of the respective panels – had the less stressful but no less difficult role of judging entries that were cooked on-the-spot.

The first contest, Lutong Rotarian 2012, was sponsored by the Rotary Club of Quezon City (R.I. District 3780). It had two parts. The first was a showcase of the participants’s heritage recipes, the dishes that have been in their families through generations.

Prepared were four classic Filipino dishes: ginataang hipon, fish en tocho, Capampangan asado and chicken relleno – and one Mexican: fish tacos – because one of the participants is of Mexican descent.

The second part of the challenge was when the organisers laid out random ingredients for the participants to choose, simulating a marketplace. After they got what they wanted, the participants were provided a surprise ingredient, which was fresh maize or corn still on the cob.

The resulting recipes cooked impromptu were wonderful! They had much potential and with a bit more experimentation, will most probably become heirloom recipes in due time.

It was amusing and also quite revealing that three of the five participants were Capampangan! I was also pleasantly surprised to find out that one of my fellow judges, professional chef Gerry Batac, is from San Basilio here in Santa Rita!


The day after was another contest I was invited to be amongst the panel of judges. This was closer to home, literally and figuratively, since it is an annual project of the municipal government of Santa Rita and I was part of the committee which conceptualised it in 2010.

Initially planned as an event that will draw attention to our town’s time-honoured tradition of making suman tílî, also known as suman Pascu, and participated in by the municipality’s ten barangays, it was decided by the committee that it would serve the town better if the event would perpetuate and improve skills. We were hoping that in the future, this might lead to more industry, if the contest and its accompanying publicity generates enough demand for the product. The event is held on the 16th of December, which coincides with Simbang Bengi, the nine days of dawn Masses before Christmas day.

With other pressing responsibilities, I had to leave the Suman Contest Committee the following year and was thus pleasantly surprised to be invited back to be one of the judges this year. It was worth going to.

I did not visit the cooking stalls this time since I heard Mass with members of the parish Social Communications Ministry, so I did not see the techniques employed by the participants. But based on the results, I can say that the entries, given the limited space and time allotted the cooks, are to be taken seriously – made with dedication and not just for compliance.

There has also been an innovation to the contest since 2011, when there was added another event, which is the flavoured suman contest. I was not able to examine the entries in detail; there is another panel of judges for that, but the ones I tasted – mango- and ube-flavoured suman – may seem unconventional for purists, but are welcome twists to a tried and tested formula. I suspect these have a commercial potential that should be seriously explored.

Traditional and flavoured suman cooking contests – the participants came up with something that we can proudly say are products of Santa Rita’s children.

One weekend, two cooking contests! Something I never thought I’d be involved in, but then again, life’s a dream, isn’t it?

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