Kulinarya Cooking Showdown

By Christina Dunham

Green Mango and Foie de Volaille Sisig. Sous Vide Organic Chicken Afritada. These were the winning dishes from the 3rd Annual Kulinarya Cooking Showdown held on December 9 at the SOMArts Cultural Center in San Francisco. Traditional Filipino recipes reimagined and reinvented by food aficionado Justin Hulog and professional chef Thomas Weibull, both of whom bested two other contenders in their respective divisions.

Judges Deliberating

That day, I had the distinct fortune and privilege of participating as a judge, alongside full-time foodies Chef Arnold Eric Wong, Consulting Executive Chef at E&O Asian Kitchen; Lynne Bennett, Staff Writer and Test Kitchen Director at SF Chronicle; John Birdsall, Senior Editor at CHOW.com; and Chef Francis Ang, Executive Pastry Chef at Fifth Floor Restaurant. While my only claim for qualifying as a judge was my love of eating, my ability to translate and explain certain Pinoy ingredients to fellow judges turned out to be pretty handy. As did having grown up eating Filipino food, since it provided me with a comparative point of reference.

The Kulinarya Crew (Photo courtesy of the Philippine Department of Tourism)

Amateur division winner, Justin Hulog, a writer and blogger by trade, had to make a last minute switch when Kulinarya organizers prevented him from using foie gras in his sisig recipe, reverting instead to the customary foie de volaille, a.k.a. chicken liver. While it would have been wonderful to try his nouveau take on this traditional Pinoy pulutan (appetizer), nothing was missed as his sisig dish was just the right balance of bitter, sweet, sour and spice, garnished beautifully with purple basil blossoms.

Jerrick Figueroa's Deconstructed Pinakbet

Other amateur division finalists included LA-based Ross Tordecilla, who served up Escabeche with Mango Pineapple Sweet & Sour Sauce, and Joycelyn Vergara, a Group Billing Coordinator for Westin St. Francis Hotel in SF, who cooked up a colorful pot of Chicken Afritada.

The professional chef’s competition capped the event, with each finalist preparing a three-course meal for the judges: an appetizer or soup, entrée, and dessert.

Jerrick Figueroa, currently at Wayfare Tavern, Plant Café and Cat Cora, presented a deconstructed Pinakbet exquisitely arranged on the plate (my favorite of all the appetizers), followed by Lychee and Jackfruit-Wrapped Escabeche, and finally, Fried Cassava Cake.

Bernardina Lopez' Mango Cream

Fernandina Lopez, Principal Food Supervisor at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center’s Dining Commons, started off with Shrimp and Sweet Potato Okuyito (fritters), spicy Chicken Kaldereta for her main dish, and a velvety Mango Cream concoction scooped atop Lady Fingers.

Thomas Weibull, who received a cash prize of $1,000 plus a culinary tour of the Philippines for his win, began with a very pared down Pancit Palabok, followed by a melt-in-your-mouth Sous Vide Chicken Afritada, and a luscious Coconut Leche Flan with Candied Ginger and Almond Tuile for dessert. As part of his winnings, Weibull will also be traveling with the Philippine Department of Tourism to the annual EAT Vancouver World Culinary Travel Expo where he will once again have the opportunity to present his Pinoy-inspired culinary creations.

Thomas Weibull's Sous Vide Chicken Afritada

Presented by the Philippine Department of Tourism and the Philippine Consulate General, Kulinarya Cooking Showdown is now in its third year. The event aims to increase awareness and broaden appreciation of Philippine cuisine by encouraging amateur and professional chefs to re-interpret traditional Filipino fare and present them in a more innovative fashion. The day-long festival also includes food-tastings by local Filipino chefs, restaurants, gourmet food trucks and food distributors, along with a holiday bazaar featuring Philippine handicrafts, home décor and accessories.

For more information about Kulinarya or to find out how you can participate in next year’s cooking showdown, visit their website at KulinaryaShowdown.com

Justin Hulog's Green Mango and Foiede Volaille Sisig

Thomas Weibull Winner Professional Division

Christina Dunham is a serious food and wine enthusiast, social media junkie, trend watcher, tech nut & sociaholic. When she’s not painting the town red, she’s busy ruling the corporate world as a VP for Marketing and Business Development Manager at Froomz.com and consulting for Dale Carnegie. Visit her at http://www.christinadunham.com