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Monday, December 6, 2010

Kulinarya Face-Off Showcases the Bay Area's New Filipino Cuisine

Posted By on Mon, Dec 6, 2010 at 10:40 AM

click to enlarge Three chefs from both the professional and amatuer divisions competed in Saturday's final at the Metreon. - JUN BELEN
  • Jun Belen
  • Three chefs from both the professional and amatuer divisions competed in Saturday's final at the Metreon.

If we were to single out a dish that truly stood out in the final round of Kulinarya, Saturday's Filipino culinary showdown at the Metreon, it would have to be chef Edgar Grajo's adobo, a trio of pork belly, squid, and chicken. Filipino food lovers converged on Yerba Buena Gardens to celebrate Kulinarya, which was hosted by the Philippine Department of Tourism. The friendly cookoff proved to be a virtual Filipino fiesta, showcasing the best of the Bay Area's burgeoning Filipino cuisine.

The progression of flavors in Grajo's adobo was thoughtful and beautifully balanced, from the pork belly braised in vinegar, deep-fried, and topped with lechón sauce to the squid blanched in vinegar, stuffed with tomatoes and shallots, grilled, and dribbled with adobo aїoli, and finally to the chicken macerated in vinegar, stuffed with rice, and pan-roasted with beets. Grajo, a chef instructor at the Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley, definitely deserved to take home the prize.

CIA instructor Edgar Grajo, right, and his winning adobo trio. - JUN BELEN
  • Jun Belen
  • CIA instructor Edgar Grajo, right, and his winning adobo trio.

Three chefs in both professional and amateur divisions, who were selected from a field of six in a semifinal round held in August, were challenged to create a four-course meal that must include an appetizer, adobo course, main course, and dessert. The entire meal had to be prepared live under time pressure in front of a panel of judges. This blogger shared judging duties with Nancy Freeman, food and lifestyle writer and Board of Director of the Asian Culinary Forum; San Francisco Chronicle staff writer Lynne Bennett; Kelly Degala, chef of the Academy Café at the California Academy of Sciences; and Thomas Weibull, executive chef of Swell.

For his winning four-course meal, Grajo also prepared tuna kinilaw (vinegar-cured tuna with cucumber, radish, and seaweed); his adobo trio; escabeche (pan-fried halibut with pickled red onions and jicama, oranges, and cherry tomatoes), and the Filipino favorite halo-halo (mixed fruits and sweetened beans in crushed ice).

Nineteen- year-old Nathan Camba of San Jose, the youngest participant in the cookoff, was chosen as the winner in the amateur division. His dessert, ginumis ― sago pearls flavored with pandan and sweetened with panocha, a type of muscovado sugar ― had remarkable layers of tastes and textures. Camba mixed the amber-colored sago pearls with corn kernels and thin shreds of jackfruit, then laid everything on a bed of crushed ice and topped it with coconut cream. Both Grajo and Camba won trips to the Philippines, including culinary tours of the islands.

The two other finalists that joined Grajo in the final cook-off were Kristela Nazario Mendoza, executive chef of Pyramid Breweries in Berkeley and Cocoy Ventura of the Thomas Keller Restaurant Group in Napa Valley. In the amateur division, Clemente Escopete of Hercules and food blogger Aileen Suzara of Oakland competed against Camba.

Read more from Jun Belen at Jun-Blog. Follow us on Twitter at @sfoodie.

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