For the three Filipino chefs based in the United States, the “distinct” Negrense food will make Negros Occidental the next culinary destination in the world.
Tom Cunanan of the famed Washington, DC’s Bad Saint, who is also the 2019 James Beard Awards’ Best Chef for the Mid-Atlantic; Charles Olalia, owner and manager of Ma’am Sir, one of GQ’s Magazine’s Best New Restaurants in America for 2019; and Grant Tabura, host of food show “Cooking Hawaiian Style”, and winner of Food Network’s “The Great Food Truck Race,” were in the province for two days for the “Chefs’ Food Trip Project,” of the Department of Tourism, a two-week tour around the country’s most popular culinary destinations.
During their Negros Occidental leg, the three chefs went around the local markets, organic farms, and tourist sites on Friday, and held a symposium, called “DOT x WOFEX University Fun Food Talks Negros,” and cooking demonstrations at the Negros Residences in Bacolod on Saturday.
They also said they will introduce the Negrense taste and dishes to their restaurants when they go back to the US.
Cunanan, whose parents are from Pampanga and Nueva Ecija, said the Negrense food is “absolutely phenomenal. I never had so much good food in the Philippines. I love seafood, and Negros has the best seafood here.”
He also said it was his first time in Bacolod, and that he enjoyed eating batchoy and chicken inasal here. He added that he loves the local ginamos, “I’ll try to make my own ginamos in my own kitchen...the flavor is locked into my head, and I can’t wait to do that,” he said.
He was also impressed with Negros Occidental when it comes to flavours. “The batuan really shines in your food. It’s not like tamarind. It’s totally something unique. Something I never had in my life. I wish we have batuan back home, and I want to start marinating it with lechon, fish, and cansi,” he said.
Olalia was impressed with Negros’ batuan, too. “Unfortunately, I can’t bring the batuan back home. If I can take a suitcase of batuan, I would. It’s a good memory to have and to cook with. That’s what I’m going to keep in my heart when I go back,” he added.
He said the batuan, the fresh produce, and the seafood makes the island so beautiful. He added that the pastries, delicacies, the food are “just so beautiful.”
“But more than that, I feel that the people here are so warm and inviting. What I notice, you’re so proud of the way you’re living. It’s so enviably simple,” Olalia, whose parents are from Pampanga and Bulacan, added.
Tabura said there are so many new ingredients that he learned from his visit to Negros Occidental. “It’s been a real eye opener for me. I’m already old, but you keep learning new stuff every day and it’s pretty awesome,” he said.
He said he will introduce the Negrense cuisine “as much as I can” in his restaurant, and that he hopes “I can duplicate what I have learned.”
Tabura, who traces his roots to Cebu City, said he was really surprised with the pili nuts, the fresh farm fish, the organic food, and the seafood from the province.
Negrense chef Margarita Fores, who also joined the culinary visit of the three US-based chefs in the province, said it’s a real privilege to welcome them to Bacolod “to experience our art, flavors, and food.”
She said that each province has its own uniqueness when it comes to culinary taste, but what makes Negros Occidental different is its own souring agent.
“The batuan makes it different. The fact that there’s also a touch of sweetness in all we do, there’s a little bit of sugar, I think that is what makes Negrense food more distinct,” she added.
Negros Occidental Governor Eugenio Jose Lacson said that the province is one of the prime food destinations in the country. “While we delight in the esteem given to our cuisine, we should take that as a motivation to continually innovate our cuisine and food products while preserving our heritage and heirloom recipes at the same time,” he added.
He also said he is hoping that the participants in the symposium were able to acquire knowledge to further develop and innovate on the Negrense’s innate culinary gift.
Cristine Mansinares, provincial supervising tourism operations officer, said the province is very fortunate to be part of the DOT food project to provide awareness for the local chefs regarding the wealth of ingredients that can be found in the province.
“The benefit for us is that they want to carry the Negrense dishes when they go back. They want to feature Negrense-inspired dishes in their restaurants,” she added.*
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