Robinsons Place Bacolod’s Chinese Cuisine Cook Off-A A +A
By Betsy Gazo
Saturday, February 16, 2013
TO CELEBRATE this year’s Bacolaodiat, Robinsons Place Bacolod organized a Chinese Cook-Off held last February 10.
Two schools competed with each other in three categories (Best Noodle Dish, Biggest Tikoy, and Best Siomai). Amateur cooking enthusiasts from Southland College of Kabankalan City and the University of St. La Salle of Bacolod City did their best to obtain the approval of the three judges who made up the panel.
Members of the judging panel were Honey Grace Catalan, celebrity chef JP Anglo, and me. Our standards and tastes were needed to give the number of points for each entry according to the criteria: 40 percent for Taste, 30 percent for Originality and Inventiveness of the Dish, 20 percent for Overall Impression and Presentation, and 10 percent for Hygiene and Sanitation.
While cooking time allotted was one hour and thirty minutes (which JP said was more than enough), preparation time was only thirty minutes, yet this is crucial because it shows how skillful the cooks are with such mundane tasks such as peeling, slicing, chopping, and even waste disposal. The efficiency of the participants during this period gives them a headstart although the major deciding factor is always taste.
While the cooks were cooking and the judges were judging, some fans were getting giddy over seeing Masterchef judge JP Anglo in the flesh. Just the day before, JP was at the finals of Masterchef and Honey Grace and I were all ears and curiosity over his role as judge at that reality TV cooking competition and the artistas he worked with.
Our province is a province of foodies and our cuisine has often lured people to our shores so it is no surprise to produce chefs from our ranks. And, haven’t you noticed? Our chefs are usually …ahem…good-looking, too.
So how did the dishes fare? There were only six to judge so the panel’s tastebuds were not overloaded and weary. The following explanations for why a particular team won or not might be useful because this is made from the viewpoint of the judges.
For the Best Siomai, the USLS team got the panel’s nod because of their use of duck instead of the usual mixture of ground pork, shrimp, etc. which Southland made, although this is not to say that the latter’s entry wasn’t good enough. In fact, it was tasty. It was just that the USLS team veered from the usual by using duck.
A plus point was the winner’s effort in making the siomai wrapper from scratch. It was well-done with the right thickness and texture and made the perfect foil for the meaty filling. The store-bought wrapper used by the competing school was tough and stiff.
Southland College, though, redeemed itself when it won the Best Noodle Dish. The noodles were store-bought, as were their dimsum wrapper but were of good quality. What “made” the dish was the vegetable, pork and shrimp accompaniment. The vegetables looked alive, the pork was not tough, and the shrimp was cooked with just the right amount of time to get it pink yet tender.
The other group’s noodle dish (a soup with seafood balls) had the potential for a competition-worthy entry laden with creativity. The noodle master intricately made black and white noodles to mimic the stripes of a snake and presented a soup instead of the common noodle-with-sauce-and-topping combination.
However, the noodles were cooked beyond the comfortable time, causing it to lose its firmness (JP’s initial observation), the flavors lost the distinctiveness I so sought, and the food color used for the noodle ran into the soup. It was a classic case of an excellent idea gone awry - the soup was as muddled as my tastebuds. When perfectly executed, this soup could have made it.
The last was dessert, of course, and the tikoy entries were tough to judge not because both were outstanding but, on the contrary, neither was remarkable at all.
I wouldn’t know how difficult the art of tikoy-making is, but the ones served us were far from the tikoy we were used to. They were, as JP said with his faux slip of the tongue, “baye-baye.”
While the USLS entry used three ingredients only, Southland’s layered theirs with grated cheese. There was an overload of ingredients with the latter and the profusion of cheese did not go well with the starchiness of the tikoy.
Scrimping of ingredients can break an entry; had Southland used real cheese and not a processed one, perhaps the combination would be palatable. Or, as Honey Grace suggested, the team should have filled the layers with a brown sugar-and-crushed peanut mixture. I agree! That would have been a lot, lot better. So, whose team won? We judges went for the La Salle tikoy.
If judging food entries could be difficult for food judges, it’s could be a harrowing experience for the cooks themselves. One needs not only culinary flair for a competition but also grace under pressure, fortitude and a good dose of maturity to accept both criticisms and head-swelling praise.
The Southland College and USLS show much promise in this field and I salute the teams for braving public scrutiny and keeping their cool. They are the better and wiser because of this and I pray that their star will rise and will contribute to make our province the food-lovers’ haven that it is.
Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on February 17, 2013.