Self-taught cook is neighborhood’s best

CEBU. For three weeks, 60 cooks from the different barangays of the City of Naga joined the training on food safety and management. The training ended in the “Hikay’ng Nagahanon” 2019 Cooking Competition. (SunStar photo / Arni Aclao)

PABLITA Gesman is always the go-to cook in her neighborhood in Barangay Lutac in the City of Naga, Cebu when there are occasions like birthday parties, weddings and even burials.

Gesman has always dreamt of becoming a professional chef but because of her family’s financial problems, she only finished grade four.

When she was 12, Gesman was forced to go to Manila to work as a house helper for a Chinese couple, and that is where she learned her skills in cooking.

Gesman, 58, recalled her first few days as a helper. She did not know how to cook and she got scolded for not knowing how to stir fry monggo (mung) beans.

“My hands were hit by my employer because I directly fried the monggo beans without first soaking them in water to soften them,” she said.

Since that day, Gesman was eager to learn cooking different dishes until, at the age of 15, her employers offered to send her to college and study culinary arts.

But Gesman refused the offer.

Gesman said that inasmuch as she wanted to grab the opportunity, she was embarrassed because the couple didn’t know she only finished grade four.

After five years in Manila, Gesman decided to go back to her hometown in Cebu to start a small business, and to also avoid the conflict that was brewing in the family where she worked.

Since then, Gesman became known in their barangay as a good cook. That is why many ask her to cook for special occasions.

Gesman and her friend Evelyn Bariquit were among the 60 contestants of the first Hikay’ng Nagahanon, a cooking competition held at the Enan Chong Activity Center in Poblacion, Naga Saturday, May 25, 2019.

Each barangay in Naga sent two representatives to the competition.

City of Naga Mayor Kristine Chiong said it is their way of encouraging the residents to get involved in the development of the city.

“We really want to engage the people because it is they who drive the development of the city,” said Chiong.

The activity started last May 4 with trainings and workshops on food safety and food management. They were also taught how to cook various dishes.

Chiong hoped that through this program, they will discover a delicacy they can promote as the city’s own. Unlike other cities and towns, the City of Naga does not have its own culinary specialty, the mayor said.

Ruth Alensonorin, city information and communication relations officer, said they see cooking as a livelihood that can promote the entrepreneurial values among families.

The Hikay’ng Nagahanon is part of the City of Naga’s Family Month celebration.

During the event, the participants used mango as one of the ingredients of their dishes. They were asked to prepare an appetizer, one main course and dessert.

The grand winner received cash prize and a scholarship granted by the University of San Carlos Culinary Department.

Though Gesman did not win, she said she learned a lot from the activity and it was a big help to have learned the value of discipline in cooking.

She hopes that soon, she can open her own eatery where she can apply all the things she learned from the program.


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