A 26-year-old nursing graduate and a Food Service Management student have claimed the "Reyna ng Kusina" titles after displaying their creativity in the kitchen.
Paola Rhodora Jacinto of Brgy. Gen. T. de Leon bested six other finalists in the competition’s “Healthy-Licious Cooking” category with her interpretation of adobo. Meanwhile, Rayhanah C. Paitao of Brgy. Canumay East won the “Bake Your Logo and Cupcake Wars” with Syra Marhea C. Manila, her eight-year-old cousin, after her colorful and meaningful cake design impressed the judges.
Organized by the City Social Welfare and Development Office, the contest was held at the Valenzuela City Astrodome on March 14 as part of the Women’s Month celebration. The judges for both categories were: food caterer Rebi Francisco, Amber Golden Chain of Restaurants general manager Rhoda Fernandez, and chef Eugene Raymundo, who during the event also cooked four dishes that were served to the audience.
The “Healthy-Licious Cooking” category focused on dishes that use healthy and nutritious ingredients. In the “Bake Your Logo & Cupcake Wars,” contestants were joined by a relative 6 to 12 years old, who would assist them in creating a cake design depicting the theme of this year’s Women’s Month, “Kapakanan ni Juana, Isama sa Agenda.”
Simple but creative adobo
Jacinto’s knack for cooking started early as she used to watch her parents cook. Although not a professional cook, her father enjoyed cooking for events and he would regularly tag her along. She would eventually do a lot of cooking herself, preparing meals for church events, christenings, and so on.
“There was a time when I had to cook seven dishes for 100 people and I had to do all the planning, buying and cooking,” said Jacinto, who also works as a part-time medical coder.
Jacinto would then spend a lot of time experimenting with recipes, which is how she came up with the Lemon Chicken Steak, her entry for the competition’s elimination round. The dish consists of chicken pan-fried breast fillet marinated in lemon and soy sauce, then served with gravy and mashed potato.
“It’s my own recipe,” she said. “I came up with it just a few days before but it was very easy to make so I didn’t feel any pressure during the elimination round.”
However, it was a different story during the final round, despite her having a lot of experience in the kitchen.
“I’m actually used to cooking complex meals but adobo is a very simple meal. Somehow I can’t get the right balance of sourness and saltiness,” Jacinto admitted. “So when I learned that we had to cook adobo, I was stressed.”
Jacinto would incorporate the four elements of adobo – meat, acid, pepper and garlic – into her recipe and give her own interpretation.
First, she used pork for the meat. “Beef would take time to tenderize and we were under time pressure. I also didn’t use chicken because all I had was the breast part, which would become too dry for adobo,” she said.
For the acid, she used a mixture of lemon and a little vinegar. Then she added pepper and lots of garlic.
“I deep-fried the pork similar to lechon kawali. Then I used lemon and a little vinegar for the acid. Finally, I served it with sweet potato. I wanted a simple rendition of adobo, but at the same time, it had to have a different take. The result was a dish that didn’t look like adobo, but it tasted like adobo,” Jacinto said. “I really didn’t make it complicated.”
Valuable efforts on women empowerment
For their part, Paitao and Manila’s winning design featured a pink cake with figure of a globe on top held by hands made with fondant icing. The hands are shaped like the letter V to symbolize Valenzuela City, according to Paitao.
At the back of the cake, there were figures of women shaped using buttercream icing. The base of the cake has a purple icing around it, depicting a gear, which symbolizes Paito’s school, the Valenzuela Polytechnic College (ValPoly).
“[My design] shows my sincere appreciation to the valuable efforts of the local government in supporting efforts for women empowerment,” Paitao said. “This can be seen in programs that provide free trainings and scholarships not only for women but for all genders. Hence, Filipinas nowadays are globally competitive because a good government like what we have now greatly contributes.”
Paitao, who is also a student assistant in ValPoly, learned the basics of making icing in her baking subject in school. She honed her designing skills by watching tutorials in Youtube and taking advice from a teacher who also happened to be a chef.
She then found herself joining the competition after she was picked by the ValPoly’s Student Council president to represent their school.
During the contest, she was determined to finish her work regardless of the outcome.
“I was almost crying while working on the design because I felt I wasted 20 minutes just to perfect the application of my fondant icing for the base. But I was really driven that time to finish my logo even if I didn’t win, as long as I wouldn’t have regrets in the end.
Her persistence paid off when she heard her name announced as the winner.
“I was truly shocked and overwhelmed. I couldn’t believe it,” Paitao said. “I kept on thanking God for the great blessing. It was unexpected but He really fulfilled one of the most unforgettable moments in my life. To God be the Glory po talaga.”