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My day as a cooking competition judge

Winning dessert: Chocolate Nut Orange by Wilen Grande Photos by Geremy Pintolo

I watch a lot of cooking shows like Top Chef, MasterChef and Chef’s Table, and have often daydreamed about what it’s like to be a judge like Gail Simmons or Christina Tosi — tasting people’s food and critiquing them constructively, urging them on to new culinary heights. Sounds like a dream job, right?

I recently got the chance when Mike Santos, chef instructor and business development manager at Global Culinary & Hospitality Academy, invited me to judge their Global Grit finals on March 4.

Now in its third year, Global Grit is an interschool culinary contest among students from Global Academy’s four branches in Pasig, Alabang, Quezon City and Makati.

“We want to encourage the spirit of competition,” says chef Benny Ledesma, who, along with chef Rob Pengson, founded Global Academy 10 years ago in the Ortigas area. “Winners get a full scholarship, which is a big thing.”

I met the three other judges on the panel, who were all male and all chefs: Josh Boutwood, executive chef of The Bistro Group; Greg Villalon, corporate chef for BonChon Chicken; and Christopher Balane, a pastry sous chef at Marriott Hotel Manila. Suddenly, my experience as a foodie and critic seemed woefully inadequate.

For this final round of Global Grit, a team of two students from each school cooked a hot main course and a dessert course within two hours, served them on identical plates, and were judged on food safety and sanitation (10 points), food preparation (30 points), plating and presentation (20 points), and taste, texture and temperature (40 points).

Global Makati’s kitchen was divided into four areas for each team to work in. (Surprisingly, there was only one male among the eight competing students. Does this mean future female dominance in the kitchen?) Each team had to prepare one protein from a choice of grouper (lapu-lapu), lamb rack and spring chicken, though they were given free reign in the creation of their dessert.

For some reason the teams all chose to prepare lapu-lapu, which would make comparing their mains slightly easier. They also did their mise en place ahead of time and brought their ingredients with them in plastic containers.

Students and faculty from each school came to support their team, and the atmosphere was as noisy and riotous as a sporting event.

“Timog (Global’s QC branch) is defending their back-to-back championship,” noted Santos. “The winners go on to the Philippine Culinary Cup or Hong Kong (International Culinary Classic).”

Santos added that Global Academy, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, is the first in the Philippines and the seventh in Asia to be accredited and recognized by the World Association of Chef Societies for quality education.

Offering courses in Culinary Arts, Baking, International Cuisine, Modern Cooking and Culinary Management, Global “really prepares chefs for the kitchen atmosphere.”

We judges found evidence of that in the Global Grit kitchen, checking on the contestants to gauge how organized they were, what sort of techniques they were using and how much waste they were producing (ideally, very little).

When the two hours were up, the contestants brought their dishes into the judging room and I finally got to play Gail Simmons. It’s a lot harder than it looks when you have someone’s future riding on your decisions. Having never worked in a professional kitchen like my fellow judges, I ended up deferring to the pros in the room in terms of the technicalities of food preparation, venturing opinions only on taste and presentation.

After everyone had sampled each dish and given their respective pros and cons, all four of us decided on a clear winner, whose main and dessert course stood out not only for their clear flavors but also visually appetizing plating, creative use of technique, proper handling and preparation of the ingredients and portioning that was just right — neither too generous nor too meager. Pandemonium broke out when Team Pasig was declared the winner, breaking Team QC’s hold on the Global Grit title.

In May, Global Academy will be competing in the Hong Kong International Culinary Classic and in August, the Philippine Culinary Cup, “where we will be gunning for our third overall championship title,” says Santos. “We are the only back-to-back champions, from 2013 to 2014.”

Judging by the level of Global Academy’s students, they have an excellent shot at becoming champions again this year.



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For more information, visit the website at

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Follow me on Facebook (Therese Jamora-Garceau), Twitter @tjgarceau and Instagram @tj108_drummergirl.

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