Freeman Cebu Lifestyle

Chefs united

Jen F. Vega - The Freeman

CEBU, Philippines - What's in the mind of the modern day rockstar?

"I want to cook the best food in the universe," Executive Sous Chef Juanito "Jun" Abangan said.

"This is the goal and principle of every chef," he added.

"Best in research (awardee)!" I jokingly quipped when I learned that he regularly checks on the information highway for updates on his much-loved Michelin star icons aside from the usual regular purchases at the bookstores for the latest reference materials in professional cookery. Book worm? Certified! "We're just instruments. The real chef and the real artist is Mother Nature. We're just instruments and the talented persons who will execute. Also, cooking is a science. When the climate changes, the food preparation also changes; we use machineries to adjust to the changes in climate," is what he shared from his readings.  He feels he's also trained under the great chefs. Well aside from the daily grind, his researches also enrich the mind in pursuit of coming up with the "best food in the universe."

While he munched on his lunch of fresh certified organic greens with roast beef and salt+pepper+lemon dressing at Café Marco last week, Chef Jun took me through his challenging entry into the hospitality industry. Years back, his first foray into culinary was surprisingly not to test his cooking chops but to check his IQ via a Lion King jigsaw puzzle where he was given only 12 minutes to finish. He accomplished the task in nine minutes so the hotel accepted his application despite his lack of formal culinary training and assigned him to the hot kitchen where he occasionally hurt his fingers while chopping spices. "I consider myself a cook not a chef. A cook starts at the lower ranks and climbs the corporate ladder. A cook cooks with heart and soul while a chef is either good or not. What's important is the heart," he shared.

Cooking, according to Chef Jun, like any other art form, is limitless. "Cooking has no boundaries for as long as you give your 100 percent into it and you cook with your heart, for sure the outcome is positive," shared the mentor of nine other kitchen (rock) stars of the only 5-star hotel in the city, Marco Polo Plaza Hotel. He's at the helm of the hotel's ongoing food promotion that features the all-Filipino team of chefs who are the same group who prepares the food during previous Culinary Journeys (MPPH's generic food promo name) the past seven years. This time, the spotlight is on them for Chefs United, currently running until September 29, 2013 at the Miele Guide's 5th best restaurant in the Philippines Café Marco.

Call it the mother of all Culinary Journeys. Chefs United has no specific cuisine highlight, only the best recipes from the previous food promos and some specialties so expect an explosion of flavors. Passion has brought them together; this is passion personified! "Our passion for food is reflected in our specialties using only the fresh ingredients in lots of variety, only the Marco Polo way of food preparation – honest, simple, tasteful and fresh," shared Chef Jun.

The promising Junior Sous Chef Nestor Alcoseba Jr. who specializes in Filipino, Spanish and European cuisines showcases his Bicol Express (best paired with Hainanese rice – yum!), Lengua Estofada con Sofas and Paella Valenciana; Cafe Marco's Junior Sous Chef Roseller Camomot prepares the creamy and tasty Yellow Chicken with Chili Chutney, Beef Rendang and Chicken Cordon Bleu for foodies; Chef de Partie-Asian Carlos Dingding pleases the Asian eaters with Patatim, Black Chicken Tonic with Red Dates, Cantonese style Steamed Fish Fillet; the heritage cuisine master Junior Sous Chef Macario Escora dishes out Humba Knuckle with Banana Blossom, Lengua Burgundy with Coconut Wine (the crowd's favorite during the launch) and Mixed Seafood Thermidor; Blu Bar's Junior Sous Chef Luigi Mangubat's contemporary continental cuisine mastery is showcased in Bourbon Basted Barbecue Ribs, Mango Wood-fired Barbecue Ribs and Herb Chicken; Chef de Partie-El Viento Ricky Monares' mouth-watering eats are Chicken Terriyaki, Filipino Style Beef Tepanyaki (also a crowd-drawer) and Filipino style Pan-fried Fish Fillet; Sous Chef -Gardemanger Cornelio Tolo beefs up the cold section with the certified Organic Greens with Mango, Garlic and Lemon Grass Scent Dressing, Assorted Sashimi and Maki (the Japanese station is something to look forward to) and Labtingaw; the only rose among the thorns, Chef de Partie - El Viento Riz Degamo, highlights her masterpieces Baked Pasta (inside a pumpkin), Pizza and Shawarma with mint yogurt (by far the best I've tasted); lastly pastry chef Rodelio Galvez ends the whole feast with a bang -- Apple Tarte Tatin with Vanilla sauce/Mango ice cream, Churros with Avocado Ice Cream and Ricotta Cheese Strudel with Macapuno Ube Ice Cream (a must-try!). Culinary guru Jessica Avila is another mentor who enriched the culinary prowess of these highly skilled chefs.

"The team is flexible," Chef Jun revealed. The kitchen brigade readily prepares recipes upon client's request according to his/her preference. This is how far they can go.    

"Everyone can cook yet not everyone can cook with perfection," he said. The right execution, applying the right techniques and using authentic ingredients are keys to achieve perfection. "But the main ingredient that we put in the food is passion. We cook from the heart!" Chef Jun concluded.

Should I ask, what's in the heart of these rockstars?  (FREEMAN)

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