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Celebrity chefs in cook-off battle at Manila Food and Wine Fest 

March 1, 2013 2:43pm
The dark clouds may have cast a gloom over Manila last Feb. 22, but inside the tent at the Mall of Asia concert grounds, the mood was of organized chaos. Six celebrity chefs tried to outcook each other in a food truck cook-off that launched the first Manila Food and Wine Festival (MFWF). 
As the happy diners flitted from food truck to food truck, sampling everything there was to eat, the chefs toiled away inside in a “Hell's Kitchen” kind of rush to raise the most money for 500 scholars of the Culinary Education Foundation (CEF). 
The six chefs face-off for charity at the Manila Food and Wine Festival.
The price per meal was a pretty steep P350, but it was for charity, plus the servings were big and well worth the price. Also, the diners had a wealth of choices that included cuisine from all over the world.
Food fight! 
In the purple corner was Chef Sau del Rosario, erstwhile endorser of the Selecta Gold ice cream series, TV cooking/dating show host, and the force behind Food Garage and Villa Cafe.
Chef Sau chose to serve up some Chinese food, but not your typical MSG-ridden dimsum and bright yellow yang chow fried rice. Chef Sau's siomai and hakaw were supersized – like dimsum on steroids – and his fried rice had touches of truffle or smoked fish, bringing a gourmet flavor to familiar sidewalk fare. 
Manning the green food truck was Asian Food Channel's resident chef Bruce Lim, who stars in two AFC shows focused on Filipino food.  ut it was chicken wings and not Pinoy cuisine that took the spotlight at Chef Bruce's food truck. He served the wings in three variants: Singapore-style chili wings with crab butter and egg, Coke-glazed soy chicken wings with garlic chips and sesame seeds, and candied chili chicken wings with fresh mangoes and bacon "because everyone loves bacon," he said.
The black truck was led by Chef Tristan Encarnacion, cookware endorser and son of the late celebrity stylist Jun Encarnacion.  His truck was  chose to serve up a Filipino classic that can't go wrong (unless you have a peanut allergy, gout, or a high cholesterol level): bagnet with a choice of kare-kare sauce, binagoongan, or sinamak. 
Harder than acting, lechon as national dish
Over at the blue truck, diners swooned as they watched Marvin Agustin – yes that Marvin Agustin of the dimpled smile and legendary 90s loveteam with Jolina Magdangal – prepare their food.
The actor-turned-restaurateur – who admitted midway into the night that cooking was definitely more difficult than acting – decided that Japanese was the way to go as he served spicy caravan maki with salmon, and black dragon sushi with unagi.
At the orange truck it was Chef Robby Goco – the culinary mastermind of the popular Greek restaurant Cyma. Chef Robby decided to play up his forte and go Mediterranean, serving up porchetta – the Italian version of lechon – on bread with onion marmalade, arugula, and a choice of salsa verde, French aioli, and a Serbian sauce called ajvar. 
The chef revealed that a month-long process went into the preparation of the roast pork sandwiches, one that involved working closely with bakers to come up with the perfect bread, and even planting the seeds for the arugula to be used. All this, for the love of lechon – "I'm part of the group that believes that the national dish of the Philippines should not be adobo. . .it should be lechon!" he said.
Finally, at the red truck was Chef Florabel Co-Yatco, the chef behind the Florabel chain of restaurants which include cozy Filipino restaurants Crisostomo, Elias, and the posh fine dining spot Felix.
The night's winning dish and hands-down fave: sausages by Chef Florabel Co.
And the winner. . .
Chef Florabel offered nacho and sausage combinations with four variants of toppings: the Bacon Coleslaw Dog, All Meat Dog, Pinoy Dog, and Chicken Teriyaki Dog.
Ultimately, the sushi and dimsum did not stand a chance – not even the chicken wings or bagnet, not even the Italian lechon (to my surprise!) could edge out the simple charm of Chef Florabel's sausages. She sold out long before the event ended, and, not surprisingly, was awarded as the cook-off champion at the MFWF gala Sunday night.
Who won hardly mattered though. As Chef Sau said on the night of the cook-off, "we are one here because we want to help. This is for the benefit of our scholars, our future scholars." – KDM, GMA News 

Photos courtesy of the Manila Food and Wine Festival.
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