Tuesday, January 22, 2008

suPASTAh: The Search for the Finest Junior Paulinian Chef

On mid-December last year, I was invited to be one of the judges in the culinary competition aptly titled suPASTAh: The Search for the Finest Junior Paulinian Chef held in St. Paul (Pasig) by a fairly recent acquaintance, Ingrid Mediarito. We met at my booth in the Baker's Dozen held in the Powerplant Mall of September last year and she introduced herself as Ingrid of yes, Ingrid's Sweet Haven. She was very pleasant and told me that she teaches in St. Paul, Pasig. Soon enough, she sent me an invite to their very first competition, informing me that I can set up a booth where students and guests can sample Cosmo Bread's products, but that there would be no selling. As I would be honored to play Santa Claus for a day and greatly interested to witness a high school culinary competition, I immediately guaranteed my attendance. The chocolate chip cookies that are free-for-all!

For the rest of the week, I planned the products I would bring as samples and of course, decide what prizes (in the form of desserts, of course!) to bring for grand and consolation prizes. For something simple and seeming trivial, the menu planning took awhile; my menu changed at least twice in consideration of the demographics of the event. It was, indeed, something to look forward to after the frenzy of the Christmas season that was.

St. Paul, Pasig is relatively easy to find. When I asked about its exact location, I was simply informed that it's near the old Brent school and ULTRA Stadium, as if I needed any more exact location than that! Upon arriving, my vision was greeted with a fleet of high school students and a rush of nostalgia. How long has it been since I was in high school myself? ...since I roamed the school campus with untuck uniform, enjoying a milk tea or two, and burst out laughing with no care in the world..? While the memory seemed a bit hazy now, I can still quite make out the feeling of being a high school-er -- or, at least, the difference between the life that is and the life that was.
Ingrid and I pose with the youngest team (the 13 year olds)

I immediately spotted Ingrid and we exchanged warm hi-hello's as I set up my booth. I met some interesting people, too, notably Ms. Loudette Dayrit, the directress of Le Cordon Bleu Manille, whose exceptional Entrechef Club became a short-term goal for me to achieve. Right on the dot, the event started with a prayer, an acknowledgment of the people present and a roll call of the teams. The teams prepping up!

Now with 5 teams present, there will be 5 pasta dishes to savor and comment on. There is only an hour alloted for the teams to cook, plate and present their dishes. Upon closer inspection of the teams as they work on their tasks, I realized that their are few needs more compelling than team work and they're learning that at such a young age. The lion's share of the prizes goes to the group who manages to achieve high points for not only taste, but also presentation, uniqueness of dish and teamwork.

My most favorite pasta dish was made by the fourth team, composed of 3 Korean girls and 1 Filipino girl. What made theirs unique and memorable was the addition of rice cakes in their ubiquitous hotdog-strewn pasta. It made for a surprising chewy texture that one wouldn't expect in a pasta dish. Having rice cakes as part of a meal may or may not be indigenous to the Koreans (for I have yet to try a Korean dish with rice cakes), but it definitely isn't a common ingredient of pasta as we know it here. The sweet and (very!) spicy sauce held by the angel hair pasta was just too good for me not to wish that they win. Alas, they didn't, but I managed to get their recipe and I'm sharing it here.

Korean Sweet and Spicy Pasta
by Lily Jeong, Helen Kim, Daisy Hur and Erika Castro

240g spaghetti pasta
1 1/2T Korean pepper paste (chilli), may be adjusted
1T sugar
100g hot dog, julienned thinly
100g rice cake, julienned thinly
4T soy sauce
1 medium onion, cut (or chopped as I would describe it)
1 egg
4 powdered seasoning from instant pancit canton

Procedure (edited):

1. Cook pasta according to package directions until al dente. Drain.
2. Saute hot dog, rice cake and onion together. Boil the egg (in its shell).
3. Combine the sauteed hot dog and rice cakes with the pasta.
4. Combine sugar, Korean pepper paste, soy sauce, oil and powdered seasoning, mix well. Add to pasta dish.
5. Garnish with thinly sliced egg.

While the spiciness of this dish is perfect for me-- whose idea of enjoying pizza is drizzling it with hot sauce and topping it with pepper flakes-- it's the type that would induce you to drink lots of cold water, so you might want to adjust it a bit.
My beanie monkey!

The event ended on a happy note with everybody taking home handfuls of prizes and giveaways. I thanked Ingrid as she thanked me for this supah (I can't help it! hehe) memorable experience. I got a gift basket of wine, cheese and pasta, plus a gift box containing (more) Amigo Pasta and sauces. When I got back home, I placed this funny looking monkey with an equally funny body texture on my shelf and just left it there. Little did I know that what I mistook as firm styro balls on the monkey's feet, hands and stomach were, in fact, hazelnut- scented whole coffee beans! There was a caramel-y whiff of coffee as I was writing on my journal one day that made me pick up the monkey. I love it so much now! It's rather a unique idea, one that could easily convert somebody like me who's apathetic for stuffed toys. And being a lover of coffee, I couldn't ask for a better souvenir.

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