Feeding the 5,000

Featured image- feeding the 5,000The 24-hour kitchen was led by the Culinarya Pampanga team, who divided themselves into different sections

By Kristelle Bechayda | Images by Roc Verdera

Anyone who has stepped foot inside the New Clark City complex in Capas, Tarlac, has been awestruck by an aesthetic aspect of the development, if not its entirety. Recently, what has astonished people was not any fixed structure, but a temporarily pitched tent nestled in the middle of the Athletes’ Village. The stark whiteness strongly punctuated the gray palette of concrete. It housed one of the most crucial operations of the 30th Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games)—the 24-hour kitchen. The SEA Games may be a sporting event, but the kitchen staff was on a cooking marathon just as challenging and physically taxing, putting the heart into the hearty meals served to 5,000 people, including the athletes and delegates from 11 different countries.

Chef Sau del Rosario (25 Seeds and Café Fleur), CEO of Culinarya Pampanga, the organization in charge of feeding and fueling this area, gave Manila Bulletin Lifestyle a glimpse of the amazing service. Upon entering the massive 1,000-square-meter kitchen, Chef Sau was quick to point out everything in the facility was halal compliant for the benefit of the Muslim guests.

IMG_8129Chef Sau del Rosario spearheaded the overall kitchen operations of managing the workforce and feeding the international guests

“We are 100 percent halal. We are being watched by the FSO, which are the food safety officers. So everything is very strict. We also have Muslim chef counterparts who make sure that everything is halal,” he says.

Throughout the duration of the competition, the Culinarya Pampanga team, divided into different committees, worked alongside hundreds of other chefs and volunteer students to produce the six meals served daily. The workforce took turns manning the kitchen in the three shifts available, and each one had his own assigned station.

To ensure the freshness of the ingredients, most supplies were immediately used and meat were stored at a particular temperature. As early as 10:00 p.m., deliveries for the next day would start arriving. “We try to purchase every day and [be smart] about the logistics. It’s not just that we’re going to put the whole two tons of meat. It’s for us to delegate it and expedite it properly for the athletes to be able to get fresh, cooked food,” says executive chef Bong Sagmit (Century Hotel and Pigs & Pints). He was the one in charge of cooking.

Each meal consisted of six or seven dishes, rice, and side dishes. Snacks, on the other hand, were composed of one hot entrée, two sandwiches, and the ever-present salad bar. Desserts, bread, and pastries were also available, courtesy of Chef Judy Uson (Café Noel).

“Our menu planning, we started this many months ago. We take into consideration our ASEAN neighbors. We want to feature their food as well, so they don’t miss home. But we highlight on Philippine cuisine,” says Chef Sau, who made a point of showcasing our local dishes. The chef is happy to report that bangus sisig, adobo, asado na baka, and sinigang were big hits.



IMG_8084_1Hundreds of chefs and volunteer students, scattered across the three available shifts, were hard at work in their respective stations

Everyone was particular about safety. Getting the approval of the Philippine Southeast Asian Games Organizing Committee (PHISGOC) on the menu was a must, as well as taking note of the dietary restrictions and preferences of the athletes. An in-house nutritionist was on standby, and dishes not consumed within four hours were immediately disposed of.

No dish was repeated unless requested and, at the end of each day, Chef Sau would sit down with his team to discuss what improvements they needed to make. With the rest of the world watching how the Philippines was hosting the competition, he saw it as an opportunity to showcase our local cuisine.

“This is one of my advocacies, really. I’ve been to Melbourne, I’ve been all over the place just to promote Philippine cuisine and nakakataba ng puso when you do this. But this one, I don’t have to go anywhere else. This is an opportunity for me to showcase Philippine cuisine. It’s nice when you have the food that has a story to tell, and you take them [through] history,” says Chef Sau.

But operating a kitchen this large was no easy feat and Chef Sau would only get around three hours of sleep each night. He was handling a team with diverse culinary approaches, after all, alongside feeding thousands of international guests.

“This is really crazy, but I’m happy. It’s so challenging. We don’t sleep and then before you hit the sack, you’ll say, ‘Ayaw ko na dito.’ But when you wake up, you look forward to meeting the same people. In fact, parang nagkaroon ka ng affinity with other players, and when they win, you become part of their victory as well,” he says.

IMG_8164From left: Pinky Garcia, Bong Sagmit, Judy Uson, Ramil Tan, Manuela Cherry Tan, Leonard Vincent Garcia, Josephine Mendoza, Howard Dizon, and Edgar Torres

Chef Bong attested to Chef Sau’s dedication to looking after everyone’s needs and noted how he was “pushing his limits.” The latter immediately corrected the former and said it had all been a collective effort.

“I don’t own the credit because everyone has his own thing. As I said, we have our own committee. I see to it that everything is in sync, like a true orchestra. I want to make everything is in balance. If one is out of tune, then I have to come to the rescue. So it’s a group effort. It’s not his, it’s not mine, it’s everyone’s,” says Chef Sau.

See more at: Manila Bulletin


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item Philippines: Feeding the 5,000
Feeding the 5,000 Philippines
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