Filipino Street Eats: Culinary Competition
KULTURA’S KAIN KALYE
By Rachelle Cruz
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There’s Chinatown, Korea town, Jamaica town, India Town, Little Portugal, Little Italy and the list goes on all forming a mosaic of Toronto’s hub of multiculturalism. And the best way to engage and understand the varying cultures simmering across this perfect venue is through our mouths: Food is the gateway to their history, culture, rituals and festivals deep-seated in tradition.
For the young Filipino-Canadian entrepreneurs, they want to create a fusion of traditional Filipino food, with a North American twist made for the discriminate tastes, of those with appetites fired up for something new, and something different.
That distinction came through with this year’s winner of KULTURA’s Philippine Culinary Competition held at Artscape Wychwood Barns on August 11 capping the five-day long event. Chef Gavin Vasquez who runs his catering business called Chef G Services won for his bestselling Bangus (Milkfish) Fish Tacos that quickly sold out, “I was overwhelmed, I was really surprised…it was totally unexpected,” he said, on his winning the champion title for this year`s competition.
“I was too busy to see everything else and what was going on with the competition,” he said.
The deep fried Bangus was hand-picked to remove the bones, followed by sauté on a pan. It was later folded in soft taco shells, drizzled with his own version of salsa and tomatoes. Chef Gavin revealed that the added ingredient was the Patis or fish sauce on the salsa.
“I love Mexican food. I love the spice, the salsa. Everyone loved the Bangus on soft tacos and that’s what I wanted to bring to the competition: Filipino food with a new generation of twist. There are certain things I’ll never change but it’s creativity that I like to expose,” he said.
With its second year running, KULTURA’s Philippine Culinary Competition challenged budding Filipino chefs and entrepreneurs to showcase Filipino cuisine with this year’s theme Kain Kalye: Filipino Street Eats. The turnout for the event was huge in numbers, with as many as 2,000 attendees milling about throughout the day, evident with all the long line-ups at each food corner stalls.
Last year’s champion Rudy Boquila, the Head Chef at Lamesa Filipino Kitchen talked about what’s new in this year’s event, “Not only restaurants are participating in this year’s culinary event, but also catering businesses and non-restaurant owners are bringing the oomph in the food culture,” he said.
Though he didn’t win the title this year, Chef Rudy still brought his A-game to the competition and presented his all-star Tapas Cheesesteak: It was thinly sliced strips of beef cooked on a hot flat grill sizzling with peppers, onions, tomatoes and topped up with the provolone cheese inside the bread.
“I wanted North American that’s something a little more familiar, so that’s my version of the Philly Cheese steak. I have a crew of fantastic chefs and they’re young, they know the Now things and they inspire me,” he shared with enthusiasm.
And it’s all about Nostalgia. For John DeBlois, founder and chef of Tocino Boys, he brought a custom-made grill, to showcase his longanizza and BBQ Inasal, reminiscent of the Filipino style ihaw-ihaw.
“I am at a stage right now where I want to educate people about Filipino food — like Inasal. I came here when I was nine years old, and there’s nothing like this when it comes to street food,” he shared as he vigorously fanned the grill, smoke getting into his eyes.
With the aroma and different sensations tantalizing your senses as you pass through booths lined up with something cooking, it’s hard not to get caught up in the excitement and thrill of something groundbreaking.
Even non-Filipino food-lovers dropped in with their friends and enjoyed the celebration, “I think it’s really awesome, the food is delicious. I’m actually going to the Philippines with my friend next December. It’s awesome to just kinda hang out here and get a little sense of the Philippines before we go there,” Jessica Ford said.
The little market formed an enclave of street eats, but not complete without the display of arts and crafts curated by burgeoning entrepreneurs, add that with the memorable folk dance performed by the Fiesta Filipina Dance Troupe of Canada. It was a complete meal at KULTURA.