When Manila’s top chefs met the new Tourism chief: What they talked about, what was served
For about a month now, new Tourism Secretary Christina Frasco has been busy doing her “listening tours” across the country. Frasco earlier said it’s her department’s strategy to better connect with tourism stakeholders and employ a shared governance approach. All towards the tourism industry’s recovery after more than two years of the pandemic.
Recently, Frasco met with some of the country’s top chefs and Filipino food advocates in a lunch setting at the home of Pamana’s chef Happy Ongpauco-Tiu who prepared a spread of local favorites. In the meeting were chefs Jessie Sincioco, Chele Gonzalez of Gallery by Chele, Miko Calo of Metronome, Florabel Co of Florabel, Tippi Tambunting of M Dining and Bar, Gilbert Pangilinan of Kai, and Josh Boutwood of Ember, Helm and The Test Kitchen (Margarita Forés sent a rep). The talk centered on harnessing and developing food tourism in the Philippines.
The chefs expressed their appreciation of the DOT Secretary’s effort to reach out to people in the culinary industry and hear their insights and recommendations on developing food tourism in the Philippines.
“Secretary Frasco wanted to involve us in a conversation on how food tourism can be a highlight of the Philippines as a tourist destination,” Calo told ANCX.
“She showed a genuine concern for the food industry’s development,” shared Tiu. The new cabinet Secretary also expressed the importance of how food tourism and the world-renowned Filipino hospitality can boost the food industry both locally and internationally, added the “Happy Place” and “The Crawl Singapore” host.
Boutwood, who is also corporate executive chef of the Bistro Group, told ANCX they also had a great exchange about “some of the challenges facing the industry, our desires for the future of Filipino food” and “how we as chefs can play a major role in helping to drive a tourism sector that seeks to travel and dine.”
The chefs pointed out the huge potential of Filipino food as a primary come-on for tourists, noting the diversity of local produce and the uniqueness of Philippine ingredients. However, they also raised the challenges when it comes to product promotions, the vital information channels, and the logistical concerns that hamper the delivery of quality ingredients to local businesses that serve Filipino food.
Some of the chefs also proposed reintroducing the basics of Filipino food to both audience and food industry workers. Tiu told ANCX that Filipinos should be inspired to present our food in the best way possible. “Our food is similar to Thailand's but there, even street food is presented beautifully because this is a practice in their culture. That's one of the reasons why food tourism in Thailand is very strong. If we inspire and teach proper presentation then that would help strengthen our food tourism.” Another proposal is to showcase our local artisanal/regional products in major malls and supermarkets. “This will not only help farmers, food manufacturers and artisans in local LGUs,” said Tiu, “but it will also reintroduce to the rest [of the] Filipinos regional food and produce.”
Upon hearing the concerns, Frasco assured the chefs that DOT will develop tourism circuits specifically focused on promoting local restaurants and cuisines in tourism destinations. This way, the tourism sites are not the only ones promoted but also local delicacies and products across the country.
Sincioco, president and CEO of Chef Jessie Restaurants, in turn, guaranteed the chefs’ support to the initiative. “We can come up with very nice local dishes that can attract tourists,” said the veteran restaurateur.
Frasco said she recognizes the importance of gastronomy in establishing the Philippines’ identity as a nation. “We have identified food tourism as one of the anchor priority programs for the Department, moving forward,” she told the chefs. Frasco thus emphasized the need to collaborate with people who are experts in the field.
Frasco is currently the youngest member of the Marcos Cabinet. Prior to her appointment as Tourism head, she served as Mayor of Liloan, Cebu for two terms and earned many awards and citations from local and national award-giving bodies. She is a four-time recipient of the highest audit rating given by the Commission on Audit and in 2021 was ranked Top Performing Mayor in Central Visayas.
Frasco was supposed to assume her third term as Mayor of Liloan when she was offered the DOT post by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. She is a lawyer and a graduate of Ateneo Law School.
Tim Yap, who organized the lunch event with the chefs and the DOT, shared in an Instagram post that he had known Frasco and her husband, 5th District of Cebu Rep. Duke Frasco, for a while and has the “deepest respect and admiration” for the DOT chief. “Tourism will be a big contributor to the economy in this administration and we are happy to do our part, to support and be part of the solution,” Yap said.
Tiu said Frasco was “a very down-to-earth and gracious guest.” Calo said Frasco “was very open and gracious,” during the gathering. “I personally really appreciate the time she took to have that conversation with us, and I look forward to working with her office in the future.”
Boutwood admires the Tourism Secretary’s willingness to listen. “I believe we as an industry and many others will truly benefit from her hands-on approach,” he said.
The meaty discussion, was made even more meaningful by the delicious Filipino-themed spread prepared by Tiu’s bespoke catering, Private Dining by Happy Concept Group. The Barrio Fiesta heiress shared with ANCX a video and snaps of the food she served.
There was a range of charcuterie and Pinoy snacks consisting of Garlic Malunggay and Honey Kasuy Cheese Balls; Baked Brie Topped with Guava Jam and Adobo Flakes; Baked Kangkong and Kesong Puti Dip with Pandesal Crostini; Chicharon, Kropek, Crispy Dilis, Crispy Okoy Bites; and Crispy black Adobong Pusit.
The lechon station had four kinds of sauces: Laing Sauce, Chili Lime, Lèchon Liver Sauce, and Lèchon Adobo White Sauce. There was also Bakang Ma-anghang; Grilled Prawns with a choice of Sinigang Butter, Adobo Butter or Dalandan-Sili Butter; Ginataang Sipit sa Aligue; Grilled Hamachi with Pinoy Chimichurri; and Lechon Tinupig. The pansit fans were treated to two options—Batchoy and Pansit Malabon. For desserts, the guests enjoyed Pamana’s Guinumis with Homemade Panucha Ice cream and Tsokolateria’s Tsokolate Eh & Bibingka.
Photos courtesy of Happy Ongpuco-Tiu