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Saturday, April 20, 2024

Of Palettes and Palate: The Art of Food Innovation at the Tastesetters Victors Night

When I received the invitation to the Tastesetters Victors Night, that was to be held at the Yuchengco Museum, my curiosity was immediately piqued. I had attended a lot of food events, but an awards night was a rare one. 

While I expected it to be just the usual awarding giving to honor some of the most innovative food business establishments, I was also secretly looking forward to their specially curated dinner menu—and what a menu it turned out to be!

So dressed in my interpretation of Modern Filipiniana, I entered the venue, ready to immerse myself in an evening that celebrated the food and beverage industry’s creativity and forward-thinking.

The event started with a lively outdoor reception where cocktails were served, setting an upbeat tone. The evening's first culinary surprise came courtesy of Manong Sorbetero, who offered a twist on traditional Filipino desserts. His creations—Adobo Caramel Sorbetes with Pork Floss and Kare Kare Sorbetes, featuring Tulip Dark Chocolate Paste and Jif Crunchy Peanut Butter—were bold introductions that challenged and delighted the palate. There was also an Ayskrambol flavor which was a twist on a childhood favorite. 

As I exchanged pleasantries with fellow bloggers, the innovative spirit of Tastesetters became even more apparent. While waiting for the main dining area to open we were treated to Palabok-- reimagined in Pani Puri shells, filled with San Remo Angel Hair Pasta in a Clara Olé Crab Flavor cream sauce. There was also Kinilaw na Hamachi and Scallops you can spice up with TABASCO Sriracha and a US Beef Belly Kansi that offered a melt-in-your-mouth preview of the culinary excellence that awaited us inside.

Adding to the event's vibrant atmosphere were the displays by local artists Mario “Ram” Mallari Jr., Nina Bantoto, and Bimbo Yance, bassist of The Dawn. Their artwork, exhibited around the venue, beautifully echoed the themes of innovation and creativity, blending the worlds of visual art and culinary arts into a seamless exhibition.

I was careful eat too much because I had a feeling that dinner was going to be even more intriguing. The main event took place within the museum’s grand hall, where the air buzzed with anticipation. 
Tastesetters' experts took the stage, passionately discussing food and beverage trends that they predicted would shape the future. From the artistic interpretation of dishes in 'Gastronomic Artistry' to the enduring influence of Korean cuisine, each trend was presented as a new frontier for culinary exploration.

The awaited degustation dinner, crafted by Tastesetters’ chefs Sonny Mariano and Wado Siman, was the highlight of the evening. The menu was a testament to the chefs' ability to innovate within the framework of traditional Filipino cuisine. 

The meal began with Benguet Corn Chawan Mushi and Reconstructed Tokwa’t Baboy with TABASCO Chipotle, each dish a reinterpretation of familiar flavors presented in novel forms.

After a short break, the they began to serve the Main courses almost in quick succession beginning with the Balamban Lechon Baboy, seasoned with Old Bay and served with three unique sauces with one featuring Clara Olé Pineapple Jam. 

The Chef’s also did a twist on Adobong Pusit Adlai by using Clara Olé Pasta Negra Sauce, and the Kare Kareng Gulay was made indulgent with Jif Peanut Butter, complemented by a vegan bagoong. 

These dishes not only celebrated Filipino culinary traditions but also pushed them into new, exciting territories. There was also a chicken inasal dish and beef Kaldereta.

Desserts were equally inventive. A Cassube Flan infused with McCormick Ube Flavor and a Cashew Mazapan, utilizing Embassy Chocolate’s Zen 33% White Couverture and McCormick’s flavors, were served with get this--edible menus! A delightful surprise that encapsulated the night’s theme of creativity.

Once dinner was done, the much-anticipated award ceremony commenced. 

The Tastesetters team identified three nominees that embodied each of the five categories and one winner that stood out from the pack. 

First, the Rookie-Up and Coming award celebrated the businesses new to the Tastesetters scene. They are the ones to watch and are anticipated to make it big in the industry. While Lawson and Chick n’ Juicy were nominated, Mrs. G Cakeshop Corporation took home the custom trophy by artists Ram Mallari and Nina Bantoto. 

Second, the Operations Efficiency award highlighted establishments that optimized workflow, customer service, resource management, and the like. Binondo Foods Corporation clinched the award after being nominated with Waffle Time and Philippine Seven Corporation. 

The Marketing & Promotions award was up third with the nominees being Pho Hoa, Binondo Foods Corporation, and Frankie’s New York Buffalo Wings. This accolade puts marketing efforts front and center. Frankie’s New York Buffalo Wings ultimately won because of their impactful strategies that made waves online and offline. 

Being the bread and butter of Tastesetters, the Menu/Product Development award focused on those who create innovations that consistently impress their customers–whether they’re regulars or newcomers. Philippine Seven Corporation won the prize after being nominated with Bon Chon and Hopia King Bakery. 
Finally, Collaborator of the Year celebrates establishments that initiate productive partnerships, keep good supplier relationships, and more. Frankie’s New York Buffalo Wings and Hopia King Bakery were nominated alongside the category winner, Authenquick Foods Corporation.
The event concluded with a toast led by Miss Sandy Cu, the Product and Business Development Head of SYSU International. Her words celebrated the spirit of collaboration and innovation that Tastesetters promotes, leaving us inspired and reflective on the powerful role food plays in cultural and creative expression.
As I left the Yuchengco Museum that night, both my body and mind were full. The flavors I had savored were all unique and memorable and my mind with the realization that food is indeed a form of art—one that has the power to connect, transform, and transcend. The Tastesetters Victors Night was not just an award ceremony; it was a vivid demonstration of how culinary arts continue to evolve, pushing boundaries and challenging conventions in the most delightful ways.

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