Tuesday, August 10, 2010

12 aspiring chefs take on SM Hypermarket’s Super Chef challenge

The heat is on as the 12 finalists for SM Hypermarket’s Super Chef challenge go head to head in the four final rapid-fire final rounds that will determine who will be hailed as the SM Hypermarket Super Chef.

Initially, 60 participants, composed of housewives, culinary students and instructors, call center agents, kitchen crew members, restaurant owners, bankers, and retirees had faced off in live cooking challenges. The 12 participants who beat out their competitors time and again are now under even more pressure as the pool of participants becomes ever smaller. To make the competition more intense, the challenges will be televised over the Asian Food Channel.

(12 aspiring chefs with host Chef Tristan Encarnacion)

Instead of being cowed by the awesome challenge of cooking competitively while being watched by television audiences all throughout Asia, the SM Hypermarket finalists are confident in their culinary skills and can’t wait to prove themselves to be the best of the best.

Like any reality show where the participants are competitors, followers of the competition already have some idea of whom they would like to see taking home the grand prize. But little is known about the SM Hypermarket kitchen gladiators. As they gear up for what could be one of the most awesome battles in Filipino culinary history, we take time to learn more about each chef’s personal history.

From the Northern SM Hypermarket branches, we have Eddieson de Ocampo, Reynilo Peña, Aiza Mesina and Dante Cabalona.

Baliwag branch representative Eddieson de Ocampo is a former champion of 2009’s Super Chef Challenge. A college professor who teaches HRM and Culinary Studies at Fernandez College, Baliwag, it was ultimately his love for teaching that moved him to leave the hotel industry. Of course, that didn’t mean that he gave up his cooking, and sure enough, this educator/chef is one of the competitors to watch out for.

Finalists Reynilo Peña from North Harbor and Dante Cabalona from Marilao share a profession – both are successful carinderia owners who are seeking to make their mark on the Filipino culinary scene. Both Reynilo and Dante learned their craft from their mothers, although only Dante inherited the family carinderia business from his.

Interestingly, Reynilo had to try twice to bag a spot as a Super Chef finalist – he wasn’t lucky enough to be picked during the Mandaluyong auditions, but he refused to give up and joined the North Harbor auditions, and wowed the judges with his entry.

Rounding out the Northern branch contestants is Novaliches branch representative Aiza Mesina, who is a professional events coordinator. One of the youngest competitors at 22, Aiza dreams of owning her own food business someday.

As for the chefs from the Southern division of branches, meet Islagel Gellidon, Leah Alava, Angelo Cervantes, and Louie Dumangas

Some people were practically born with a spatula in their hands, like Islagel Gellidon, who learned the art from her grandmother. But the passion for all things culinary runs in the Gellidon family, and although Islagel holds a degree in Customs Management, she has pursued this passion and owns and operates a catering business while passing on the tricks of the trade to other aspiring entrepreneurs as a TESDA trainer.

Leah Alava doesn’t have any qualms about the SM Hypermarket’s judges’ critiques, because she believes that she’s already faced her strictest possible critics in her four children. In fact, she attributes her ever-improving skill in the kitchen to her kids’ unbiased judgment of her cooking. This homemaker believes that as long as her family loves her cooking, she’ll always be the best cook that she can be.

Although Angelo Cervantes’ family’s construction business specializes in the perfect mix of concrete, stone, and steel, he would much rather concentrate on the perfect blend of spices for the dishes he whips up. Having a BA in HRM the College of St. Benilde, this 23-year-old hopes to own his own restaurant someday.

Las Piñas branch representative Louie Dumangas is no stranger to the professional kitchen, having learned how to cook in his parents’ carinderia and then going on to become a line chef at TGIFriday’s. Like most of the finalists, he dreams of becoming and executive chef and opening his own restaurant someday.

Completing the roster for the Super Chef battle are the four chefs from the Central District branches, namely Mark Anthony Mejino, Eric Dizon, Josephine Portulin, and Roselle Manzano.

Mandaluyong’s pride, Mark Anthony Mejino is a culinary student of the Culinary Institute of Aristocrat, and at the tender age of 24, had already studied in Macau and worked there at an Italian restaurant where he met his culinary mentor. Mejino does not consider himself a chef, as he knows it takes years of training to become one, but believes that he has the right stuff to become one and hopes to own an Italian restaurant himself someday.

Eric Dizon represents the Pasig branch, and is currently the Assistant Head Chef at Gerry’s Grill Pasig. Having no formal culinary training and having only completed two years of secondary schooling, Dizon relies on his inherent talent and the skills he has learned through his years of working with food, beginning with his first job at Ihaw-Ihaw along Tomas Morato when he was only 22.

Although he began his restaurant career as a busboy, Eric requested a transfer to the kitchen, and the rest is history. Next year, diners at Gerry’s Grill Makati will hopefully have the pleasure of being able to sample his cooking, as he was offered to be the restaurant’s new Head Chef when the management found out he made it to the finals.

Josephine Portulin is an educator from Lucena, majoring in Economics. Representing the MOA Hypermarket branch, this feisty lady spent 14 years as a stay-in tutor with various families, and along the way, she discovered that she has a gift for cooking. But it wasn’t always smooth sailing – in fact, it was an employer’s negative feedback about her cooking that inspired Josephine to study cooking in earnest and improve her dishes.

The final finalist on our list is no stranger to competition. Eton branch’s representative, Roselle Manzano, won 3rd place at ABS-CBN’s National Food Showdown in September 2009, whipped up an amazing chicken burger that bagged first place at the Healthy Heart cooking competition held by the Philippine Heart Association, and won 3rd place for her ham sauce in Purefoods Ham Millenium Contest. A dietician and a nutritionist, she works as a corporate chef at Trilogy, it is no wonder that she’s so good in the kitchen – her training started when she was just a little girl in elementary school. It happened to be a part of her Girl Scout training, and she took to it like a fish to water.

For these twelve finalists and for the television audience watching with bated breath, the battle to become a star of Filipino cuisine is on! Be sure to follow the most talked about cooking challenges where the final rounds can be hotter than food on SM Hypermarket’s Super Chef Challenge, airing on AFC every Wednesday night at 6:30, beginning on August 25, with replays on Saturdays at 6:00 pm. Catch the last episode of the elimination rounds on August 12, Thursday at 6:30 pm.

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