They call it a culinary exchange. Every year since 1976, six winners of the Great Maya Cookfest, a cooking contest sponsored by Liberty Flour Mills in the Philippines, are rewarded with a highly coveted prize: an opportunity to visit a different country. In 1988 the destination was the United States, which stirred a tremendous response among applying cooks. "Their goal is to share Filipino cuisine and enrich their knowledge of the culinary arts of other lands," says Nora Daza, a noted Philippines cooking guru and hostess of a TV cooking show in Manila. The moving force behind the culinary exchange program, Daza led the delegation, which visited Los Angeles and Minneapolis; highlighting the trip was a visit to the Betty Crocker Kitchens in Minneapolis. It wasn't surprising to discover what the winning recipes were, noting how fond Filipinos are of adapting elements of Western culture. These were not the typical Filipino dishes redolent of sauteed garlic and onion. As expected, the dishes were very Westernized with a blend of their favorite seasonings and ingredients. Nineteen-year-old nutrition and dietetics graduate Carolyn Capacillo won first place in the cooking category for her Molded Chick-A-Roni Coup. Reminiscent of the old-fashioned macaroni meat loaf, the dish makes it clear that either the return-to-the-meat-loaf trend has been picked up in the Philippines or that the meat loaf has remained a favorite standby, as I remember from childhood days in Manila. Shaped in a ring mold, the dish was adapted from Capacillo's old family recipe. It incorporates the richness of ham, chicken and Spanish sausage with macaroni and cheese and, of course, lots of butter for the fearless eater.
COLOR, Some of the winning dishes from the Philippines' Great Maya Cookfest: at left, [Donna Deane CANONIGO], a meringue dessert laced with caramel syrup and served with a delicious rum custard sauce and strawberries; at top, a Spanish-influenced stew called Chicken and Pork Apritada, which is garnished with golden-fried potatoes and peppers. Shown below is Ukoy, appetizer fritters made with batter-dipped shrimp, tofu and bean sprouts; the crisp fritters are served with a vinegar-garlic dip.; At Prego's in Newport Beach, executive chef [Tim Dobravolskis] shares pizza-making techniques with the Filipino cooking contest winners. / MARK BOSTER / Los Angeles Times; Archibald Umacob, member of Philippine cooking delegation, prepares Canonigo, meringue dessert.