Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Inside the Center for Culinary Arts USDA Theater: "Malabon's Best" Class

Disclosure: As part of my invite to the Manila Food and Wine Festival 2013, I got a free pass to one of the Center for Culinary Arts Manila's two hour-long cooking classes. Still, this review is going to be unsugarcoated: praise what needs to be praised, criticize what needs to be criticized.
 

The "Malabon's Best" class was a demonstration cooking class that focused on Filipino rice cakes. The class was headed by Ms. Annie Pascual Guerrero, a proud native of Malabon. It was held last February 23 at the USDA Theater of the Center for Culinary Arts (CCA)-Manila in Katipunan.

From what I know, the USDA Theater was the result of the partnership between the United States Department of Agriculture and CCA. The USDA provided the culinary school with equipment for a fully equipped training facility, complete with audio-visual capabilities.

It was my first time to enter the CCA grounds. I approached the guard, expecting to be asked for some identification or purpose of my visit. I asked him where the USDA Theater was located and he pointed me inside. I was not asked to present any ID or to sign in any logbook. Part of me was touched at manong guard's vote of confidence on me being a good guy but part of me wished he was stricter in letting visitors in.

Library and Research Center under construction at CCA Manila
Cravings truck in Center for Culinary Arts compound
entrance to the Center for Culinary Arts (CCA)-Manila
entrance

Near the entrance to the USDA Theater were some posters featuring US products.

posters right outside the Center for Culinary Arts (CCA)-Manila USDA Theater
posters right outside the Center for Culinary Arts (CCA)-Manila USDA Theater

There were also comfort rooms nearby, as well as a small garden.

small garden outside the Center for Culinary Arts (CCA)-Manila USDA Theater
small garden outside the Center for Culinary Arts (CCA)-Manila USDA Theater

At the theater's entrance, I was greeted by a friendly usherette and was made to fill up a registration sheet. The class was set to start at 2pm. I arrived right on the dot and was the first student to be there. The CCA folks were still finalizing their preparations for the class.

The USDA Theater can accommodate more than 50 people. The seats are arranged stadium-style, so people at the back can view the stage without craning their neck. Various awards and an autographed chef's uniform adorn the walls.

seats at the Center for Culinary Arts (CCA)-Manila USDA Theater
back seats at the Center for Culinary Arts (CCA)-Manila USDA Theater
back rows of seats at the Center for Culinary Arts (CCA)-Manila USDA Theater
awards received by the Center for Culinary Arts
signed chef uniform at Center for Culinary Arts USDA Theater

After several minutes, the other students arrived en masse. Except for one or two, all of them were from the Western Institute of Technology in Iloilo. Preparation of materials and ingredients for the demo was almost finished by this time.

TV screen above the demonstration stage at the Center for Culinary Arts USDA Theater

Since all the attendees could be seated on one side of the room, some of the students were instructed to transfer seats to make it easier for the teacher to face everyone. The class soon began. Printouts of the recipes being demonstrated were given to the attendees. The teacher, Ms. Annie Guerrero, was hooked up with a microphone so every one in the room had an easy time hearing what she said. There was also a big TV screen on top of the demo stage, so everyone could see the things being done on the table.

Chef Annie Guerrero in "Malabon's Best" demonstration class
TV screen at the Center for Culinary Arts (CCA)-Manila USDA Theater

Some of the cooking equipment at the USDA Theater demonstration stage:

cooking equipment at the Center for Culinary Arts (CCA)-Manila USDA Theater
cooking equipment at the Center for Culinary Arts (CCA)-Manila USDA Theater

Chef Annie had several assistants who did the preparations while she discussed the recipes with the students.

materials and ingredients at a class in the Center for Culinary Arts (CCA)-Manila USDA Theater
cooking equipment at the Center for Culinary Arts (CCA)-Manila USDA Theater
cooking demonstration class at Center for Culinary Arts USDA Theater
cooking demonstration class at Center for Culinary Arts USDA Theater


And of course, the favorite part of every cooking demonstration class: the taste test.

finished product Filipino native delicacy kakanin bibingka
finished product: bibingka
finished product Filipino native delicacy kakanin puto
finished product: puto
finished product Filipino native delicacy kakanin suman
finished product: suman

They were great! If you're one of those food snobs who look down on our native kakanin, those babies would have changed your mind. ;)

After the class, our teacher was kind enough to pose in photos with the attendees and to sign a copy of her book.

Chef Annie Guerrero with students of "Malabon's Best" culinary class
Chef Annie Guerrero signing an autograph


Here are what I observed to be the strengths and weaknesses of the class:

Strong points
  1. Printouts of recipes were distributed to the attendees at the start of the class. This made it easier for us to concentrate on the demonstration instead of having to take down notes.
  2. Friendly teacher. She was a nice and soft spoken lady, sort of like your favorite granny or aunt. She had good rapport with the students and seemed genuine in asking about the students' backgrounds. She also related some of the things she talked about to Iloilo since the bulk of the attendees were from from that province. She would also stop every now and then to ask if the students were able to follow what she was saying and to encourage them to ask questions if something was not clear.
  3. TV and microphone. Technology made it easy for all the students to hear what the teacher was saying and to see what was happening on the table.
  4. Comfortable seats. The seats were soft and the room temperature was just right.
  5. Emphasis on zero-waste cooking and other values. The teacher emphasized the importance of zero-waste cooking and respect for ingredients. She also praised the celebrity chefs who attended the cook-off challenge for their attitude and generosity. As she said -- the skills can be learned; attitude is what's important.

Room for improvement
  1. The actual demonstration felt unstructured and a little rushed. The teacher was worried that they would not be able to finish the three recipes within two hours, so they cooked the three all at the same time. Discussion would sometimes jump from one recipe to another. The recipes were simple and there were printouts available, so the students still learned, but the lecture would have been better and clearer if each recipe was demonstrated step-by-step before the teacher went on to the next recipe. End result: the class was supposed to be from 2pm-4pm, but we were finished by 3:15pm. I was surprised, because I expected the teacher, being a seasoned expert, would have a better ability to estimate preparation and cooking time (and for the class to thus end at the correct time).
  2. The assistant was the one who did the cooking. For me, it would have been a lot better if the teacher was the only one at the demonstration table handling the ingredients. Focus would be on her and what her hands were doing. It would also help the teacher in discussing her actions. Having an assistant doing the actual cooking on the sidelines while the teacher talked about different topics divided the students' attention. It did not help that the assistant did not say anything and what the teacher was saying did not match what the assistant was doing. The teacher would sometimes refer back to the assistant after the latter has finished a cooking step. This sort of defeated the purpose of having a cooking demonstration. I felt that I was just watching someone (the assistant) cooking privately in her own kitchen, with someone else (the teacher) offering a commentary every now and then.
I'm not sure how often CCA holds the "Malabon's Best" culinary demo class. I have the impression that it was a one-time class offered as part of the 1st Manila Food and Wine Festival (MFWF 2013), which was probably why it seemed a little unstructured. In case you are wondering by the way, tickets for this two-hour class were sold for P599 each.



"Malabon's Best" Culinary Class

USDA Theater, Center for Culinary Arts Manila
287 Katipunan AvenueLoyola Heights, Quezon City
Metro Manila, Philippines
Tel. No. (+63 2) 994-2520, 30 & 40; (+63 2) 426.4840 to 41
Web site
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