Teamwork for a Winning Pinakbet: How Kagay-anon Restaurant does it

Nov 28, 2011

by Mike Baños

Kagay-anons are still agog over the recent selection of Kagay-anon Restaurant as of the Top 10 Restaurants in the Philippines with the best Pinakbet.

Pinakbet is one of the featured Filipino dishes in the “Sooo Pinoy” campaign, a joint project of Unilever Foodsolutions, Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) and Department of Tourism which bills itself as “The National Search for the Ultimate Pinoy Dish.”

“A team from Unilever and PDI will go out and nominate food outlets that best serve a particular dish,” said Jhao Carandang, Unilever sales executive. “For instance, Kagay-anon was nominated among others in Mindanao and by certain criteria they bested other nominees across the Philippines.”

Carandang said �mystery judges’ will visit the nominated outlets to judge the particular dish and the Top 10 restos or hotels judged to be best in a particular dish would be featured based on these criteria �Taste’ (balance of flavor, texture and aroma); �Presentation’ (creativity, use of ingredients) and �Value for Money’ (serving size, quality of ingredients and overall dining experience).

“We didn’t expect to be selected so we were all happily surprised when the call informing us of our selection came through,” said Mrs. Francisca Limketkai, owner of Kagay-anon Restaurant.

And it wasn’t just the owners and workers of Kagay-anon either who were excited over the win.

“All day long, we had a steady stream of orders for our pinakbet as a result of that announcement posted in The Philippine Daily Inquirer,” said Russel Awat, restaurant manager.

            

The unique presentation of Kagay-anon Restaurant’s Pinakbet was one of the factors which made it stand out and garner Sooo Pinoy’s rating as “One of the Top 10 Restaurants in the Philippines” with the Best Pinakbet.

An Ilokano dish mainly consisting of ampalaya, eggplant and okra, and often tossed in sauteed garlic and shallots, ginger and ripe tomatoes, slices of pork liempo, and crackling pork, Pinakbet has traditionally been spiced with bagoong na isda (fish paste), providing the lucky dinner with a wide variety of including salty, sweet and sour.

Although it’s a dish that has migrated to practically all corners of the islands, one thing which makes Kagay-anon’s Pinakbet unique is its presentation inside the half of a fresh squash gourd. Even renowned chefs from Metro Manila like Myrna Segismundo of Restaurant 9501 remarked about the dish’s remarkable presentation.

That was the inspiration of Mrs. Limketkai, who inherited her lifelong zeal for cooking from her father Tan Sing Liat, who also loved to cook. Her sister, Mrs. Nena Velasco, also inherited their father’s culinary chops, being the moving spirit behind Countryside Steakhouse, a fine dining establishment which shares the same building with Kagay-anon.

Even as an elementary student, Mrs. Limketkai was already learning to cook, and her favorite dish then was sotanghon guisado (rice vermicelli) that her aunt, who was her mentor, allowed her to cook on special occasions.

When she took over in 1997 for brother-in-law Lorenzo who started Kagay-anon at a nearby site in 1991, one of the first things she did was to expand the menu, one of which was their now famous Pinakbet.

The grand staircase leading up to a heaven of gustatory delights, Kagay-anon Restaurant.

She said behind the success of their unique recipe is the teamwork between herself, chief cook Edgar Illana and resto manager Ms. Awat. No new menu item enters the Kagay-anon’s list unless these have been tasted by Mrs. Limketkai.

“She has this unique ability to know what ingredients have been used to cook the dish and she can tell also what needs to be enhanced or toned down,” Ms. Awat said. Together, they conduct random quality control tests on all items coming from the kitchen supervised by their chief cook.

This exactly is what Austrian Chef Norbert Gandler said local chefs need to make it to the next level. During last year’s Kumbira Culinary Competition, Gandler, who acted as chair of the board of judges, noted how Kumbira chefs, especially in the professional category, tended to make short-cuts as time went on; thus, the crying need for more executive chefs who are “experienced, responsible, and have the right attitude” to control quality and keep on testing new ways to make things better.

With the tested team of Kagay-anon Restaurant keeping close tabs on its menu, it’s probably poetic justice that the process of improving the city’s cuisine has already started in the restaurant which carries its name.

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