Kumbira 2013 Heritage Feature: Kagay-anon Restaurant’s Teamwork for a Winning Pinakbet

Aug 1, 2013


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


An Ilokano dish mainly consisting of ampalaya, eggplant and okra, and often tossed in sautéed 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 diner with a wide variety of tastes including salty, sweet and sour.


Although it shares most of the features of this favorite Pinoy dish, it’s the extra oomph in the Pinakbet of Kagay-anon Restaurant in Limketkai Center which led to its selection as One of the 10 Best Pinakbet in the Philippines by Sooo Pinoy.


 “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’ visited 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).


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 is their now famous Pinakbet.


Mrs. Limketkai said the reason 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.  Gandler will once again be back to head the distinguished panel of judges for the 17th Kumbira slated in August 14-16 at the Limketkai Center Atrium.


Gandler, who acted as chair of the board of judges many times in the past, notes how competing  chefs, (especially in the professional category) tend to make short-cuts as time goes on; hence, 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 poetic justice that the process of improving the city’s cuisine has already started in the restaurant which proudly bears its name.



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