By CHEF GENE GONZALEZ
You’ve got to hand it to the projects of Mark Tanseco del Rosario of Let’s Eat Pare and Let’s Drink Pare, Atbp. for putting up an event, Art And Vintage Pare, presenting the finest pitmasters showing off their skills in smoking meat and barbecue, brewing beers, and crafting alcohols. It was also one of the largest expositions of artisanal hot sauces.
Upon entering, I immediately caught a familiar smoky scent of wood and spice rub that can only come from Chef Red Espiritu’s Holy Smokes. The flavors of his Barbecued Brisket are bold and I was glad to get a morsel because, as early as 8 p.m., they were already out of meat. Their dark smoked sausage, generous with herbs and sweet wood spices, was the perfect food to carry around while my son, Chef Gino, and I each had a beer in another hand. The beer paired well with the umami and smoke-scented sausage.
A selection of craft bottled beers from different brewers offered different characters that blended well with the barbecued meats. I took a sip of Big Hat Porter from Bacolod, which had deep caramel and smoky notes. Gino got a Cebruery Big-Eye PA, which was pleasantly fruity and floral.
What was great with this Big Barbecue exhibition was the free tasting of their freshly cooked barbecues. These were so good, so much so that you end up purchasing a full order of their slow-cooked meats. We ended up buying a number of these products, which were perfect as pasalubong.
We sampled meats from two pit masters of different styles from the south or Parañaque areas. Fat smokes by Laurenz Liwanag, located at BF Resort, had an herbal tinge to its barbecue sauce and, of course, meat that fall off the bones. Another pitmaster that stole the show was Jess Marquez or Papa Jess, who runs a well-known online business that sells Gold Wagyu Brisket. Not heavily imbibed with smoke, this beef sold out during the three days it was on the exhibit. Papa Jess Barbecue sauces, especially it Honey Barbecue sauce, were wonderfully zesty. I wouldn’t mind putting it on my chicken nuggets, too.
One of the busiest booths was Mehana’s, a Bulgarian restaurant in Marikina I had featured a few weeks ago. Chef Plamen Yordanov was unfazed by the crowd lining up to sample his Bulgarian meatballs and homemade Sujuk, which is one of my favorites in his restaurant.
It’s not a barbecue without hot sauces to spike the food and the occasion. So we met the president of the Philippine Hot Sauce Club, Eric del Rosario, who showed us an impressive buffet of hot sauces from all over the Philippines.
This is such great news especially because the sauces, though made in small batches and are artisanal, are so beautifully labeled that they become must have for any Pinoy foodie collector and hot sauce enthusiast.
Talking about Pinoy products and the recent Filipino Food Month, we wandered into the Pinoy area and saw Soogba (an acronym for So Good Barbecue) owner Carlo Inalgo, who is the current favorite of Lets Eat Pare members for his authentic inasal. Carlo does his chicken inasal the way his family does it in Bacolod, with no Manila twists—you just taste the charcoal-fired chicken, the way inasal should be.
The biggest challenge, which his outlets can deliver, is giving the diners a juicy, grilled breast or pecho. I am a leg-and-thigh man when it comes to inasal, but I will order the serving of chicken breast when I visit Soogba. We also enjoyed his chicken ass or skewered izul and his pork ribs, which had a very homey calamansi-toyo profile. I liked the longanisas that Soogba makes and serves. One is a hamonado, which is a sweet version similar to Panay Island sausages, and his non-sweet version that he calls recado.
This booth showed that Pinoy Barbeque can stand side-by-side the best American-style barbecue. For Soogba’s sawsawan of sinamak, Carlo had his custom made by sinamak specialist JC Lontoc, who also exhibited his wares of Casa-Lontoc-infused vinegar. I was very curious of his 2018 edition made of ghost peppers and California reaper. JC’s vinegar is sugar-cane-based and cooked to add more zestiness and acidity when made into sinamak. Even the way the chilies and added condiments were cut and crammed in a bottle looked beautiful and enticing—almost picture perfect, these could grace a family table or kitchen shelf.
The event was also a great showcase of what one could do with barbecued meats. There were rows of small bottled batches of deli items, such as spreads using native ingredients. Exhibitors gave these for free tastings.
I was personally delighted when I found a dish I introduced in the resto scene 25 years ago called Sinantol peeled santol skin cooked in chilies, shrimp paste, and coco cream from Bicol—was still very much in vogue. I saw at least four booths selling this alongside their bottled deli items.
With no “big” producers in the event, it became an avenue for smaller food entrepreneurs to shine. One of the exhibitors that caught our attention was Big Boi. It had had more exotic bottled stuff, like sambal, aside from its hot sauces and chili garlic oils. Their pickled mango was delicious and would be a great side condiment to the barbecues in the event.
I also saw an amazing Art Olarte. Twenty years ago, I had the chance to be privy to his garage fermentation hobby. I saw the potentials in his fruit wines and the distillation of his products. After receiving awards in California for his fruit wines, Art pursued distillation and he came up with a fruit eau de vies, which can be marketed abroad.
This time he surprised me with his Maizeky, which is basically corn alcohol similar to what American Southerners drink. To smoothen and add character to this distilled liquid, Art infused oak chips—like what many brandy, cognac, and whisky makers do—to come up with a product that can perform competitively in a price-driven market. I was very much surprised with the smoothness and the mixed fruit finish of his Maizeky.
Almost bursting with smoked and barbecued meats, we decided excused ourselves to get much-needed digestives, which translated to a couple of shots at Arthur Olarte’s booth. Let’s drink, Pare!
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