Watch Out World: Chef Jam Melchor Stirs Up Filipino Culinary Traditions

 Chef Jam Melchor was the first Filipino chef in residence at the  Tavole Accademiche  (Academic Tables) of the  Universita degli Studi di Scienze   Gastronomiche  (UNISG) in Pollenzo, Italy. Chef Jam cooked and presented Philippine cuisine.

Chef Jam Melchor was the first Filipino chef in residence at the Tavole Accademiche (Academic Tables) of the Universita degli Studi di Scienze Gastronomiche (UNISG) in Pollenzo, Italy. Chef Jam cooked and presented Philippine cuisine.

Chef Melchor’s experience in Italy was beyond his wildest culinary dreams. As a representative of the Slow Food International movement, Melchor was invited last October 2017 by the Le Tavole Accademiche (Academy Tables) of the University degli Studi di Scienze Gastronomiche (UNISG) in Pollenzo, Italy. He was the first Filipino chef to have that honor. The university opened its kitchen to Chef Melchor. He prepared Filipino dishes that opened everyone’s palates to the richness and varying flavors of Philippine cuisine. On that occasion in Italy, 25 guest chefs were invited from around the world. The chefs prepared recipes that respect the principles of good, clean ingredients – mostly local, seasonal -- while keeping the meal at an affordable price point.

The Slow Food Movement, started in Italy in 1986 by Carlo Petrini, promotes local food and traditional cooking, as an alternative to fast food. The movement strives to preserve traditional and regional cuisines. The organization encourages the farming of plants, seeds, and the raising of livestock endemic to the local ecosystem. The goals are to have sustainable foods and promote local businesses.

“The movement envisions a world in which all people can access and enjoy food that is good for them – good for those growing it, good for the planet,” said Melchor, an active member of Slow Food International.

  ibuk-tibuk , a.k.a.  Maja Blanca , literally means heartbeat, because it bubbles, then pulsates upwards and downwards while cooking. This dessert originated in Pampanga, traditionally made of pure carabao’s milk for a unique saltiness and rich, creamy texture. Chef Jam cooked this at the UNISG in Italy and used coconut milk as a substitute.

ibuk-tibuk, a.k.a. Maja Blanca, literally means heartbeat, because it bubbles, then pulsates upwards and downwards while cooking. This dessert originated in Pampanga, traditionally made of pure carabao’s milk for a unique saltiness and rich, creamy texture. Chef Jam cooked this at the UNISG in Italy and used coconut milk as a substitute.

  Galantina  loaf was on the menu of Chef Jam Melchor for his presentation at UNISG in Italy.

Galantina loaf was on the menu of Chef Jam Melchor for his presentation at UNISG in Italy.

Melchor, whose roots go back to Angeles City, Pampanga, has an impressive list of culinary achievements. In 2011 he opened his first restaurant, Villa Café, offering modernized Kapampangan recipes. In 2012 Chef Jam opened Bite Contemporary Cuisine, which was hailed as one of “Manila’s best restaurants” in 2013 by spot.ph. The place was known for organic dishes. In 2013 he established YesPlate, a sustainable delivery service of healthy meals that provide a nutritious calorie count.

From 2013 to 2015 Chef Jam was commissioned by the Philippine government, via the Department of Agriculture, to be the Chef Ambassador representing the country in the ASEAN Roadshow Linamnam! Flavouring the Philippines. This move gave him the opportunity to convene the Philippine Culinary Heritage Movement, a SEC-registered, non-profit movement to promote and preserve Philippine culinary heritage.

In September 2016, as an active member of Slow Food International, Chef Jam was the representative for Terra Madre, a global event of food artisans and small-scale food producers. After this Italy event, Chef Jam was officially tasked to convene the Slow Food Youth Network in the Philippines. He reached out to the youth encouraging them to promote local gastronomy. At about this time, together with the Philippine Culinary Heritage Movement, Chef Jam spearheaded the call for the creation of Buwan ng Kulinaryang Pilipino, an annual celebration to preserve our culinary heritage.

By October 2017, Chef Jam was chosen by the UNISG in Italy to be the first Filipino chef to present and cook Filipino cuisine. His menu represented different Philippine provinces: Sinigang na Bayabas, Adobong Batangan, Binulo na Tinawon and Sinuglaw. Some desserts were Mango Pili Sans Rival and Pili-Crusted Turon. He was assisted by fellow Filipino Chef Johan Movido, a culinary graduate of CCA Manila.

  Sinuglaw  was coined from two cooking methods –  sinugba , the Cebuano word for grilled and  kinilaw , cooking fish in vinegar and spices. Chef Jam’s version of sinuglaw consist of fish tuna topped with grilled pork bell. ( Photo credit: UNISG student   @you.food)

Sinuglaw was coined from two cooking methods – sinugba, the Cebuano word for grilled and kinilaw, cooking fish in vinegar and spices. Chef Jam’s version of sinuglaw consist of fish tuna topped with grilled pork bell. (Photo credit: UNISG student @you.food)

 Chef Jam Melchor found creative ways for Philippine ingredients, like pili nuts for his version of  Kare-Kare  served at  Le Tavole  at the UNISG in Italy. This pili variety came from the province of Albay.

Chef Jam Melchor found creative ways for Philippine ingredients, like pili nuts for his version of Kare-Kare served at Le Tavole at the UNISG in Italy. This pili variety came from the province of Albay.

Melchor’s quest to create an interest in Filipino food does not end here. He taps into his Kapampangan roots as a vast culinary background to keep creating recipes. “It is important to be creative and have originality. I create and experiment with produce that are locally and ethically sourced,” he said.

He nostalgically looks back to creating the Philippine Culinary Heritage Movement as his proudest accomplishment to date. “It opened opportunities for Filipino food advocates to work together for the preservation of local gastronomy.”

Admittedly, Melchor has encountered challenges in the kitchen. “Problems vary depending on the type of kitchen you are working with. For restaurant catering, consistency is important. I show the actual procedure to the staff and make sure they follow the standardized procedure of each dish.”

 Chef Jam brought to Italy this artisan sea salt, wrapped in nipa leaves, a product of a century-old process in the coastal community of Danacbunga in Botolan, Zambales. There are about 10 families who are members of the  Samahan ng mga Mangingisda at   Mangangasin ng Panayunan  who harvest the mineral-rich salt water from the estuary where the Philippine Sea meets the Botolan river.

Chef Jam brought to Italy this artisan sea salt, wrapped in nipa leaves, a product of a century-old process in the coastal community of Danacbunga in Botolan, Zambales. There are about 10 families who are members of the Samahan ng mga Mangingisda at Mangangasin ng Panayunan who harvest the mineral-rich salt water from the estuary where the Philippine Sea meets the Botolan river.

He relishes passing on what he knows to aspiring chefs. “If I could teach only one value it would be mind setting and attitude. Success will come and go, but integrity is forever. Integrity is doing the right thing, even if no one is watching. It takes courage to do the right thing, no matter what the consequences. Building a reputation takes years, but it only takes a second to damage your integrity.”

One thing is certain. Melchor is bringing back nostalgia in Filipino food. His kitchen methods go back to how our grandparents prepared food through slow cooking. Food nostalgia is sorely needed in today’s times. Recreating how food used to be cooked sends an inclusive message. And often, food is not a hot-button issue. Food, especially to most Filipinos comes off as a reassuring reminder that all will be okay after that first scrumptious bite.

Nostalgia in food is a feel-good crowd pleaser. Chef Jam knows there is no shortage of reasons why we’d want to go back in time and start cooking food slowly again. Slow cooking methods give us the feeling of trust and speaks of longevity, of a timeless ritual, and will always be relevant.

 Chef Jam Melchor cooked  Caldereta  at UNISG in Italy. He explained caldereta’s name was derived from the Spanish word meaning cauldron. This dish is like the meat stews from the Iberian Peninsula and brought to the Philippines during Spain’s colonization.

Chef Jam Melchor cooked Caldereta at UNISG in Italy. He explained caldereta’s name was derived from the Spanish word meaning cauldron. This dish is like the meat stews from the Iberian Peninsula and brought to the Philippines during Spain’s colonization.

Nostalgia in slow food cooking has cultural relevancy. Cooking food the way your parents prepared it brings a degree of reassurance that you’re doing things right. This is the food your mother cooked, which her own mother cooked.

Melchor is passionate and articulate on the subject of keeping Philippine culinary traditions alive, “We’re at the threshold of a revolution, of making Filipino food better than it has ever been. Food is always changing and growing, but never without its roots. We must understand Filipino food for what it is and what it was. We must recognize its story, its meaning, and its heart.”

Nostalgia in slow food cooking sprinkles a certain kind of pixie dust on our emotions. And that which appeals to emotions gets re-shared even more. Nostalgia in slow food cooking brings generations together – all the Boomers and the Gen-Xers with the Millennials in between. It’s not just a walk down memory lane. It’s cooking the way your parents cooked; perhaps it’s the way you were raised. And it’s probably the way you’re feeding your family today.

On Chef Jam Melchor’s menu for the future, slow food cooking and the preservation of Philippine cuisine are on top of the list. When asked what else was on his plate, Chef Jam affirmed, “I want to work more for the preservation of Philippine gastronomy. I want to inspire new chefs so that our work will continue to flourish. It is more than just a career. It’s a vocation.”

For Chef Jam Melchor's Sisig Babi recipe, click here: 
http://www.positivelyfilipino.com/magazine/the-happy-home-cook-sisig-babi


 Elizabeth Ann Quirino

Elizabeth Ann Quirino

Elizabeth Ann Quirino, based in New Jersey is a journalist and author of the “How to Cook Philippine Desserts: Cakes and Snacks” Cookbook. She is a member of the International Association of Culinary Professionals and blogs about Filipino home cooking on her site AsianInAmericaMag.com.


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