Thursday, January 22, 2009

Chef Cece de Castro's Mini Cooking Demo at Island Pacific Supermarket

The other week, I received a call from FilAm Chef Cecilia de Castro. "I will be doing a mini cooking demonstration at Island Pacific Supermarket on Saturday," she said. "Would you like to join me?" she inquired. Of course I did in a heartbeat. The last time we talked in person was on December 13, 2008, when the Pampanga Day Commission bestowed her with an "Outstanding Kapampangan" award at the San Gabriel Hilton. On that evening we talked about projects that we could collaborate on. She as a trail-blazing FilAm chef, and I as amateur cook. One of the things that we had agreed on prior to December 13 was to make myself available for a cooking demonstration at her culinary school in Northridge. When I told her that I have a food and cooking blog ( it started the ball rolling.

Saturday's mini cooking demo was held at the activity center of the Island Pacific Supermarket in Panorama City, the same venue where "Ploning", the movie was screened free to the public in December. When I got there, a large pot of beef sinigang was stewing, and Chef Cecilia, assisted by a gaggle of culinary students who are attending her culinary school in Northridge, California, was extolling the benefits of an array of sauces and mixes made by the popular Mama Sita brand. The audience was made up of homemakers -- men and women -- a Disneyland pastry chef who is a friend of Chef Cece's, and some female students from Chef Cece's culinary school. (Chef Cece's next big cooking gig will be in February when she will assist celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck cook at the after-Oscar Awards "Governor's Ball" in Hollywood).

The cooking demo, according to Chef Cece, was organized in about two weeks by her and "Kababayan L.A." host/producer Jannelle So. It was videotaped by Joey Gonzalez of DEMO (Diversified Entertainment and Media Organization) for future airing at KCSI Channel 18. It was a one-and-a-half hour cooking demonstration in which some of Mama Sita's mixes and sauces were featured, including the tamarind "sinigang" mix, the Pang Gisa mix, and the oyster sauce. Other pre-packaged processed foods like tocino were also used, for instance, in a green salad, prepared by Chef Cece. When my turn came, I prepared a simple, easy-to-cook veggie stir-fry consisting of American broccoli, green pea-pods (sitsaro) and mushrooms. I used the Mama Sita Pang Gisa mix, tossing the contents of a small envelope and adding 1/2 cup of water. No mixing, no slicing of onions and smashing garlic. No sweat.

The audience participated, often asking questions on how the entrees achieved this and that consistency, color and taste. Chef Cece and myself quizzed the audience with simple questions pertaining to the entrees the demo participants had prepared, and prizes -- Mama Sita products -- were given away to everyone with correct answers.

Cooking from scratch, using the freshest and homegrown ingredients, is the best way to go. But, let's face it, there are fresh ingredients like tamarind and kamias that are not readily available in the States, unless you are fortunate enough to have a tamarind or a kamias tree in your backyard. This is where companies, like Mama Sita, Pamana, Tropical, Pampanga Brand, UFC, McCormick and many others, come in. They process these ingredients into ready-to-use mixes and sauces freeing us cooks and homemakers from the task of finding and processing these indigenous produce so that we could cook an authentic sinigang, caldereta or adobo. They are time-savers, and yet, they retain their authentic essence and flavor. The tamarind sinigang mix is really piquant, the adobo mix is savory, and the lechon sauce is just right.

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