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Justin Hulog, a food blogger and a graduate student at the San Francisco State University, and Thomas Weibull, the executive chef at the Clift Hotel in San Francisco, emerged winners from the 3rd Kulinarya Finals, a live cooking showdown hosted by the Philippine Consulate General in San Francisco and its attached agencies (Department of Tourism, Department of Trade and Industry, Philippine National Police, Philippine Center Management Board) on an annual basis.

Hulog, one of three competitors in the Amateur Division of the Kulinarya Finals, served up a green mango chicken sisig that bested entries from Ross Tordecilla, who works in the financial services industry, and Joycelyn Sembrano-Vergara, a group billing coordinator for the Westin St. Francis Hotel.

Tordecilla, who hails from LA, presented a braised beef kaldereta for the competition. Vergara, a Daly City native, prepared traditional chicken afritada.

Winners at the 3rd Kulinarya: A Filipino Culinary Showdown – Left: Thomas Weibull in the Professional Division. Right: Justin Hulog in the Amateur Division.

Competition for the Professional Division was even fiercer, as each of the three competitors were required to present three dishes: an appetizer or soup, a main entrée, and a dessert.

Jerrick Figueroa, a graduate of the California Culinary Academy and a cook at Plant Café and Cat Cora, served an oven roasted pinakbet to start, baked escabeche as his main entrée and finished off with a fried cassava cake.

Fernandina Lopez, currently working as a Principal Food Supervisor at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center’s Dining Commons and a graduate of the California School of Culinary Arts, chose to start off with a shrimp okuyito, followed by kalderetang manok and a dessert of broas mango cream.

Winning competitor Weibull offered up an appetizer of pancit palabok with crisp pork belly, sous vide chicken afritada for his entrée, and a coconut leche flan with a candied ginger/almond tuille for dessert.

Entries from the six competitors were assessed and ranked according to creativity, taste, and presentation. The five-man panel of judges, selected for their expertise in and exposure to both Filipino cuisine and the local culinary scene, was composed of Francis Ang, the executive pastry chef of Fifth Floor Restaurant; Lynne Bennett, staff writer and test kitchen director for the San Francisco Chronicle’s Food & Wine Department; John Birdsall, Senior Editor at, a national online food magazine based in San Francisco; Christina Dunham, the contributing lifestyle editor for Gastronomique en Vogue, a food and fashion magazine; and Arnold Eric Wong, the consulting executive chef of E&O Asian Kitchen.

Emcees (from left: Ron Bilaro, JR Calanoc and Fe Delos Reyes with Philippine Consul General Marciano Paynor and Tourism Director Rene delos Santo; The judges sampling the amateur division contestants’ entries; 10-year-old Mika Gorospe performs

Kulinarya: a Filipino Culinary Showdown is an annual event organized by the Philippine Consulate General and its attached agencies to build awareness and appreciation of Philippine cuisine and culture, as well as to highlight existing and emerging Filipino-American culinary talents in the Bay Area and encourage them to exercise their creativity and skill in elevating the quality of taste and presentation of Philippine dishes.  It also serves as a vehicle to promote the country’s tourism products and services.

The event is strongly supported by the Filipino American Arts Exposition (FAAE) and the Philippine Institute of Certified Public Accountants (PICPA). Regular volunteers from the community, Ms. Sonia Delen, Mr. Joe Manarang, and Mr. Al Perez headed the committee that oversaw the technical set-up of the event and the publishing of the Kulinarya magazine, which was edited by Ms. Kharissa Fernando.

Local talents from the Bay Area and beyond converged at the venue to brighten up the proceedings. Triathlete JR Calanoc and comedienne Fe de los Reyes hosted the Amateur Division competition, while Chicago-based chef Ron Bilaro, host of The Filipino Channel’s “Eat and Ron”, came in as master of ceremonies for the Professional Division and judge for an on-the-spot cook-off between former Kulinarya winners, Chef Albert Rivera (Professional Division) and Arlene Nunez (Amateur Division). Local student Mika Gorospe wowed the crowd with her voice during the intermission, performing two Tagalog love songs.

Left: The display table showcasing the dishes prepared by the Amateur and Professional contestants; Middle: Winning dish of Thomas Weibull for the Professional Division; Right; Winning dish of Justin Hulog for the Amateur Division

As the winner in the Professional Division, Weibull will receive a cash prize of $1000, a free Kulinarya tour to selected culinary destinations in the Philippines that includes a round-trip ticket to the Philippines via Philippine Airlines and two nights’ stay at a deluxe hotel in Metro Manila, and an all-expenses paid trip to the annual EAT Vancouver World Culinary Travel Expo with the Philippine Department of Tourismin San Francisco, where he will have an opportunity to showcase Philippine culinary delicacies before an international audience.

Hulog, the winner in the Amateur Division will receive $500 in cash and a free Kulinaryatour to selected culinary destinations in the Philippines that includes a round-trip ticket to the Philippines via PAL courtesy of Pacific Air Leisure Services, and two nights’ stay at a deluxe hotel in Metro Manila. END