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Always A Champion Of Filipino Cuisine

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Since winning the grand prize in the baking category of the Great Maya Cookfest in 1983 for her original mango cake recipe, Chef Jessie Sincioco suddenly went on a meteoric rise in the culinary scene.

Among the many food establishments which tried to lure her, however, it was erstwhile Hotel InterContinental Manila’s pastry section that beat everyone to hiring the champ. In fact, so eager was Makati’s foremost hotel establishment to have Sincioco among their touque-wearing staff that they pulled her out of a mandatory three-month course to work their ovens even before she completed training.

In 1988, representing Hotel InterContinental Manila she joined “Chefs On Parade” at The Manila Hotel—also the country’s most prestigious culinary competition at the time—where she next won Gold with Distinction at the Cold Desserts Display category. In succeeding editions, she even bagged the L’Assiete D’Or or The Gold Plate twice.


These accolades and more soon earned Sincioco the distinction of becoming the very first Filipina Pastry Chef in 1990. But having been taught by her aunt, Estelita Sincioco-Dy, in the ways of the kitchen since she was eight-and-a-half years old, her interest in gastronomy, besides baking bread and sweet endings, naturally returned while working at the hotel.


And so, along with three expat partners, Sincioco brought her craft to the next level by establishing and managing the popular Le Souffle restaurant that spawned several branches and other establishments, like Papermoon and Poppies, across the metro.

When the Le Souffle partnership dissolved in 2009, the celebrated chef looked straight ahead and opened her own JCS Gastronomie Inc. And with Finance as her field of study on top of her passion for the culinary arts, Sincioco is fulfilled as ever these days, running three renowned restaurants as president and chief executive officer.


These are The Citi by Chef Jessie, Chef Jessie Rockwell Club and the newly opened Chef Jessie Grill at The Grove by Rockwell, all serving culinary masterpieces across European, American and Asian cuisines.

 

“The most recent outlet at The Grove has a more casual ambience because I don’t want to be identified with fine dining. I don’t really want to create an impression that when you come to the Chef Jessie at Rockwell Club, you have to dress up. People can come in jeans or in decent shorts. So the Grill is more casual, more relaxed, but still with five-star cuisine,” she related.


Delicious advocacy

While she is no doubt an expert in the world’s classic cooking techniques, Sincioco has always taken pride in Filipino cuisine. As such, in her many travels abroad through the years for competition or promotions, she will always make sure she includes the Philippines’ most popular dishes, like adobo, tinola, kare-kare or sisig, all with the Jessie Sincioco touch of course.

In fact, back in May, the highly respected chef assisted her niece Abie Sincioco-Mateo to whip up sisig as entry to the Embassy Chef Challenge in Washington, DC, held at the Ronald Reagan Building. The contest had been running since 2009, and the US capital is the logical location of the contest, it being the home of 177 embassies from around the world.


It was Sincioco who recommended her niece to the Philippine ambassador, and therefore found it neccesary to help out Mateo in every way possible. This even if she had personally trained her niece for a total of 14 years.

“Thirty embassies were in competition. And I told my niece that it’s hard to win among the others, so sarapan na lang namin ang aming luto. And you know what, we won the first prize and brought home the golden pineapples not just for the People’s Choice Award but the Judges’ Choice Award as well,” Sincioco proudly told The Sunday Times Magazine, adding she was certain the judges tasted the dish’s key ingredient, which was “(full of) love.”


The year before helping out her niece, Sincioco was handpicked by Malacañang to prepare the gala dinner for the heads of states and delegates during the Asean Summit. And like always, she earned praises for her world-class presentation of Filipino flavors impressing the powerful guestlist.

To backtrack a little more, Sincioco was also very honored to be chosen in 2015 to prepare the meals of Pope Francis during his four-day visit to the country. She related that since the Pontiff had a very tight schedule, she made it her main objective to serve him the best food to give him the energy he needed throughout the historic trip.

Asked to recall what she served the beloved leader of the Catholic Church, Sincioco related she served a basked filled with seven kinds of bread every day for his breakfast—including the Argentinian bread media luna—together with butter, jam, cheese, yogurt and a fruit platter.

She fondly remembers how the Pope especially enjoyed her dumpling soup—made with ground chicken dumpling, chopped fresh herbs and cream in beef consomme—that he asked for a second serving.

Main course was sea bass served with tomato artichoke heart sauce, grilled vegetables and wild rice risotto. But the Pontiff’s most favorite dish was the roast beef served with baked potato and steamed broccoli topped with forest mushroom gravy.

Heroes food fest

On August 9, The Manila Hotel—considered the grand dame of hotels in the Philippines—invited media to witness their coup in commemorating National Heroes’ Day. They presented Sincioco as their featured chef in what is now the first-ever food festival to be mounted in honor of National Heroes’ Day on August 27.

Fittingly held at the very Filipino themed Cafe Ilang-Ilang outlet, Sincioco calls her latest foray in the food fest scene, “kaBAYANIhan.”

And as expected, during the preview, Sincioco shone anew as she explained the rationale of every deliciously Filipino creation she is set to serve for the themed buffet.

She started out with her original Alugbati Salad in Bagoong Vinaigrette topped with salted egg, crispy dulong and pansit-pansitan, revealing how the alugbati (the local spinach) abounds in their farm in Bulacan. She contrasted it with another favorite salad of hers, Salad a la Jose Mari Chan (yes, named after the singer-composer who is regular at her restaurants) because the alugbati is the star of this salad, whereas it only plays second billing in taste to ubod.

Meanwhile, going full throttle into a national heroes’ themed menu, she uses the names of Melchora Aquino or Tandang Sora for her Tinolang Manok na Tagalog. Making it her own, she says it has the taste of the usual tinola (her favorite dish and also the first dish she learned to cook), except that the meat is sliced thinly instead of using whole parts, like breast, leg, wing or rib.

Of course, she made sure to name a dish after the national hero, thus Jose Rizal’s Bistek. Using Angus beef, her version is of the sweeter side from using carmelized onions, rather than the usual fried rings. Nevertheless, she pairs the breakfast-cum-all-day fare with the staple garlic rice and homemade achara.

The dessert was a very Filipino take on bread pudding with custard cream, macapuno sport and toasted cake sponge as Sincioco uses mangoes for toppings, beautifully shaped like flower, mint leaves and sweet sauce.

The rest of the menu pays tribute to Andres Bonifacio, Emilio Aguinaldo and Apolinario Mabini, and even earlier heroes like Gabriela Silang who is the star name attached to her lechon manok.

“Cooking in the olden times was so simple, so in the case of Gabriela Silang’s lechon manok, I just stuffed it with lemon grass (tanglad) and tamarind leaves and garnished it with sea salt. The result, you can really taste the flavor of tamarind leaves with every bite of the chicken meat,” she enthused.

Sinsioco told The Sunday Times Magazine she is very happy when she learned about the Manila Hotel’s invitation for this inaugural event, which she considers a sort of homecoming since winning the Great Maya Cookfest at the very establishment 35 years ago. And to be asked to design a Filipino menu to honor the country’s heroes makes the full circle experience all the more meaningful for the advocate of local flavors.

Flavorful legacy

While Sincioco’s family is actively involved in her company, the legacy she wants to leave behind in the future will not just be for her brother, nephews and nieces but her loyal staff as well.

As she told The Sunday Times Magazine, “My dedicated staff also deserve to be endowed of what I have been doing; hindi lang immediate family ko ang dahilan ng pagpupursige ko.”

Besides her restaurants’ in-house services, all three outlets also offer catering services. Amazingly, one of JCS Gastronomie’s biggest catering events, according to Sincioco was a sit-down dinner for 3,200 people in 2009 at the SMX Convention Center.

Meanwhile, given that numerous chefs and culinary luminaries have already published books and materials, Sincioco has yet to have one.

“I already sat down with Miguel Ramos (grandson of National Bookstore owner Socorro Ramos) for a book, my schedule still won’t allow me to concentrate on [writing]it. Maybe in the next five years. I believe in God’s perfect time,” she concluded.

Reference: The Manila Times