Bringing in Filipino-American chefs Tom Cunanan, Charles Olalia, and Grant “Lanai” Tabura to a 14-day trip around the Philippines, the Department of Tourism (DOT)’s “Chefs’ Tour” is geared towards positioning the Philippines as the center of gastronomy in Asia and soon in the world.

This initiative aims to introduce chefs and restaurateurs to Philippine culinary tourism destinations, heritage dishes, iconic delicacies, and local ingredients.

The tour started on Nov. 10, kicking off in Manila and proceeding to cover the rest of its itinerary in Pampanga, Iloilo, Bacolod, and Davao. It included food crawls of traditional delicacies and native dishes, local market and farm visits, and cuisine interactions courtesy of local chefs.

Cunanan, Olalia, and Tabura are accomplished, multi-awarded chefs in the US. According to DOT Secretary Berna Romulo-Puyat, familiarizing these chefs with Filipino flavors, ingredients, and styles will enable them to incorporate these into their own restaurants in hopes of drawing more attention to the kinds of dishes Filipinos can come up with. This is important given that chefs make up a huge part of Philippine cuisine in the mainstream American market.

“It was a strategic move to capitalize on popular Fil-Am chefs to become the face of Philippine culinary tourism in the US,” she says. “They have their own followers and their statements bring in credibility. We can start attracting the market for Philippine culinary tourism by familiarizing them with Philippine flavors, ingredients, and unique styles, through the efforts of the chefs in their respective restaurants.”

“Through their sharing of stories, we hope to inspire the local culinary tourism industry and food enthusiasts. This may be one way for them to give back to their country,” says Department of Tourism Secretary Berna Romulo-Puyat.

Representing the East Coast is Bad Saint’s Cunanan, a 2019 James Beard Awardee for Best Chef in the Mid-Atlantic. Representing the West Coast meanwhile is Ma’am Sir and Ricebar’s Olalia, who is a frequent guest chef at LA Food Bowl and The Taste and who also recently turned the L.A. Times’ Tres Pares a sold-out event alongside Cunanan and JP Anglo.

Finally, Emmy Award winner and Food Network’s “The Great Food Truck Race” champion Tabura may also produce a 22-minute airing of “We Go Eat Philippines” from the trip (which will be aired on Spectrum Oceanic 16 and Hawaiian Airlines).

“It is through traveling that we get to experience destinations and learn about our culture in a fun and interactive way. It also promotes direct interaction with local communities and purveyors of our heritage and traditions,” says Sec. Romulo-Puyat.

Curating the different legs of the culinary tour are Margarita Fores, Claude Tayag, and Myke “Tatung” Sarthou. Also joining them in enriching and educational cuisine interactions are chefs Atching Lilian Borromeo, Tibong Jardeleza, and Carmina del Rosario.

Where local meets international

DOT has also partnered with the teaching arm of World Food Expo (WOFEX)—one of the biggest food shows in the Philippines that’s been running for 18 years already—called the WOFEX University. The DOT X WOFEX University Fun Food Talks is an interactive symposia with culinary demonstrations that will serve as a platform for Fil-Am chefs to share their successful stories of bringing Philippine cuisine to the international market. They will also impart insights, learnings, and discoveries from the tour in hopes of encouraging the youth to learn more about local cuisine and pursue careers in food tourism.

“Through their sharing of their stories, we hope to inspire the local culinary tourism industry and food enthusiasts. This may be one way for them to give back to their country,” says Sec. Romulo-Puyat.

The efforts of the DOT to promote Philippine cuisine doesn’t end with the Chefs’ Tour though. On their constant lineup of initiatives are culinary and farm tourism events such as “Kain Na” with the Ayala Malls and the Department of Agriculture and “Philippine Harvest” with Central Square in Bonifacio Global City. Familiarization trips for foreign media and tour operators as well as promotion of culinary and farm tourism packages and Philippine cuisine and produce in overseas events and travel fairs remain central to the department’s game plan. 

They will also be continuing their “Eats More Fun in the Philippines” campaign, which will be advanced to various local and international platforms, to open and sustain the discussion on Filipino food across the world.

Sec. Romulo-Puyat hopes that through the Chefs’ Tour, Cunanan, Olalia, and Tabura will be able to introduce to the global community what the Filipino food experience is all about. 

“Hopefully, this will ignite their curiosity to learn more about Philippine gastronomy and culture. They will be our best food ambassadors and key influencers who will contribute to the long-term promotion of Philippine cuisine and our culinary tourism destinations,” says Sec. Romulo-Puyat.