Manila, August 9, 2003 (STAR) By Joseph O. Cortes  - Chef Gene Cordova of the Center for Culinary Arts, Manila is a changed man. A recent month-long training session at the Culinary Institute of America-Napa Valley, sponsored by the US Department of Agriculture, has totally changed the way he looks at food and wine.

"There’s a new trend happening now in the food industry," he declares over a lunch meeting. "The biggest trend now takes wine as the center of the table. In the old school, the chef will cook something, and it becomes the job of the sommelier to find a wine to pair with the food."

"But, now it’s the exact opposite," he adds. "We have a bottle of wine and it is the chef’s job to come up with food that will complement the wine. In doing so, we find that the match between the food and the wine is much better. Likewise, the appreciation and overall experience of the diner is far more gratifying as compared to before."

Chef Cordova continues: "There is now an added challenge for the chef faced with this task. He must be educated enough to pair food with a specific wine. The overall experience should be better in terms of the wine tasting better, but the food will definitely taste better.

Having been trained in Europe, this new approach to wine and food has added an extra dimension to his craft as a chef.

"A chef should not take this task as being against himself," he explains. "It now becomes a test for him. I myself was surprised because I have never experienced wine paired this way. Overall, it is a much more effective way of matching food and wine."

With this new knowledge in mind, Cordova is preparing a seminar for professionals, which will inform them of this new trend in the hospitality business. The session will have participants deciding for themselves what wine goes with what dish in a trial-and-error session that will have them challenging their taste buds.

In sponsoring the chef’s visit to the United States, USDA agricultural trade officer Ma. Ramona C. Singian says this is just one way the US agency strengthens relations with markets around the world.

"We acknowledge that the CCA is the leading training center for the culinary arts in the Philippines, and it has influenced a lot of decision makers in the industry," Singian explains. "We acknowledge that CCA has strengths in terms of very good and talented chefs. On top of that, the CCA management is open to fresh ideas. They have the capacity to implement a lot of activities, and they are very cooperative, which is why we have chosen CCA as one of the recipients of a series of training sessions, which would not just benefit chef Gene but also other CCA chef instructors."

The USDA has been assisting importers, government officials and industry leaders in securing training abroad on a variety of topics to strengthen trade relations between the Philippines and the States.

In the past six years, USDA has sent 150 individuals to training sessions to study retailing, food safety and trade issues affecting US exports.

Trade between the Philippines and the United States has continually improved over the last years.

Singian says the Philippines is the number one market of American wines in the southeast Asian region. Of all American wines, the bulk is composed of Napa Valley wines, as well as those from Washington state. Compared with imports of French, Italian and New World wines, American wines hold the monopoly in the Philippine market.

Likewise, a number of dry goods and perishables sold in most supermarkets are imported from the United States. Imports of produce, like oranges, grapes and apples, are sourced from US growers, as well as tree nuts, like pistachio and walnuts. Poultry and meat imports are also considerable.

"If you take time to look at the label of most items in a supermarket, a lot of them are actually American products," she adds.

Chef Cordova is really ecstatic over the use of US produce in his kitchens. He is exploring the possibility of creating a special food promotion at CCA’s C2 Restaurant highlighting the use of American vegetables.

He shares that during a recent beef seminar, he was amazed at how cheap USDA grade beef was compared with some imported and local meat items.

"This is good news for many restaurants who are trying to cut down on their expenses," he explains. "Not only will they be able to offer a more affordable cut that is just as tender as prime cuts, they will also be able to offer value-for-money servings to their guests."

In promoting exchanges between the USDA and private groups, Singian says this will benefit both US producers and local consumers. And, chef Cordova’s wine pairing seminar is just one of the many positive outcomes the month-long training seminar has produced. Not only does he gain new knowledge from this trip, he shares it with practitioners in the local hospitality industry. * * *

For inquiries on short courses and seminars at Center for Culinary Arts, Manila, visit its offices at Cravings Center, 287 Katipunan Ave., Loyola Heights, Quezon City; call 426-4837 and 426-4840, fax 426-4836, e-mail marketing@cca-manila.com or log on to cca-manila.com.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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