How I actually managed to let Bourdain reiterate that the Cebu-Philippines lechon is the best in the world
By Vanette Colmenares
New York – Now it can be told. I had Anthony Bourdain actually reiterate that the lechon (roasted pig) in Cebu, Philippines, “is still the best roasted pig (in the world).”
Sometime in 2009, when I knew of the upcoming NY Food and Wine Festival, I immediately looked up for some interesting events and saw that there was one interview by Frank Bruni, a noted restaurant critic, with the famous Anthony Bourdain. I immediately got tickets and a week later, it was sold out.
The New York Times Center was packed by the time the interview started. Frank Bruni was able to direct his interview with ease that lessened Bourdain’s cursing. During the Q&A portion, I stood up and was the third to ask Bourdain a question. I referred to his lechon episode which was two years ago. As far as I can recall, I asked:
“I’ve noticed that you practically mentioned most of our Asian neighbors, and have not heard you mention anything about the Philippines. Yet in your February show, and in your blogs, you mentioned that Cebu, Philippines as having the best roasted pig in the whole world. Do we still have that No. 1 spot, or have we been unseated?”
Bourdain answered starting with the lechon in Puerto Rico which he said was very good because of its traditional cooking techniques. He went on and on, saying that Bali lechon was a little better than Puerto Rico. But in the end, Mr. Bourdain, said “Yes, the Philippines still has the best roasted pig.”
With that statement, I stretched my hands up in the air, and as I flexed my elbows to my side, with a resounding yes! The audience laughed and they clapped their hands. At moment, I was one proud happy Filipina.
It was on October 9, 2011 when I first met Mr. Bourdain, at the New York Food and Wine Festival. Admittedly, he was not my immediate favorite. I love cooking and make it a point to attend food fests. Normally, I would volunteer in some of the events in order to escape from buying expensive tickets and to boost my ego that I have pictures with big-time chefs.
At hindsight, I love to tease my friends to utter jealousy. In addition, I would go to the books signings of these ‘glorified slaves’ (another word for chefs as they work hard all the time), to give to my daughter the signed book while I get my picture with the author-chef.
By now, my daughter’s restaurant in the Philippines, Café Sarree (original branch in Escario) would have been filled with pictures of me together with celebrity chefs. Sarita, my unica hija is a restauranteur, and has managed to fill a wall of her resto with pictures of Bobbly Flay, Alton Brown, the Naked Chef (Jamie Oliver), Jacques Pepin, Jacques Torres, Rachel Ray to name a few.
One picture on her wall that stands out is that of the towering Bourdain, who’s 6’4”, with a squeezy grin and I, like a small schoolgirl. This was when I bought his book, Kitchen Confidential and he signed it. I was so caught up with his experiences in the restaurant business as someone who has lived in New York for decades.
Mr. Bourdain was harsh, unrefined and obscene in his language, the main reason why I did not like him that fast. But I continued buying more of his books such as Nasty Bites and Cooks Tours. Eventually, I had to eat at Les Halles where he started out as a chef, just for the experience. I imagined that he was still at the back of the house, cooking my order.
Bourdain’s steady rise to celebrity status made him unavailable in NYC because he was always travelling. When the episode on the Philippines came up, I probably watched it three times since his first visit was my home town Cebu City where he featured the one item that Cebuanos are famous for, lechon. With that episode, my admiration for Bourdain had come full circle.
It is sad that Bourdain has left us. His successes, struggles, and sincerity will be truly remembered.