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A Recipe For Making Filipino Food Writers: Join The Doreen Gamboa Fernandez Food Writing Award 2018

A lot of people nowadays claim to be a “foodie.” They take gorgeously-styled food shots, copy and paste the ingredients of the dish (which you can hardly pronounce), and then add a kilometric caption describing the dish. Easy peasy.

Think again. At the mere mention of the name Doreen Fernandez, you are brought back to your senses and realize it takes more to be a serious food enthusiast, what more, a food writer.

Named after the highly-esteemed professor, researcher and writer, the Doreen Gamboa Fernandez Food Writing Award is calling for entries for this year’s nationwide competition. This year’s theme or main ingredient is fowl, which includes chicken, birds, pigeon, turkey, goose. 


Fowl like chicken, duck, pigeon is the theme of this year’s DGF Food Writing Award (Photo by Shaira Luna for FOOD Magazine)


“The primary objective of this competition is to develop food writers who can contribute to food literature in the Philippines. If we are to have stories about Philippine cuisine, then the whole country should be involved,” Michaela “Micky” Fenix explains, adding that if one intends to write about our cuisine, “one must read what Doreen wrote about our cooking and consequently our culture. Her essays serve as models and a basis to go off on one’s own research and writing. With the award, we honor her.”



The DGF legacy

Micky Fenix, herself a renowned food writer and researcher, is President of the Food Writers Association of the Philippines (FWAP) that manages the award along with the Doreen Gamboa Fernandez (DGF) Food Writing Award Board. She recounts that although the objectives have never changed in the award’s 16-year run, it now puts a premium on research, moving on from personal anecdotes to more serious, detailed yet equally engaging entries.

Felice Sta. Maria, food historian and FWAP Vice President for Internal Affairs, reminds those who intend to join that the judges “give a heavy 30% to research. In the beginning many entries relied on anecdotal sources, speculated and did not cross-check the information. Now, the winning entries use written historical sources, first-hand observation, among others, for their creative articles.”


Felice Sta. Maria


Sta. Maria confides that “dependable research and innovative, creative handling of the topic are fundamental to winning. Simply writing that one’s grandmother was a superb cook or that her specialty was craved for will not necessarily win.” Instead, food writing involves a cross-disciplinary approach involving anthropology and social anthropology, as pioneered by Doreen Fernandez.


2013 DGF Award winner Lolita Lacuesta (3rd from left) with, from left, judge Alfred “Krip” Yuson, then Undersecretary of Agriculture Berna Romulo-Puyat, and Micky Fenix


“Personally, I want our food writers to go beyond their comfort zones and check material from as far back as prehistoric as well as the Spanish and American times; look into comparisons of our culinary culture with ASEAN member states and the other countries we traded with. Food writers need to look into sciences ranging from botany to nutrition and psychiatry, fair trade to food made in laboratories,” Sta. Maria says.

Doreen Fernandez’ legacy lives on in this competition but it also serves as both a challenge and inspiration for budding writers to know their food heritage well.


The award explained

Micky Fenix elaborates, “The DGF Board and the Food Writers Association that now manage the contest decided that the next five years should have a main ingredient with the objective of publishing a new book to compile the winning essays from 2013 to 2017.”

In its earlier years, Fenix recounts the contest had broad themes like “Filipino traditional cooking” and “hometown cooking” in order to encourage entries. Later on, the subjects became specific, some focused on different meals of the day or particular dishes.


Coconut was the theme of the 2014 DGF Food Writing Award (Photo by Paul del Rosario for FOOD Magazine)


The Philippines, a country blessed with a colorful history, varying landscapes and diverse produce is literally and figuratively fertile soil for culinary research and writing.

“It’s been 16 years going on 20. We have had different subjects through those years and given that Philippine cuisine is so varied, so rich, the DGF Award will certainly have so many subjects to choose from,” Fenix shares as the award looks forward to more years of harvesting and nurturing new talents.


Herbs were the theme of the 2015 DGF Food Writing Award (Photo by Shaira Luna for FOOD Magazine)


How to write about food

A practical tip from both Fenix and Sta. Maria for aspiring food writers is to read Savor the Word and the soon-to-be released Sangkap to have a sense of what 15 years of the contest has produced.

Sta. Maria proudly says, “That a number of winners made an aspect of food writing their profession is a reward for those supporting the contest. Every year a new set of winners raises the bar. The contest challenges food writers because it expects nothing less than excellence from the winners.”


Past DGF Award winners during the launch of Savor the Word (Photo courtesy of Michaela Fenix)


What then makes a good Filipino food writer or gourmand? Apart from good taste, Doreen Fernandez’ pioneering influence and exceptional body of work can serve as a guide as to how to approach food: be open and curious, research and go to the sources, talk to growers and farmers, and read.

For Fenix, she considers the following titles as hallmarks of good written materials on Philippine cuisine:

Savor the Word: Ten Years of the Doreen Gamboa Fernandez Food Writing Award (winner of Best Book of Leisure in the 2013 National Book Awards)

Comfort Food edited by Erlinda Enriquez Panlilio

The Governor General’s Kitchen by Felice Sta. Maria

Foods of Jose Rizal by Felice Sta. Maria

Country Cooking: Philippine Regional Cuisines by Michaela Fenix



Though Doreen Fernandez’ are big shoes to fill, books, greater mobility, and digital media along with well-honed skills and sincere passion can help budding writers pursue food writing as a serious endeavor.


The deadline of entries on the theme of fowl is October 31, 2018 (Photo by Pat Mateo for FOOD Magazine)


How to join

The Doreen Gamboa Fernandez Food Writing Award is accepting essays on fowl viand until 31 October 2018. Entries should be in English, consisting of 800 words and must also include an information file with the author’s name, pen name, contact numbers, e-mail and address. The two files, namely the essay and information file, should be sent to Contestants are allowed only two entries.


Savor the Word cover photo by Ocs Alvarez for FOOD Magazine