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Doreen Gamboa Fernandez, Her Legacy And Legend

She inspired generations of Filipino food champions and the country's first annual food writing award

During the launch of Sarap: Essays on Philppine Food (Mr and Ms Publishing Company, 1988), the book Doreen Gamboa Fernandez wrote with Edilberto Alegre, she smiled when I told her my name. Then she turned to Alegre and mentioned my name to him. They both wrote their dedication on the copy of their book I had presented for an autograph. Reading it, I saw that Doreen had written that she reads my articles. While Alegre asked me to write of things that they "may know them.”


That was our first meeting. Doreen and I were to encounter each other at lunches and dinners where, as members of the press, we shared not only the table but notes about food and culinary history. And later, we met again at the launch of her two books—Kinilaw: A Philippine Cuisine of Freshness (Bookmark, 1991), again with Ed Alegre, and Tikim: Essays on Philippine Food and Culture (Anvil Publishing, 1994).


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21 years hence, she continues to inspire generations of food writers, researchers, home cooks, chefs | The Doreen Gamboa Fernandez Facebook page

And then we became members of the International Wine and Food Society, Manila Ladies Branch, where she was elected as Vice-President. In a way it showed us both that we could enjoy the culinary pleasures of the high table as well as those of the humble carinderia mesa. She and Ed Alegre compiled those experiences in the book Lasa: A Guide to 100 Restaurants (Urban Food Foundation, 1989).


Although it has been 21 years since she left us, Doreen Gamboa Fernandez has been remembered through her writings and through a food writing competition named after her (The Doreen Gamboa Fernandez Food Writing Award). 


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DGF had the ability to enjoy the culinary pleasures of the high table as well as those of the humble carinderia | The Doreen Gamboa Fernandez Facebook page

Many people aren't aware that she was part of the organization of the award, meeting with other food writers, editors and publishers, detailing the mechanics. It was a first-hand experience for those of us there on just how she worked, getting down to brass tacks after enjoying our lunch. The competition took time to organize, and she was gone before its launch. When it did launch it was deemed appropriate to name it after her.


Felice Sta. Maria wrote in her history of the DGF Competition that not only was it organized to keep alive the body of work of Doreen Gamboa Fernandez but also to nurture "a successor generation of food writers, content providers, researchers, home cooks and chefs”.


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Doreen had a prolific body of work including numerous books, articles, newspaper and magazine columns, and entries in the 1999 The Oxford Companion To Food | The Doreen Gamboa Fernandez Facebook page

DGF—writer, teacher, food anthropologist

She did a prodigious amount of writing on food. Apart from her books which includes Palayok: Philippine food through time, on site, in the pot (Bookmark, 2000), there were the weekly columns in the Philippine Daily Inquirer and the monthly columns in Food Magazine (now the Metro.Style Food section). Her energy seemed boundless as she also was professor and chair of the departments of English and Communication and Interdisciplinary Studies at the Ateneo de Manila University where she also wrote on Philippine Studies in the field of art, literature, and drama. 


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She had a column in Food Magazine, the oldest culinary publication in the Philippines, which has evolved into Metro.Style's food section | The Doreen Gamboa Fernandez Facebook page

Outside the Philippines sphere, her stature was that of an exemplary Philippine food anthropologist. She became good friends with renowned authors on food such as Raymond Sokolov, author of Why We Eat What We Eat (Atria Books, 1993) and Alan Davidson, organizer of the Oxford Symposium on Food who also asked her to write entries in The Oxford Companion to Food (Oxford University Press, 1999). 


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Doreen Gamboa Fernanez: teacher, writer, food anthropologist, and icon | The Doreen Gamboa Fernandez Facebook page

When we had lunch together for the last time, she had just recovered from a long hospital stay. But she couldn't resist the enticement of a foie gras treat. She told me that she had been practicing standing up and walking by herself because she was planning to attend again the Oxford Symposium on Food. And that she was thankful that some of the art collection of the renowned interior designer, the late Willie Fernandez, her husband, helped to pay for her hospital bills.


After that, she left for the United States where she had another bout of pneumonia and never recovered. Those of us who were part of organizing the food writing competition with her decided to go ahead with the contest and name it the Doreen Gamboa Fernandez Food Writing Award (the DGF Award, for short).



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At the launch of "Savor the Word,” a compilation of the first ten years of the DGF Award judges and officers, from left: Mol Fernando, Michaela Fenix, Cora Alvina, Karina Bolasco, Maya Besa Roxas, Krip Yuson, and Felice Sta. Maria | Courtesy of Michaela Fenix

Going on its 21st year, the DGF Award, in keeping with the times, has added a food video competition. She might have been happy that she was proved wrong when she wrote in Tikim that "Native food will not get written up in too many cookbooks and magazines, or featured on television.”






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For more information, check out Doreen Gamboa Fernandez Food Writing Award on Facebook.