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7 Chefs And An Enchanted Feast In The Heart Of A Forest

How a fleeting meal in a nostalgic home in Pampanga became the most magical chef collab ever!

“One point I want to make is that these new takes on Filipino food are creative re-imaginations, not an ‘elevation’. As if Pinoy cuisine needs elevating!” quips Balé Pampanga owner William Panlilio.


Balé Pampanga is deep inside a lush mahogany tree forest in Santa Rita, Pampanga. It’s where Panlilio grew up. Now, guests can reserve a seat and order food that is “unapologetically Kapampangan” - their sisig is authentic sans egg and mayo, pork bulanglang is sour with the distinct guava flavor, and they serve grilled vegetables and fried tilapia alongside buro (a funky, fermented rice dish).





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A magical feast in the heart of a Pampanga forest | Jar Concengco

Not too long ago, Balé Pampanga along with chef Angelo Comsti invited six other chefs to interpret classic Kapampangan dishes. Comsti got the idea after celebrating his birthday at Balé earlier this year. “I had a birthday party here and I invited all chefs - friends of the industry. They were hovering around the kitchen and I thought, why not have these chefs cook this way - very traditional food and serve their own versions of Kapampangan food. The environment is so beautiful.”


Dubbed as Manyaman—the Kapampangan word for delicious—the event saw a long table under the trees. The rustic kitchen had stoves made of concrete with its fire sustained with foraged wood. The chefs stood behind their stalls in the middle of the forest around a white marble table ready to serve the guests their chosen Kapampangan dishes.





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Manyaman, a fairy tale escape | Jar Concengco

Angelo Comsti, chef and author, served suam na mais like an egg drop soup with grilled corn, smoked pork, chicharon and topped with herbed croutons, crispy bacon and chili crisp.


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Angelo Comsti cooking suam na mais | Jar Concengco

Head chef at Your Local, Patrick Go, made a version of Pindang. “Pindang is a kapampangan fermented meat usually made out of carabao and pork. The meat is traditionally cured and fermented for a few days to achieve its naturally sweet and sour flavor,” Go explains. “For us, we did a version of it using beef and made it into a soft taco with hand made corn masa tortilla from our good friends from Los Tacos Manila.” Adding a radish gremolata, pickled onion and assorted herbs and flowers to the taco made it an exciting and balanced bite.


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Pat Go and his version of pindang | Jar Concengco

Rhea Rizzo of Silang, Cavite-based restaurant Mrs. Saldo’s infused Thai influences in Pampanga’s version of the binagoongan—Begucan Babi. Rizzo twice cooked the pork belly—boiling it first with aromatics and spices for two hours and then deep fried. “It’s then tossed in a fermented shrimp paste, tomato, garlic, and crab fat sauce. It’s served with two kinds of Thai relish - salted egg and grilled eggplant relish and then the Thai chili relish. Finally, it comes with atsuete rice with toasted peanuts.”


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Rhea Rizzo constructs her binagoongan | Jar Concengco

Linamnam’s chef Don Baldosano took a traditional Kapampangan dish served often during fiestas and special occasions: the sipo egg. “In my version, I wanted to make it as delicate as possible. So we lightly cooked the shrimp, added quail eggs cooked in shrimp fat. Then we covered it with a sauce of cream, potato, carrots and smoked peas. It has all the ingredients of a traditional sipo egg, but prepared in a way that respects all the ingredients.” He also tops the dish with a vibrant magenta bougainvillea powder.


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Don Baldosano's interpretation of the sipo egg | Jar Concengco

Chef Tina Legarda of Bamba Bistro served her version of bringhe inside a crab shell making for a striking presentation. She cooked rice in a rich broth of crab, pork, coconut and atsuete. A generous amount of crabmeat, mustasa and chicharon top the rice with a salted egg and pineapple sauce. With her version, she opted to not use the traditional sticky rice. “Using malagkit makes the dish a lot heavier which I personally think wouldn’t match on a hot day in the forest. Then knowing guests will be eating other ‘rich’ dishes, I tried my best to keep it ‘lighter’,” Legarda says.


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Tina Legarda cooking her bringhe | Jar Concengco
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The bringhe served inside a crab shell | Jar Concengco

Actor, chef and entrepreneur Marvin Agustin says he traces his family’s roots in Pampanga. For this event, he chose to make asadong matua. “The name translates to ‘old-fashioned stew’ typically made with pork and simmered in a flavorful sauce, calamansi, garlic, onion, and bay leaves.” Agustin thinly sliced flavorful and smoky pieces of pork and topped it with a sauce made rich with spices and chicken liver. He served this together with pickled red cabbage, crushed chicharron for crunch and his homemade chili garlic sauce for those who want a bit more of a kick. He also was able to pick up pan de sal from a local bakery that you can use to either make a sandwich with the slices of pork or to mop the sauce with.


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Marvin Agustin and his version of asadong matua | Jar Concengco

For dessert, Frankie Peralta of Caking Giant prepared a version of tibok tibok. Tibok tibok is a pudding made usually with carabao’s milk and topped with latik. Peralta served his on top of an otap (a crunchy, puff pastry cookie) and sprinkled it with a crunchy variation of latik using toasted coconut and cashews. He also had a selection of ice candy representing the layers of sapin sapin - ube, langka and pinipig macapuno.


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Frankie Peralta's tibok-tibok | Jar Concengco
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Imagine all this culinary brilliance unfolding in this rustic forest setting | Jar Concengco

In the afternoon, a DJ starts playing music where guests can while away the entire day enjoying the food, wine and company as the sun set. “It’s just so magical here. It’s such an escape from the city and it’s like you don’t want to leave. We usually end the day with a sunset session. It’s so relaxing,” Comsti says.


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The DJ sips a cocktail | Jar Concengco
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Expect more chef collaborations at Balé Pampanga | Jar Concengco
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Photography by Jar Concengco