On Why We Probably Don’t Have Legit Food Critics in the Philippines

Disclaimer: This is not a direct response to the points presented in the Esquire article “About the Lack of Legit Food Critics in the Philippines”. Rather, it is a personal opinion on the very question posed by the piece– why are there no legit Filipino food critics? 

I’d actually like to thank the author, Mr. Yulo, for bringing this up. It’s a very interesting issue that merits discussion in the wake of the rising global popularity of Philippine food. 

Before getting into a discussion about why legitimate food critics are nonexistent in the country, we should first take a step back and reflect on how we see food in the Philippine context. What part does food play in our culture? How do we talk about food, and write about food? What are the origins and influences of our food culture?

Thanks to a number of veritable researchers and historians (Doreen Fernandez, Felice Sta. Maria, Ambeth Ocampo, Dr. Fernando Zialcita, Carmen Santiago, etc– the list goes on), we actually have a very data rich chronicle of the origins of our food culture. It is because of  these individuals that we can trace the history behind meals like the noche buena and media noche, and dishes like Pochero, Pancit Malabon, and the like. It is also thanks to the works of these individuals that we gain substantial context into the role of food (and of the meal as a whole) in the past.

But what about now?

Needless to say, a lot has changed about our local food landscape. Globalization has made imported ingredients and produce closer than ever. The rise of digital media has expanded the reach of food advertising to social media sites and YouTube. The local restaurant scene is booming with both local restaurants managed by veterans and up and coming talents and foreign franchises coming to set up camp in the country. A number of our best  chefs are receiving international accolades for their success and their talent. In a nutshell, the Philippines is pretty much on the fast track to becoming a food nation, and it is something to be proud and excited about.

This is what leads us straight to the research gap… where are the studies on contemporary Filipino food culture? We may have a wellspring of information on the origins of our food, but where is the data about how present advancements have changed the way we eat, talk, write and interact with food as a whole? Where is the information on how food advertising affects Pinoy consumer choices, or how the booming restaurant scene has affected the structure of the Pinoy diet? Do Pinoys still eat at the home dining table like they used to?

There are so many unanswered questions, so many paths worth taking in the field of research that is contemporary Filipino food culture. It is about time that someone dives in considering that multiple individuals have already provided us information about our food past.Perhaps it is once we are armed with that information that we can come to understand why legitimate food critics do not exist in the country. Or, why we probably don’t even need them in the first place.

Maybe we already have legitimate food critics in our midst. We have a large number of industry personalities to recruit– there are veteran chefs, up and coming chefs, successful food business owners and the like whose experience and knowledge will suffice in providing educated critique to readers.

But is that even enough? What if these people, despite their food expertise, are unable to articulate their insights in a manner that is understandable to someone outside the food industry? Most of them will probably prefer time in their kitchen to sitting down and eating at other people’s restaurants and then going home to write about these experiences. Majority of them are too busy running their own restaurants/businesses to even have the time to spend on being a ‘critic’.

So if the experienced guys don’t have the time, what now? Who else can we ask/recruit/train to become an actual legitimate food critic?

Perhaps the researchers with an interest in contemporary food will make good critics, or maybe retired chefs/food business owners. Another possible way would be to formulate actual modules on the art of critiquing and writing about food that could come in handy to train future journalists to become future critics. But then, the job of a food critic is not for everyone– the individual must have at least a basic knowledge and genuine interest in learning about food.

Now that we’ve outlined the characteristics of an ideal critic– let the search begin.

It shouldn’t be that hard. After all, as Mr. Yulo says, we are a nation of voracious eaters. 🙂







More on “La La Land”

I loved a lot of things about “La La Land”– the acting, the music, the seamless story line. And then there were the moments that just got to me. One such instance is when Emma Stone sings the haunting “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)”.a story turned power song that soon becomes her ticket to stardom.

“Here’s to the fools who dream, foolish as it may seem” sings the track, and right they are. La La Land is a love letter to these people– dreamers, those unafraid and gutsy enough to chase the most ridiculous aspirations at the cost of a stable life.

But what about those who don’t? What about those people who accept reality and choose to give up the lightness of free spirit for the sake of stability?

What about people like me?

La La Land brought back a tumult of memories for me..most of which included moments in my life when I used to be a free-spirited, highly inspired ‘writer type’ that saw scripts and short stories as my future. That moment in particular comes almost six years ago, when I had first discovered the Beatles and found myself obsessed with the color and the chaos of 1960s culture.

Needless to say a lot has changed since then. Time, place and circumstance have brought me to a point where I am inhabiting a space that seems more stable than it was six years back. But that spark… that wellspring of inspiration and shear flight, has gone. Ideas just don’t flow like they used to, and I miss that freedom dearly.

But then, perhaps I can find that again. Perhaps La La Land has guided me to reminisce about a not-so distant past that was just incredible for me.

Could I come back? Should I?…



‘La La Lovely’: A La La Land Review

I don’t even know where to begin.

I’ve been typing in full sentences and pressing backspace more than I’d to… and hopefully, this time, I actually stay with this paragraph– I actually like it. There is just so much to say, so much to process about this film that I can’t seem to really encapsulate the experience of seeing it like I normally do.

A General Thought (Or Two) 

Let me begin with the obvious: the hype is real. Is it well-deserved? Yes. But does the hype tend to get overboard? Frankly, yes.

First of all– musicals aren’t a thing of the past. They’ve been done a zillion times before, to both amazing and devastating results. La La Land is a product of influences and inspiration from multiple iconic sources– Astaire and Rogers films, Gene Kelly, Old Hollywood. If you’re as lola (read: a big fan of vintage things)  as I am than you can spot the Easter eggs a mile away– everything from the title card to the tap dancing sequences to the ethereal waltz are odes to legends who have done them first and have done them.. better.

What sets La La Land apart is what it does to those influences. There’s no copy pasting here, no direct reference.. Chazelle takes these nuggets of inspiration and sprinkles them into a story that is incredibly real. There’s no instant success in his Hollywood– and for most of our favorite stars, that’s how it was. You can feel the disappointment of Emma Stone’s aspiring actress Mia in every montage. You can sense the shear contempt in Gosling’s eyes as he plays a raucous Jingle Bell at his day (or should we say, night) job.

And that is what makes this film so perfect and so real, and in a league of its own. It’s no flamboyant musical– it’s no film whose every notable moment is prefaced by an over the top song– it’s one part realism, one part music and one part sweet love tale, and that is just it. It takes these multiple subplots and seamlessly puts them together in one smooth, lively, seemingly happy Hollywood film.

On Plot 

I won’t say much, but enough perhaps to keep clueless readers up to speed.

Ryan Gosling aka everyone’s bae aka forever Noah from the Notebook plays struggling jazz pianist Sebastian Wilder, who works a drudge-y day job at night to earn enough money to finance his own jazz place where he can keep the classic genre alive. Emma Stone aka precious, talented, comedic girl of the world plays Mia Dolan aka the personification of every aspiring small town girl who jets off to the city of stars to become one herself. In essence, we’re looking at struggling artists (that surprisingly DO NOT starve?).

I’ve already talked about my love for the realism in this movie but on the surface the plot seems rather… narcissistic. A Hollywood film about the struggle of being in Hollywood?! Almost felt like an biopic there. Thank the skies (and the stars) for Damien Chazelle.

On Stars 

La La Land is Ryan Gosling’s McConaughey  moment.

McConaughey Moment: Works relatively long in the business, known for a number of roles– perhaps a memorable one (or two). Makes a good job choice, does well in a well-directed film (Dallas Buyers Club)– enough to garner awards, recognition and critical acclaim. Finally gets recognized.

That’s exactly what is happening to everyone’s universal babe and it’s a welcome moment, just as it was for Mr. McConaughey a few years back. Now I’m unsure which Canadian Ryan is more well-known but it sure should be Mr. Gosling, who has been in a number of pretty good movies since his breakout film opposite Rachel McAdams.

In La La Land, he ditches the raw sex appeal and smirk for a display of incredible raw talent and an inherent charm that makes him seem so endearing. It’s also nice to see that his breakdown acting (read: acting mad acting) has gone through significant improvement.

It will be interesting to see whether Gosling’s endearing performance will be enough to jet him past his drama counterpart in the  Golden Globes (Casey Affleck, who took home the award for best actor in a drama film) to Oscar gold.

And then, there’s Emma Stone.

Again, I don’t know where to begin. I’ve seen her in everything from Easy A  to Spiderman to Birdman but I don’t think I’ve ever been this enamored with her work. On paper her role seems easy– an actor playing an actor being a struggling actor. As a once struggling actress, she’s probably had a wellspring of experience to draw from right?

But, yet again, it’s what you do with what you have that really matters in this film– and Emma does that incredibly. The realism is not just a concept here but a manifested theme used to make the characters connect with the audience, and to make the audience connect with the characters. Emma here is not just a person on the screen conveying the story but  a vessel of the story’s intended emotion that just jolts you so much that you leave the theatre feeling more moved than ever before.

That is how good she was. I’m rooting for no one else come Oscar night– this girl better take home that gold!

On Music 

From traditional flamboyance to feel-good to amazing jazz, the soundtrack of this film is as smooth as its seamless plot. I’m a big fan of how it didn’t go the Broadway route by sprinkling a full blown song for each notable moment, and chose specific sequences to inject loud, lively scores that are just a joy to listen to (perfect for getting that spring in your step every Monday morning).

I won’t lie, the signature song “City of Stars” will seem like an initial snoozefest but when enjoyed post-film, it takes on a  haunting character that everyone will come to appreciate. Real-life piano man John Legend brings in a bucketful of soul with his turn on “Start a Fire”. Looking to pierce a hole in your heart and bawl for all your unfulfilled dreams? listen to Emma Stone’s tour de force track “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” and cry, cry cry.

In Totality…

A work sprinkled with odes, yet all its own.

Performances of incredible caliber, songs of diverse emotion– classic movie escapism at its finest, and, hopefully, the film that does usher in the revival of the Hollywood musical. These are trying times, my friends… and there’s nothing better than a dance in the sky and a tap tap twosome on the street to make everything fly slowly away… even just for a moment (or two).

In short: definitely worth watching.