I love cheese. It’s good, it’s healthy, and you can literally do so much with it – bake with it, melt it, make dips out of it, fry it, bread it, dice it, et cetera. I love the way it feels in my mouth, and one of my absolute favorite things is when you get that sweet spot where it’s kinda-sorta-toasty-sunog, but still gooey-stretchy-stringy-melty.
Now, I’m not much of a cook. Possibly the most I have personally done with cheese in the kitchen is pitch it into the microwave, and melt up a bowl for me to eat while watching the latest episode of MythBusters. Which is why I found what Eden Cheese did last Monday, December 14, at the historic Araneta coliseum so astounding – they set a new World Record for the most number of unique dishes on display, but with one tantalizing twist: every single one of them featured cheese.
I’m told that the official Guinness mark was set in 2007 by India, a nation of over 1-billion people, at 4,668 unique dishes.
The Philippines on the other hand has a population of roughly 90-million, with 75% falling into the dirt-poor classification – which makes this particular feat so stunning.
I was personally astounded by the turnout at the event itself – seven culinary schools from all over stepped up to contribute their own recipes to the world record attempt. There was no financial reward at stake – just the opportunity to stand up and show the world what the Filipino is capable of. In fact, I’m told that MIHCA, the Magsaysay Institute for Hospitality & Culinary Arts came up with thousands in a matter of three weeks. And the dishes they came up were superb.
Forgot what this was called, but for the sake of posterity, let’s just dub it “MDJ Superporkloin a la Cheese.”
I was particularly impressed by their professionalism and technique – they weren’t just mass-producing the world-record recipes, they were doing full styling and plating for each dish they proudly set forth.
The array of dishes everyone came up with was overwhelming. Literally the entire floor and lower box area of Araneta Coliseum was covered with various cheese-themed dishes – from appetizers to salads to soups to sandwiches to entrees and even to desserts! This was probably the first time the Big Dome didn’t smell like sweaty socks for a major event.
As a nice little touch, the various schools present (Regina Carmeli, St Paul College Manila, Centro Escolar University, Emilio Aguinaldo College, La Consolacion College, and Arellano University) also came up with cheese carving centerpieces. Here are my two favorite pieces from the night.
It wasn’t immediately apparent to me whether this was Jesus Christ or Santa Claus, so let’s just say it’s a carving of Joaquin Phoenix from his iconic appearance on Letterman.
I loveloveLOVE the craftsmanship on this one, however. The detail on the ledges and facade was really pretty, but the absolutely BRILLIANT touch was the grated cheese sprinkled all over to mimic a fresh snowfall.
Even Sheryn Regis lent her hand (or more accurately, her voice!) to show her support for the Philippines’ thrust for a World Record. She performed a wonderfully moving anthem called “Sarap Ng Buhay” as her own tribute to the creativity and will to spread goodness in the world, which seems to come so naturally to the Filipino people.
She’s tiny, but man that woman has a spectacular pair of lungs!
The Nielsen Company, one of the most respected global research agencies, released their unofficial “Comelec Quick Count” at around 730 in the evening.
India had set the existing Guinness World Record with 4,668 unique dishes on display at the same time and the same place.
On December 14, 2009, the Philippines, still reeling from the various natural disasters, political turmoil, and civil unrest that had struck over the last 4 months did a tiny little bit better than that.
(Okay, that’s a LOT better than India.)
5,845 unique dishes, all of them inspired by cheese, all of them a testament to the great things that are possible with the Pinoy spirit of culinary adventure.
Needless to say, the thousands in attendance were delirious with joy as jetsparks went off and a blizzard of confetti and balloons rained down to celebrate the milestone.
Eden has this tagline that I saw in their latest TV commercials – “Kay daming nagagawa.”
Being at this event showed this to be true on two levels.
On a functional level, it proved without a doubt that cheese can literally inspire limitless possibilities when it comes to dish preparations. I grew up knowing it as palaman or a spaghetti topping or the occasional cheese omelet. But now I know it can do so much more – the 500 chefs and students sweating over their stoves and ovens and dishes and chopping boards proved that beyond a shadow of a doubt.
But on a nobler level, I thought it demonstrated the great things that Filipinos can accomplish when mobilized towards one goal in service of the country. It seemed that everyone in attendance had forgotten their school allegiances or job titles or employers – everyone was there as a Filipino citizen, bursting with pride at the opportunity to be a concrete part of world history.
Kay dami nga talagang magagawa basta sama-sama tayong lahat.
P.S. Saw some of the recipes posted at the Sarap Ng Buhay website – will definitely register and see if it’s not too late for my Gourmet Deluxe Microwaved Eden In A Bowl to be eligible for next year’s world record!
All photography by Paolo Serrano. Follow MDJ Superstar on Twitter!