Eagle Rock residents bond at adobo cooking competition

The backyard where Adobo Fest took place in Eagle Rock, Los Angeles on Friday, Nov. 9, 2018. Sam Orlin/The Occidental

Adobo Fest, a community-led event organized by Eagle Rock residents Mike Juloya and Miry Whitehill in Carmel Levitan and Josh Fisher’s house Nov. 3, gave a competitive twist to cooking adobo, according to Fisher. Adobo is a traditional Filipino dish consisting of pork or chicken marinated in a vinegar-based sauce and served over rice. Fisher said the dish can be interpreted in various ways, which makes it good for a cooking competition.

According to Whitehill, the event, which was the first of its kind in Eagle Rock, started with her Facebook post to the Eagle Rock Neighborhood Group about how her tree had abundant bay leaves. Whitehill offered the bay leaves to the members of the group and many Filipino group members took her up on the offer because bay leaves are an essential ingredient in adobo, according to Levitan, a Cognitive Science professor at Occidental. Whitehill said many of the neighbors had made her some adobo, and that made her wonder who could make the best adobo in Eagle Rock. As a result, she suggested an adobo-cooking contest in a video she posted to the Facebook group Sept. 2 and Juloya, an event producer, ran with the idea.

“This video got a lot of hits in the group. I basically called her out on it and said, ‘Miry, why don’t we make this official and turn this into a real contest?’” Juloya said. “And we did. It snowballed into Adobo Fest.”

According to Fisher, the event consisted of 40 people. Terrence Slaneg attended the event and sold taro, jackfruit and durian gelato through her business, Jasmine Creamery. Slaneg, an Altadena, CA native, said the event was community-oriented and welcoming. Although Slaneg knew only one other person at the event, she said there was a very homey atmosphere to it. The host, Fisher, described how the event was a bonding exercise for the community members in the Facebook group.

“You could feel the community-building in person because there are so many fights on Facebook,” Fisher said. “But now we’re here to argue over food — a better argument. It brought people together.”

Whitehill said the event was mainly centered on the competition. The contestants were Florante Manglicmot; Pauline Mauro and her mother, Julie Hernandez; Liza Posas; Christopher-Rey Yraola and his father; and Loire Mndza, according to Juloya. Levitan said there were many varieties of dishes. According to the Facebook group, Posas created a chicken-wing-and-bacon adobo and vegan adobo, the Yraola family made a chicken and pork adobo, Hernandez created a chicken adobo and coconut-and-pork adobo, Mndza created pork adobo and Manglicmot created a duck sous vide adobo. There were various award categories that each dish could win, such as “Most Innovative” and “Most Authentic,” according to Fisher. The dish that won the competition was the duck sous vide adobo, according to Levitan. Among the four judges, which included Fisher and Whitehill, only one was Filipino, according to Fisher.

Professor Carmel Levitan, who hosted Adobo Fest at her home, discusses the cooking competition at Occidental College in Los Angeles on Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2018. Sam Orlin/The Occidental

“Mike’s wife was the only Filipino on the judges’ panel. So Miry’s white, I’m half white and half Chinese and the other woman is Armenian,” Fisher said. “So it kinda made us — me and Miry — uncomfortable, because we’re super liberal about judging someone’s culture when you’re not part of it. But the one Filipino woman liked the duck more and we’re like ‘Okay, you get more weight than us.’ So the duck won, but I made a speech about it saying that it was high-end cooking and usually we don’t think of chicken adobo as high-end dining.”

According to the hosts, Fisher and Levitan, the event had a diverse group of attendees. Fisher said there were people there of all races, genders and political beliefs. Juloya also described how the audience was diverse. As a Filipino, Juloya said the event showcased the culture.

“The Filipinos loved it. As a culture, we don’t really get a lot of attention in terms of our food,” Juyola said. “As a culture, we are not really outspoken. So the Filipino community loved it.”

Juloya said that the Adobo Fest attendees are working on organizing similar events around tamales or kimchi to continue showcasing diverse cuisines in the community.