A Culinary Canvas: My Evening at the TasteSetters Victors Awards

A few years back, when I handled several events for brands like Clara Olé and Tabasco both of which were products of Sysu International, my dad told me that he also knew a lot about the company since we were one of their biggest bottle dealers.

We had a recycling center (called junk shops back then), and Sysu was one of our biggest clients.

Little did I know, that those experiences would open up a world where I would discover how food can transcend from more than just mere sustenance to an art form celebrated by connoisseurs and casual diners alike.

Working with Sysu International, introduced me to a world where food did more than just satisfy hunger—it told stories, evoked emotions, and brought people together.

And last week, I realized why Sysu International became one of the leading forces in the Philippine food industry with such and extensive portfolio of premium food products that included premium brands such as Lee Kum Kee, McCormick , San Remo Pasta, Tabasco, Treetop, JIF Peanut Butter, Suchero just to name a few.

These brands, and the events surrounding them, educated Filipinos on the depth of the culinary arts eventually paving the way for the Tastesetters Victors Awards 2023– a night where the fusion of art and gastronomy took center stage.

Upon arriving at the Yuchengco Museum in Makati City, the setting immediately resonated with the evening’s main theme of “Gastronomic Artistry.” They partnered with local artists Mario “Ram” Mallari Jr., Nina Bantoto, and Bimbo Yance, bassist of The Dawn, who generously exhibited their skill and expertise that commemorate the creativity that food and art share.

The first taste of the night’s innovative spirit came in the form of unique ice creams from Manong Sorbetero—with such quirky flavors like Adobo Caramel Sorbetes topped with pork floss, and Kare Kare Sorbetes enhanced with Tulip Dark Chocolate Paste and Jif Crunchy Peanut Butter, and Skrambol Ice cream. These were not just desserts; they were conversation starters, challenging our perceptions of traditional Filipino flavors.

The creativity further escalated with appetizers that were as visually appealing as they were delicious. Palabok in Pani Puri, featuring San Remo Angel Hair Pasta with a Clara Olé Cream-based Pasta Sauce Crab Flavor, and Kinilaw na Hamachi at Scallops dressed in TABASCO Sriracha sauce offered a fresh take on Filipino classics.

My favorite was the savory US Beef Belly Kansi that rounded out the prelude to the evening’s main culinary attractions.


At the main hall, the event started with Tastesetters displaying their expertise by speaking on the food and beverage innovations that they spotted. In the past years, they identified emerging trends that eventually made it big in the scene–like the dominance of matcha, return of black-colored dishes, craze for Korean cakes, and more. This year, they presented various upcoming innovations that they think will excite and inspire chefs and diners alike.

Gastronomic Artistry, the theme of the event, interprets the plate as a blank canvas that encourages chefs to create illusions, illustrations, and even sculptures that turn dishes into awe-inspiring masterpieces.

The second looks back on how Korean culture has increasingly influenced local industries, notably through its cuisine. Samgyeopsal and bingsu have become favorites, while ramyeon and kimchi are now pantry staples for Filipinos. The Next K-Wave invites culinary experts to discover the new ingredient, flavor, or dish that will be the next big sensation in the country.

Tropical ingredients like coconut, mango, calamansi, and watermelon get the spotlight it deserves on the third trend. This invites industry leaders to get a Taste of the Tropics by incorporating these island elements into dishes in unexpected ways.

Complex heat in food has slowly emerged through the years. From just challenging others with increasing intensity, this fourth trend creates a wider spectrum of spicy flavors up and down the spicy scale. Turn the Heat Up by being more clever in adding that more intentional kick of spice to food and drink.

Health on a Plate. rides on people’s shifting behaviors to, now, being more mindful about what they eat and put into their bodies. By swapping certain ingredients to go for more wholesome alternatives or indicating the calorie count of each item on the menu, restaurant owners can create healthy and refreshing plates that revitalize from the inside.

Getting in on the Saucy Secrets may be easier said than done. With this sixth trend, popular dishes, like sisig, are remade into intriguing condiments. Its iconic flavors are taken from the sizzling plate and put into bottles that can be used as a surprising addition to other dishes.

Lastly, Gourmet for All democratizes certain elements of upscale dining to create food that’s within the reach of a wider market. Fine ingredients like truffle and caviar are put into more accessible food like chips, instant noodles, fries, and more.


After all the forecasted food trends were presented, the evening transitioned into the awaited degustation dinner. Created by Tastesetters’ very own Chef Sonny Mariano and Chef Wado Siman, the menu celebrated iconic Filipino cuisine. The chefs pushed the envelope further by adding surprising twists and flavors with SYSU products that updated these beloved dishes.

The dinner began with an elegant Benguet Corn Chawan Mushi and a Reconstructed Tokwa’t Baboy with TABASCO Chipotle, showcasing the chefs’ prowess in transforming simple ingredients into complex, memorable dishes. The meal continued with a communal, salu-salo style dining experience that paid homage to the Filipino tradition of sharing meals.

Each dish served was a testament to the innovative spirit of Tastesetters. We were then served The Balamban Lechon Baboy, seasoned with Old Bay Seasoning and served with a Clara Olé Pineapple Jam sauce, redefined a beloved local delicacy.

The Adobong Pusit Adlai was prepared with Clara Olé Pasta Negra Sauce, and Kare Kareng Gulay made with Jif Peanut Butter and complemented by a vegan bagoong, were bold reinterpretations of classic Filipino flavors, each adding a unique twist to the culinary narrative.

The climax of the meal was a visually stunning dessert course featuring Cassube Flan made with McCormick Ube Flavor and Cashew Mazapan crafted with Embassy Chocolate’s Zen 33% White Couverture along with McCormick’s Vanilla and Ube Flavors. But the most delightful surprise? Edible menus, which was a clever way to “digest” everything we discovered.

The culinary journey of the evening was not just about enjoying good food; it was an immersive experience that blended the boundaries between traditional culinary techniques and modern gastronomic innovations.

As each course unfolded, it became evident that Tastesetters was setting the stage for a new era in the food and beverage industry, one where creativity and tradition coalesce to form a new culinary language.


As the flavors of the evening settled and the plates were cleared, the focus shifted from the culinary masterpieces to the artists behind them—the chefs and innovators who were about to be recognized for their contributions to the industry. The Tastesetters Victors Night wasn’t just about savoring dishes but also celebrating the minds that continue to push the boundaries of what food can represent.

The awards segment of the evening was charged with applause and excitement, as each category was announced. This part of the night celebrated not just creativity and skill, but also the strategic insight and operational excellence that sustain the culinary industry.

Rookie-Up and Coming: The first award of the night celebrated newcomers who had made significant impacts quickly. Mrs. G Cakeshop Corporation took home this prestigious award, signaling their promising future and the innovative spirit they brought to the table.

Operations Efficiency: Recognizing those who streamline processes to enhance dining experiences, Binondo Foods Corporation was awarded for their exceptional management of workflows and customer service, setting a high standard for operational excellence in the industry.

Marketing & Promotions: In a category that celebrated visibility and consumer engagement, Frankie’s New York Buffalo Wings emerged as the victor. Their dynamic marketing strategies had not only captured the attention of diners but also set trends that resonated across the food and beverage landscape.

Menu/Product Development: This award highlighted the core of Tastesetters—innovation in culinary offerings. Philippine Seven Corporation received the award, recognized for their creative menu options that consistently delighted customers, keeping them coming back for more.

Collaborator of the Year: This accolade was bestowed upon Authenquick Foods Corporation, which had excelled in fostering productive partnerships and maintaining excellent supplier relationships, crucial for sustained innovation and growth.

As the evening drew to a close with a toast led by Miss Sandy Cu, the Product and Business Development Head of SYSU International, the collective spirit of innovation was palpable. Tastesetters had not only showcased trends but had also set the stage for future developments in the culinary world. This event was a reminder of the vibrant community that food can create, bringing together diverse talents to share, innovate, and inspire.

Looking back on the night, the impact of Tastesetters extended beyond the walls of the Yuchengco Museum. It was a testament to the ongoing evolution of the food and beverage industry, where old traditions meet new ideas to create something truly exceptional. The event was not just a celebration but a call to all food enthusiasts and professionals to think differently about what we eat and how we experience food.

As someone who has been around the culinary block, from attending and organizing food events to dining at a gathering of top-tier culinary innovators, Tastesetters Victors Night was a truly memorable event for me. It reinforced my belief that in the world of food, there is always something new to discover, and Tastesetters just made me hungry even more.

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