Manila, PhilippinesâPrisoners of the maximum security compound of the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) clashed with knives, pots, and pans on Saturday, June 30, its notorious gangs engaging in an epic battle royale for the title of ‘Iron Bar Chef’.
It was the grand finals of the latest recreational activity inside the largest prison in the country, a program inspired by the reality cooking franchise, Iron Chef.
Gang members of Sputnik, Commando, Bicol Region Masbate, Batang City Jail, Batang Cebu, and Genuine Ilocano Group formed six teams to compete against each other in a throwdown unlike anything seen in the country, if not the world.
The six groups were named Team Yumyum, Team Planet, Team Sarap, Team Lolong Pogi, Team Namit, and Team Uban, which eventually won the competition.
The teams were given a set of ingredients inside a âmagic bayong (native bag)â to create dishes within 60 minutes. The dishes were then judged according to taste, creativity in presentation, and nutritional value.
Despite the limited ingredients, participants showcased their resourcefulness and improvisational skills.
One of the judges of the event, Chef Gene Del Prado, an executive sous chef of Makati Shangri-la Hotel, expressed his excitement in participating in the event and said that it was his first time to visit NBP.
Chef Del Prado said he was willing to give opportunities to the winners. “Why not? Kung talagang deserving sila, tingnan natin ang potential nila. Makikita naman natin sa competition yun,” he said in an interview before the grand finals took place.Â (âWhy not? If they are really deserving then letâs see their potential. You can see that during the competition.â)
Brotherhood and breaking stereotypes
Besides promoting camaraderie, Iron Bar Chef also sought to break misconceptions and stereotypes about inmates. During the event, inmates showcased and shared their talents with their community. Other “residents” of the NBP provided entertainment numbers while the cooking showdowns were being held.
Two bands played alternative rock and classical music.
The strong sense of community was obvious. According to Jaybee Sebastian, a fellow inmate and the designated Overall Inmate Coordinator: “Members sila ng different gangs pero di mo maramdaman na meron silang kanya-kanyang kulay,” he said.(âThey are members of different gangs but you would not sense it.â)
Sebastian added that Iron Bar Chef aims to open opportunities for inmates with inclinations in cooking.Â ”Kahit di pa natin hintayin yung paglaya nila, pwede sila magtinda-tinda diyan, mag-carinderia o tumanggap ng orders. Pero ang main objective ay maipakita sa malayang lipunan na ang mga tao dito ay di halang ang kaluluwa, na mayroon kaming soft side.âÂ (“Even though they are not yet free, they can sell or put up an eatery or accept food orders. But our main objective is to let the public see that we have a soft side, too.”)
The Iron Bar Chef is just one and part of the overall rehabilitation programs of the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor), which all seek to uplift the lives of prisoners by cultivating their talents and equipping them for when they return to society. The rehabilitation programs of BuCor focuses on boosting the attitude, values, as well as the spirituality of the inmates.
Maricar Villar, BuCor’s Senior Communications Officer, said the different programs provide opportunities to transform inmates into valued and useful citizens. Villar says such programs have had exceptional impact on the morale of prisoners.
‘Yung morale nila umaakyat. We can feel the difference,” she said.Â (âWeâve seen the boost in their morale. We can feel the difference.â)