Chef Joemark Jardin and his award-winning Ginataang Tabagwang sa Dahon ng Gabi. Photo by Playground Films courtesy of the Department of Tourism.

Chef Joemark Jardin grew up watching his mom, a cook, as she worked in the kitchen. 

“I used to tag along wherever she goes,” the 35-year-old chef recalls. “I observe her, assist her in preparing ingredients sometimes. Eventually, I learned her recipes and started doing them myself.” 

He created his first successful dish when he was 20. 

This inspired him to take up a two-year Food Technology course in Catanduanes State University. When he graduated in 2009, he still wanted to advance his knowledge on food and cooking but had to postpone his plans due to budget constraints.

A year later, he got a government scholarship, enabling him to pursue Hospitality and Restaurant Services at a private university.

Born and raised in Gigmoto, Catanduanes, Chef Joemark spent the early parts of his career at local restaurants. 

“I started as a dishwasher. Even if I was doing the dishes, my attention is always with the cooking process,” he says. “I take a mental note of the steps done and write them down after my shift.” 

Through the years, he jumped from canteens, malls, and hotels and took different jobs to get by. 

As a side gig, he builds his name as a chef in their town fiestas and birthday parties. Eventually, he was able to get a kitchen job and become a head chef. 

For 15 years, seashells like tabagwang (freshwater snails) and karakul (volute shells) that are naturally abundant from his hometown streams and rivers are the main ingredient of his dishes.

In 2019, he won first place in the Catandungan Cooking Contest in the fourth Abaca Festival. Participants were challenged to present two original recipes of tabagwang. 

Chef’s award-winning dishes

Tabagwang is a staple dish in a typical Catanduanes household. Photo by Playground Films courtesy of the Department of Tourism.

For Catanduanons, slurping the snail meat straight from its shell is the normal way of eating tabagwang. It’s also usually done with coconut milk and pako (fern leaves). 

To change things up, he took the snails out of the shell and made Ginataang Tabagwang sa Dahon ng Gabi (Freshwater Snails in Coconut Milk Wrapped in Taro Leaves). 

“Slurping shells may be inconvenient for those who are not used to it,” the chef says. “I decided to take them out already to provide a better dining experience, especially to tourists.”

The pre-work of the dish involves boiling the taken-out snail meat in garlic, ginger, and a tinge of salt. The chef says it’s important that this is done right to “remove the fishy taste of the snails.” 

Step one: Sauté the snail meat. Photo by Playground Films courtesy of the Department of Tourism.

Afterwards, it must be taken out of the boiled water and sautéed in butter, onion, and garlic. Then, it must be wrapped in taro leaves. 

Step two: Wrap the tabagwang in taro leaves. Photo by Playground Films courtesy of the Department of Tourism.

Once it’s all wrapped, the first kakang gata (coconut milk) and the pork meat should be added. 

The chef likes to cook it in low fire and use the excess leaves to cover the pan. This way, the heat will not burn the taro wrappers. 

The dish must be cooked twice in coconut milk before adding sugar, chili, and other spices. 

Step three: Cook the wrapped tabagwang in coconut milk and add pork meat. Photo by Playground Films courtesy of the Department of Tourism.

Once all these are done, the dish must be simmered for five minutes then served. 

That’s how his first signature dish is prepared. 

Step four: Let it simmer for 5 minutes. Then, serve. Photo by Playground Films courtesy of the Department of Tourism.

The second dish Chef Joemark made for the contest is called Dynamite Lumpiang Tabagwang (Deep-Fried Freshwater Snails Stuffed in Green Chili). 

The snails are prepared the same way as the first one.

Preparation for this dish is longer as it involves stuffing the snail meat in siling haba (long green chili) with cheese. Then, it must be wrapped in lumpia wrappers. 

The final step is to deep-fry it until it’s golden brown. 

Chef’s dreams 

The chef’s dream is to continue experimenting and discovering new Catandungan dishes. Photo by Playground Films courtesy of the Department of Tourism.

Chef Joemark is now working as the head chef of Hot Palace, a café and food hub in Gigmoto that also offers catering services. 

Someday, he dreams of establishing his own restaurant and curating a menu of his signature Catandungan dishes. 

“I have always loved adding twists to our food. It gives me joy to create a dish that hasn’t been done before,” he says. “My ultimate dream is to continue doing this.” 

Those who like to try his cooking may order in advance and dine in at Hot Palace. 

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