1st female White House executive chef comes home to UP
MANILA, Philippines - She tries to come back home to the Philippines every year but it's the first time she returned to her alma mater after 30 fruitful years.
Cristeta Pasia-Comerford was one of the recipients of the University of the Philippines Alumni Association's (UPAA) Presidential Award for 2013. It's an award she earned by etching an indelible mark in the culinary history of the US as the first female and first Asian Executive Chef of the White House.
Comerford, along with incoming Sorsogon Rep Evelina Escudero and doctor Fernando Sancez, received the UPAA Presidential Award during the general alumni homecoming at the UP Theater on Saturday, June 22. In a hall filled with some of country's best, Comerford received the loudest applause of all.
It's definitely a great homecoming, according to Comerford. It was the first time she set foot on UP after leaving for the United States in 1983.
"First of all, it's very humbling and this is surely a great homecoming for me because I've been out of UP since 1983 and coming back years later and getting an award, it's such a big thing," she said.
Just two years into her BS Food Technology course in UP-Diliman in 1983, Comerford left the Philippines to migrate to the US.
She then went on to head various fine-dining restaurants until she became the sous chef of the White House in 1997. In 2005, under the Bush administration, she was appointed executive chef of the White House when the position was left vacant.
Unlike most female Iskolar ng Bayan at UP's general alumni homecoming who opted for the classic baro't saya, Comerford was clad in a formal dress that resembled an oversized Barong Tagalog.
At the pre-program event at the Bahay ng Alumni before the awarding ceremonies, Comerford chose to catch up with her classmates and professors first before granting a short media interview.
While chatting with friends and teachers she has not seen in 30 years, she partook of the lumpiang sariwa, chicken, and rice from the dinner buffet.
As one of the most prominent Filipino-American chefs in the world, how has she helped promote Filipino cuisine worldwide?
Comerford said part of the culinary discipline of being a White House chef is to celebrate the guest coming over to visit, and not just promote your own roots. But she added, she also can't help injecting Filipino flavor in her dishes.
"For every chef, no matter who you are, no matter where you are, whatever is your native cuisine, it's always going to be a part of you," she said.
"Even now I'm cooking American dishes and providing American hospitality, it's instilled in me. I'm still a Filipino. I'm a Filipino-American."