There are many paths into a chef’s life, if you decide to join the industry. It can be serendipitous, a U-turn of sorts.
Timothy Ong, Emmanuel Stroobant’s engaging assistant at Stroobant’s demo at Chefs on Parade 2013, admitted that he had been lured into cooking by pure passion, cooking at home “12 hours a day”, and simply worked up the guts to write Stroobant, asking for a stage at one of his restaurants.
“I wanted to learn how to make a sauce or pan fry foie gras…I’d go home and try to make a stock or a sauce,” Ong recalls.
And Ong is young: 24. He only started cooking professionally two years ago. Before that, he earned a business degree in Australia.
It is in fact typical of this industry to make a career turnaround, since the “boost” the industry has received is fairly recent. Lou Molina, marketing consultant at Enderun Colleges, confirms that a lot of students who are enrolled are working on their second degree. And it is possible to catch up, and find yourself working in an international kitchen in just a few years.
Jerome Lacressonniere, chef formateur who visits the Alain Ducasse Foundation (ADF) Institute at Enderun Colleges, notes that even restaurants in France, where some Enderun students earn the right to do a practicum, are impressed with the quality of training they received in the Philippines.
Michael Oberle, formerly assistant director for culinary arts at ISCAHM Manila, and now culinary training director at ICHEF Davao since 2009, agrees. He said Philippine-trained chefs are talented and can find work anywhere in the world, but a more traditional path might require culinary graduates to do at least two years here before attempting to work abroad—whether it’s in Asia, the Middle East, or the U.S.
There is an ultimate advantage to starting early, something which is more likely to kick in a few years down the line, and the career path becomes more straightforward. “Know what you want when you’re young, then go down that path,” he advised.
In Europe, where one’s direction toward vocational training can be determined as early as high school, this is less difficult. Starting young and finding an area to focus on is an advantage in an industry that operates long hours and requires almost superhuman physical and mental stamina.
Patience is needed, too, to pass through the necessary stages. “I’ve seen my students acquire the basic skills in just a month…they’re able to produce an appetizer, main course, and dessert in six months,” said Oberle.
“In my opinion, however, a true chef can take up to ten years to master some of the most difficult cooking methods, like shallow poaching, or poaching in floating liquid,” he pointed out.
No culinary student, the chefs interviewed by HNM warned, will ever turn chef overnight. “You cannot buy the title,” says , executive chef at Vatel Restaurant at the De La Salle College of St. Benilde, where he is also lecturer. The industry requires years of practical experience, and it is hard to skip what it takes to become a corporate chef or executive chef.
“Cook with passion, and most of all, cook with integrity—no shortcuts,” said Stroobant during his demo sessions, as he did some of the tasks of prepping himself—chopping mushrooms, breaking down a chicken, deglazing the pan after searing.
After all, there are no shortcuts to the top.