He remembered InterContinental Manila’s pool as his playground as a child, when his mother was still a hotel employee. As a young child, he reveled at his first culinary creation: spaghetti with meatballs. These memories he cherished when he enlisted into the U.S. Navy as a culinary specialist, then at Camp David (known as the US President’s country residence), and eventually the White House (WH) during the Clinton days. He now owns a catering service, is the author of “101 Things I Learned in Culinary School”, and an instructor at Los Angeles Mission College, Sylmar, California. Here is an excerpt of HNM’s one-on-one with Louis Eguaras after his master class demo at the CCA Manila:
HNM: What training did the U.S. Navy provide that no other institutions can offer?
LE: In the navy, we trained regularly. We had a basic boot camp. Training in a lot of culinary schools is very fine dining, but ours was very much batch cookery. Then I went into advanced cooking, which eventually involved fine dining. They taught us how to talk to a president, to an admiral, to make sure that we are all professional. We were taught for banquets, cake decorating, ice carving, etc. That’s my preparation for the WH.
HNM: Describe the everyday scene in the WH.
LE: We started our day at five in the morning. I worked in the WH staff mesh. It has three dining rooms – a 12-seater, 40-seater, and 30-seater – at the basement of the west wing. We ended our day at 3:30. In the evening I didn’t go home immediately. I went usually to the main residence, volunteer, and work there.
At the WH, you have to watch everything you do and say. You have to be professional at all times. You can’t talk to guests the way you talk to other people. You never know who they are.
HNM: Didn’t you feel too restricted and limited with the workplace?
LE: In a sense it was. We were in the kitchen anyway. If the press came to talk to us, we didn’t talk to them or else you get in trouble. But because of that fact, we knew that every day that if we do something wrong we know we’re going to be kicked out.
HNM: Were there second chances?
HNM: How did you deal with the pressure?
LE: You just have to do the right thing all the time. If a guest yells at you, you just take it and apologize. But you always be humble. You never know who this person is. The next thing you know, you may be fired. It taught me to control myself and be professional and not take them personally. These are people who are dealing with issues world matter. If you under their pressure, they don’t need to take any bad mouth from this cook or chef at the WH. That’s not our job. Our job is to feed you. If you don’t like it, I can do something else.
HNM: What are some security protocols for the president’s food? Is it true that you have to taste first the food before the he eats it?
LE: In the West Wing, because we already have security clearance, nobody had to do that. Outside of WH, that’s where the measures take place. If somebody pours water for the president in the podium and I don’t know who that person is, I will take that water, move it, and pour my own glass for him. That could be tampered. The same with dinners. When the president sits down and someone else puts the plate, I would take that. He already knows. In fact the president is trained for that. When we’re working in the kitchen in foreign countries, we would watch the chef cook and figure out what they are doing. We have to secure the kitchen. When the non-WH chefs start cooking we would ask to leave some at the side to plate our own. Then I would go ahead and switch it. WH spends a lot of money for security clearances.
HNM: What is your next culinary adventure?
LE: I’m in the Philippines with my first international book tour. I’d like to continue teaching and get into different books now like Filipinos in the WH.
HNM: When is that going to hit the shelves?
LE: I don’t know yet. I’m gathering a lot of information first. Filipino’s history in the WH is as early as 50-60 years ago. Maski namatay na sila, I want to acknowledge them. There are a lot of them in their 70’s. Here they are and nobody knows about them. I want to make sure that the Filipino-Americans know about them.