Cooking shows in lifestyle channels, celebrity chefs, fancy restaurants. All these make the culinary industry a very glamorous option for those looking for a course to take after high school, or career opportunities after graduating. Other aspiring chefs simply want to find fulfillment in seeing customers’ faces light up when their favorite dishes are served. Whatever the motivations are, the recipe to being a successful chef remains the same.
“Those who have a hunger to be masters of the kitchen should know that while it is highly rewarding, it is not an easy journey,” said Chef Rob Pengson, part-owner of Global Culinary and Hospitality Academy. Global Academy is the first culinary school to be certified by the World Association of Chefs Societies (WACS) and is the only such school to be run and operated by chefs. “It requires resiliency, the drive for excellence, and a focus on long-term goals because the road to a culinary career can be very challenging. At Global Academy, we call this the #GlobalGrit,” added Chef Rob.
For aspiring chefs, Global Academy’s award-winning chefs dish their thoughts on what it takes to succeed in the culinary industry.
1. Bags of passion. It sets things in motion. “There will come a time, many times, when you might ask yourself, ‘What am I doing in this profession?’ If you don’t genuinely love what you are doing, it’s easy to lose sight of the goal and just give up,” says Chef Mike Yap, Culinary Program Director. For Chef Brando Santos, Instructor, passion was his motivation to always be present in his shift despite the lack of rest, and to strive for excellence even in the most mundane tasks.
2. Kilos of perseverance. All chefs concur that their job is a tough one, demanding long hours and consistent discipline. For a female chef such as Chef Jasmin Magallanes, Program Head for Baking and Pastry Arts, the male-dominated culinary industry poses more challenges for women. “I always had to prove to all the foreign male chefs whom I was working with that I could do the job. I knew I eventually earned their respect when they started calling me ‘Chef,’” she recounts. Perseverance also means striving to be mentored by a chef you admire, Chef Brando says.
It is ideal to find a chef/restaurant owner who is just as well-versed in the creation of menu items as in business operations. Culinary competitions are also a great training ground. Not only do these make you more holistic; they also open opportunities that may be even more enjoyable for you.
Chef Benjamin Ledesma, part-owner of Global Academy, says this is the reason why they strive to field chef-student teams to major culinary competitions, despite the high cost and the relatively low tuition at Global Academy. “Competitions are a great way for students to gauge if they can take the heat. And winning also boosts their confidence.” Last year, Global Academy became the first-ever Philippine Culinary Cup back-to-back champion, after besting contingents from hotels and other schools.
3. A dash of reliability coupled with attention to detail. The kitchen is run by a multiple set of hands that work as one. Every role is important, from dishwasher to executive chef. At the very least, reliability means showing up on time. Being conscientious as a habit is a major ingredient. “Every knife cut, sliced to precision. Every piece of meat and fish, fabricated and weighed to exact measure. Every steak cooked to the guest’s desired temperature. Every dish properly seasoned. Every garnish placed at the same position with flair. All of these tasks, done with care and pride,” says Chef Brando. More than these, Chef Mike advises taking the initiative to make yourself useful in the kitchen after having completed your mise en place. Not only do you add value, but you also get to sharpen your skills.
4.Spoonfuls of creativity. “Learn the basics and practice. Do not be afraid to experiment and be creative,” says pastry chef instructor Chef Angela Ventura. In a dynamic environment, creativity is not only inevitable but is an edge that keeps the industry alive and exciting. “You have to keep an open mind for these changes: new techniques to learn, new styles, different concepts to try. You can’t settle simply for what you learned in school or from other chefs or what you know and have been doing already,” Chef Jasmin says.
5. Cups of integrity and humility. With integrity comes respect—not only for staff and customers but for the profession itself and the techniques and ingredients that have come a long way into making culinary arts an esteemed industry. Chef Jasmin also emphasizes the importance of being humble. “Just because you did a great dish that got many compliments doesn’t mean you are a master chef already. You’re only as good as your last dish. Have a goal to keep you focused and always take steps towards that goal, but don’t forget where you started and who helped you get to where you are now,” she says. Do more and pass on your knowledge to new chefs. Who knows, you may already be starting a legacy.
6.Grit–lots of it. It’s the ingredient that binds everything else, sending aspiring chefs above par. From culinary school to the real world, a chef’s journey is always intense. Nonetheless, “resist the urge to take shortcuts,” Chef Mike says. It’s grit that will see you through your progress and goals. “The only way that you will learn is to stay and experience everything. Don’t be quick to jump ship if you’ve taken bad reviews from your chef or peers,” adds Makati Head Chef Gerd Gendrano, instructor. The training may be strict and challenging, but this is only so you can graduate with a tenacity that marks a truly excellent chef.
So, are you ready to take the heat?