We interviewed one of the most influential person in the Culinary Industry, a humble yet so skilled chef, he is our featured chef for this week, he is CHEF RJ ABOCADO.
1. WHAT ORIGINALLY MADE YOU INTERESTED IN COOKING/CULINARY SCENE? TELL US HOW YOU STARTED AND HOW DID IT LEAD YOU TO WHERE YOU ARE TODAY?
- It all started when I was a child, I really loved food. I love the dishes made by my family – Grandma’s ham, embutido , binubudan and adobo; Grandpa’s Chop Suey; Mama’s desserts; Papa’s pinapaitan; Mommy’s Ilocano dishes and Daddy’s siopao and Bicolano dishes. Then I realized almost everyone in the family was good at cooking. I got really curious on how they do it. Because of my curiosity, I tried to reheat my grandma’s pork steak. It was the first time I held a wok with fire on. It felt really magical and fun! From that moment on, I decided I want to be a chef. So I started watching cooking shows, reading cook books, making my own recipes and trying new stuff. I discovered that the possibilities in cooking were endless!
My family couldn’t afford to send me to a Culinary School so I took up Hotel and Restaurant Management at Saint Louis University. After graduating, I landed a job in Singapore as a Kitchen Helper. Chopping onions and garlic, mixing tandoori and helping in the Pastry Section were some of my tasks.
In 2012, I acquired a job in an American Restaurant in Dubai called Red Lobster. We served live lobsters, lobster tails, surf and turf, salad, steaks, pizzas and desserts. I was first assigned at the Pantry and Salad Station. Then I was appointed as a Trainer and became part of the opening team for their Abu Dhabi branch at Al Wahda Mall. After a year, I got an offer from Il Café di Roma, an Italian cafe, as a Chef Di Partie. Il Café di Roma serves different types of coffee, pastries, cakes, pastas, salads, steaks, and sandwiches. In 2018, I was hired as the Head Chef at Magsaysay Institute of Shipping, a training ground for the Magsaysay Shipping cadets and employees. Part of my job was menu planning, ordering, CAPEX and OPEX annual planning and a lot more. In 2019, I became a Culinary Instructor at the Technological University of the Philippines but I had to discontinue due to the Co-Vid 19 pandemic. At present, I’m a Freelance Chef. I accept catering for events such as anniversaries, birthdays, weddings etc. I do menu and restaurant consultations. I am also in the process of putting up my own Online Food Business.
2. HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE WORKING AS A CHEF? WHAT DO YOU LIKE ABOUT IT, AND IS THERE ANYTHING YOU WOULD CHANGE?
- Working as a Chef is like a dream come true. It is a tough job though and can be quite messy. You may get cuts and burns and can be bloody sometimes. You will experience a lot of stress, pressure, yelling and cursing, working on holidays, extended hours of work and very few rest days or even miss family gatherings. Receiving praises and compliments from guests is the best reward you can get. Everyday is a different scenario but is also a chance to improve yourself and learn new things. Cooking is a never ending learning process. There is always room for growth and improvement and I wouldn’t change anything. I like it as it is.
3. HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR STYLE OR APPROACH WHEN IT COMES TO CREATING NEW DISHES?
- My style in cooking is learning the traditional way of preparing a dish first. This also serves as my respect to the original recipe and the creator. Then I would apply a modern approach on the final touch of the dish so this generation will love and embrace it. I like to elevate dishes, combine different types of cuisines and do fusions. I like to be creative on my plating styles and presentations. I want my dishes to stand out. In cooking, you just have to learn the basic techniques, apply it to the ingredients you have available, be creative with it and you will surely come up with a delicious meal!
- Creating new dishes is fun and exciting especially if you have a complete set of ingredients and cooking tools. But recently it became quite challenging because resources became limited due to the pandemic and calamities that hit the country. Fortunately, people have been innovative and came up with different online platforms to help make things easier and more reachable without going out of the house. You can now place online orders for meat, vegetables, condiments, herbs, and other food products and they will deliver it right at your doorstep. There are also riders who can do the shopping for you.
4. IN THE MIDST OF THIS PANDEMIC, HOW DO YOU HANDLE AND GENERATE INCOME IN YOUR BUSINESS? STRATEGIES?
- During the pandemic I only cater to small groups. My products are not yet commercialized. My customers can order whatever dish I prepare for the day or they may also send me their personal requests and I will cook it for them. I personally deliver my products by riding my mountain bike. Sometimes I use platforms like Grab or LaLa Move. All payments are made online through bank transfer or Gcash which is more efficient. It may be a small business for now, but I am still able to generate income and sustain my needs.
5. WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO PEOPLE WHO ARE JUST STARTING OUT AS A COOK OR HAVING A FOOD BUSINESS?
- Being a chef and working in the food industry is not easy. It is hardwork and dedication with a lot of sacrifice. Most of the great chefs I know started as a dishwasher or a kitchen helper and worked their asses off to be able to reach the top. A chef should be passionate and must have perseverance. You should always be willing to learn new things, skills, and techniques because this will serve as your investment.
- Always aim for excellence and improvement. You should be knowledgeable of the traditional ways and also be updated on the new trends. The most important thing is you enjoy and love what you do and always make sure to give it your best. Always stay positive and look on the bright side. Carpe diem and Hakuna Matata!