Truckin’ to provide culinary career opportunities

Joy Angelica Subido, Joy Angelica Subido, Karla Alindahao (The Philippine Star) - April 22, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Truckers for the day. One could say that this is what well-known restaurateurs and chefs Florabel Co-Yatco, Sau del Rosario, Robby Goco, Tristan Encarnacion, Marvin Agustin and Bruce Lim were at the SM Mall of Asia concert grounds. In a recent friendly competition to raise funds and give needy, yet deserving, individuals a chance to build successful careers in the culinary field, they manned food trucks and sold various comestibles in an event to raise scholarship money for culinary education.

The beneficiary of the fund-raising activity was the Culinary Education Foundation Inc. (CEF), an organization whose goal is “to provide deserving individuals with the training needed to succeed in the food industry.”

Headed by Susana “Annie” Pascual Guerrero, president of The Cravings Group and Center for Culinary Arts, Manila (CCA), the foundation has created a full scholarship program with courses designed to give individuals adequate proficiency so that they can be employed in established food-related businesses.  Alternatively, scholars can even set up successful food businesses of their own after the program.

“A better life should be within reach for all who are willing to work hard,” says Guerrero. “With the help and support of like-minded individuals, we are committed to transforming lives by helping students achieve their dreams. This is whether they’re starting college and plan to transfer, pursuing a career program to become employed as quickly as possible; or attending continuing education classes for career or personal enrichment.”

In view of the fact that culinary education in the Philippines can be quite costly, the CEF scholarship program is good news. And fortunately, the program enjoys the support of some of the country’s most well-known chefs.”

“I’ve always believed that giving back is important,” says celebrity chef Sau del Rosario. As a chef for about 20 years, I see the importance of transferring knowledge to the new generation so that the stature of Philippine cuisine can be elevated.” He explains, “We all have to work together so that our food can attain global acceptability.  And since the end-goal of the CEF is empowerment of an individual, something I truly believe in and am passionate about, I am glad to be able to contribute towards that end whenever I can.”

The outlook is shared by CCA-trained chef Tristan Encarnacion, “I knew that it was for charity, so I had no second thoughts about joining the fund-raising activity,” he matter-of-factly states. “As a graduate of CCA, I am always willing to contribute and cooperate to help make activities backed by the school or its affiliate organizations successful.”

That generosity will always be rewarded is a sentiment that chef Robby Goco believes in. “I started out working in the US where I could make a lot of money,” he relates. “But my mom told me ‘If you stay there, it will just be just about you —you’ll have your upscale lifestyle and nice cars. But if you come home to the Philippines you can start a business and employ more people.’ I’m glad I listened to her.”

Currently, chef Robby has eleven restaurants with 200 to 300 employees. “If I did things solely for myself, this wouldn’t happen,” he muses. “While a successful food business all boils down to the goodness of the food, I feel that I am being given more because I see the importance of giving back.”

The generous spirit of the crowd that supported the fund-raising activity was apparent. Sales were so brisk that actor and chef Marvin Agustin could not leave his post as he dished out food, and amiably acquiesced to having his photographs taken with a deluge of star-struck fans.   But on an ordinary day, is the local scene really ready for the food truck business? “It is a good way for young chefs to test the waters,” says celebrity chef Bruce Lim of television’s Asian Food Channel. He admits, however, that while overhead costs may be low, operating a food truck can be a challenge because it entails a lot of hard work and particular attention to quality control.

In due course, however, it was multi- awarded chef Florabel Co-Yatco who sold the most food and emerged as winner of the activity.

“Competition is part of the fun,” she smiles. “Back in high school and college, I loved competition and challenge. But as I started working and as I opened my restaurants, I felt that my main competition is myself. Apart from consistently serving good food, the challenge is to always treat employees fairly and set a good example. It is to do the right thing and bring out the `best in people.”

But with funds raised and the genuine good intentions of the busy chefs who contributed their expertise and time, it is indisputable that the 500 scholars are the true winners of CEF’s food truck competition.

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