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Freeman Cebu Lifestyle

From Book to Wok

Carlo Rivera - The Freeman

CEBU, Philippines – After spending two years studying engineering, he surrendered to his long-held desire for the art of cooking and turned his life around.

"It's hardly a coincidence," Chef Manuel Espina says, referring to how he shifted life directions - from taking up an engineering course in college to becoming a chef. In his youth, he watched his mom cook all the time. And the mother's love for cooking rubbed off on her boy.

At a time when most teenagers preferred an engineering course in college, the young Manuel went with the flow. He enrolled in Mechanical Engineering. But the budding chef in him was insistent.

He quitted school after two years. Then he explored more of the culinary art by self-study.  The cooking tips and techniques he learned from his mother were a big help, of course. But he still needed to do further research, which he did.

Fired up by his own kitchen experiences at home, he started applying at downtown hotels. He was initially assigned as a storekeeper although his eyed destination was really the kitchen. And, true enough, he soon became assistant cook. His kitchen tasks included being a stock clerk, a room service crew and doubling a general hotel crew. He "always loved working in the kitchen."

After several years, now with some degree of professional confidence, Chef Manuel brought his cooking skills to hotels in Mindanao, shortly after which he returned to Cebu. He got another  job - in the first four-star hotel in the city, the Magellan International Hotel, where he was the pioneering chef. There he served for a good number of years.

And it didn't end there. Next, he went to Sheraton Hotel in Manila, his jump-off point to different parts of the world, from Middle East to London.

Chef Manuel is currently the executive chef at Sarrosa International Hotel and Residential Suites, one of Cebu's business hotels. Here he continues to delight guests with his culinary creations either at the hotel's restaurant or at special functions and events. In between major tasks, he does various other things, like concocting signature sauces and other food products for the hotel.

Backed by more than 40 years of culinary experience, Chef Manuel also teaches cooking lessons at the Cebu Technological University. But the classroom can never equal the excitement in the kitchen. He feels most creative when cooking up something.

Chef Manuel has six children. None of the kids follows their father's line of interest. Each has his or her own professional pursuit.

The master chef who once considered an engineering career has not completely dropped the issue, after all. He sees a common ground between engineering and culinary. "[In both fields], you need to understand the elements in order to come up with [the desired] results." And with an engineer's mindset, the kitchen is not only art - but science as well!

The shift from the book to the wok has been worth it.

CEBU CEBU TECHNOLOGICAL UNIVERSITY CHEF CHEF MANUEL CHEF MANUEL ESPINA HOTEL MAGELLAN INTERNATIONAL HOTEL MECHANICAL ENGINEERING MIDDLE EAST SARROSA INTERNATIONAL HOTEL AND RESIDENTIAL SUITES SHERATON HOTEL
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