So you want to be a chef?

Posted at 08/14/2011 6:04 PM | Updated as of 08/15/2011 10:40 AM

MANILA, Philippines - If you are one of those cooking show junkies who suddenly want to become a chef just because of the things you see on television, think again.

It's not as easy as it seems, said Chef Sharwin Tee, winner of Lifestyle Network's "Clash of the Toque-en Ones" and host of "Curiosity Got the Chef." Being a chef, just like many good things, requires a lot of hard work, patience, discipline, skill, passion -- and at times, even a lot of money.

Tee, who first worked as an English teacher at Xavier School in San Juan, spent thousands of dollars to go to a culinary school in Canada and got shouted at almost every day as he struggled to become a chef.

One of his mentors even threw a plate at him, he said.

"May nilabas akong plato na hindi maayos ang presentation, tumabingi siya. Initsa niya 'yung plato pabalik," he said in an interview on radio dzMM's "Trabaho Panalo" on Sunday.

"Tayong mga Pilipino, sensitive tayo sa ganun. Nung unang experience ko sabi ko, 'bakit ba ako andito?' Napaisip ako...Pero naka-adapt din ako sa sistema nila."

Asked about the amount he spent to get formal training, he said, "Medyo hanggang ngayon di ko pa ata nababayaran lahat."

Despite all these, Tee said he has no regrets.

"Ang pinakaimportante, 'wag kayong mag-asam na magka-show. Matuto muna tayo magluto at magconcentrate muna sa culinary career. Be the best chef that you can be. Tapos minsan, pagpapalain tayo na magkaroon ng show," he said.

Chef Francis Lim agreed, saying that being a chef is not just about cooking but also about giving a part of yourself to others through the food you prepare. Like Tee, he also joined "The Clash of the Toque-en Ones" and ended up as a finalist.

He said most people, like himself, do it out of passion and not for the money.

"I think lumalabas ang pagkatao ng kusinero sa pagkaing niluluto nila," he said.

Learning the hard way

Chefs Tee and Lim belong to the younger generation of chefs who had the luxury of getting formal training.

But Chefs Mauro Arjona and Rock Galla learned everything they know through experience, either by beginning as dishwashers or as assistants in the kitchen.

"'Nung time namin wala pang culinary school. Mga chef namin puro foreigner -- French, Irish, German. Kaming mga Pinoy, cook ka lang, hindi ka pwedeng maging chef. Apprentice ka lang [muna]," said Arjona, who now runs 5 restaurants including Uncle Cheffy, Old Vine, Chef's Quarter, Kuse and Beurre Blanc.

"Dati chief cook pa ang tawag. Nakikitingin ako sa kanila, nakikitulong, natuto ako. Kahit anong iutos ng chef, ginagawa ko.

"Masuwerte ako kasi ang napasukan ko fine dining restaurant. Ang chef ko Irish, nag-aral, may culinary background. Dun ako natuto talaga. So parang nag-aral ako sa international na school."

Galla, who used to work in the same restaurant, agreed with Arjona. "Mabusisi sila sa kusina," he said about his mentors.

Citing his experience, Arjona said being a chef may not be for the faint-hearted. He stressed, though, that it may be an experience that anyone will cherish for the rest of their lives.

He had this advice for aspiring chefs: "Alamin mo ang trabaho ng chef. Kasi hindi lang basta magluto eh, di lang dun umiikot [ang buhay ng chef]."

"Kailangan mahal mo ang ginagawa mo, at naniniwala ka sa ginagawa mo. Maging proud ka. Ipagmalaki mo ang ginagawa mo."