“So you want to be a chef,” is what Anthony Bourdain asked in “Kitchen Confidential,” his personal and professional memoir as a chef in New York. I’ve started rereading this book to assuage my long-standing slump.
I was amused by Tony’s stories in the book. He had a lot of things to say about his career, his colleagues, and life in the kitchen. Not to mention that much of his life revolved around food – his first oyster, his first job, his experiences at every restaurant, up until his stint at Brasserie Les Halles. He went through a lot, working and learning the economics and politics of cooking. It was the longing for a livelihood, a good life, and respect that helped him succeed, never mind his addiction to drugs and alcohol.
I found the book inspiring. I found his life to be exciting. And then I wondered if I could be a chef too.
Seriously, I’ve cooked a lot of times. I learned how to cook from my mom, who’s really well-versed in the kitchen. I experiment on fried rice, cook chicken tinola and other soups, fry fish and meats, and so on. But nothing beats turning the love for food into a career, right?
I’m also harboring this fantasy of becoming a professional chef. Having my own restaurant, cooking fancy meals, serving high-profile guests, touring around the globe and looking for the perfect meal, writing recipe books and memoirs about food… such feats can surely be done by someone well-versed in cooking. A guy can dream.
I got the chance to think it over when I got invited to the Open House event of the Center for Culinary Arts Manila. This would be the second time I’d visit the CCA Manila campus, but this time it’s a career-related visit of sorts.
The Open House event started with a talk on CCA’s history. Here goes:
CCA Manila was established by the Cravings Group of Companies in 1995 to professionalize the culinary industry in the Philippines. Dr. John Knapp of the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology and Dr. Corazon Gatchalian of UP Diliman developed CCA’s curriculum before it was inaugurated in November 1996.
The campus opened in June 1997. Among its programs are culinary and pastry arts, entrepreneurial, and management skills for those who want to run their own businesses.
In 2006, CCA Manila received a three-year accreditation from the American Culinary Federation Education Foundation, making it the first in the Asia-Pacific region to have programs at par with those of schools in the United States. Today, it lives by its vision-mission of helping people fulfill their culinary dreams, and build careers with social and leadership values.
With the long lecture over, it was time for snacks. This is the first time I’d have such great egg sandwiches. These are creamy, flavorful sandwiches that actually taste like eggs instead of mayonnaise with eggs.
Also, who could have thought cold cuts could be served as fancy finger food? And then there’s the salmon with honey mustard sauce – yeah, salmon is luv, salmon is luv. I wouldn’t be able to think of stuff like this.
The second part of the event was a cooking demo with Chef Tony Attrill, a cheerful guy with a loud, commanding “kitchen voice”. An accomplished hotel chef from the United Kingdom, he settled here and is now one of the instructors of CCA Manila.
Chef Tony prepared salmon with beurre blanc sauce – appetizing, lightly cooked and seasoned, kinda sweet and sour, smelled really good for a dish prepared in half an hour or so. Also, salmon is luv.
He also made pastries, quickly molded in different shapes, baked, and topped with chocolate syrup. Ah, the wonders of having an oven.
Lunch was next. Seriously, it was just a simple set of meatballs in tomato sauce, penne, and garlic toast, but damn, they were great, ‘nuff said. Or is it because they were made by CCA’s chefs that they look and taste so good? Maybe my cooking will have a similar effect if I studied the craft, I thought. In hindsight, the food was really delicious, CCA or no CCA.
Finally, we wre given a tour around the campus. CCA Manila houses a restaurant and coffee shop, several lecture rooms, laboratories (kitchens of different sizes, each with their own cooking equipment), and a library full of recipe books and food-related materials. Some of the classrooms were under construction, and I even remember seeing a coffee shop-style room being set up.
While I was mystified by the thought of studying at CCA and becoming a chef, I suddenly thought whether I can survive in this career in the first place.
In “Kitchen Confidential,” Tony says not everyone could be a chef; and the career is not as glamorous as people think it is. He believes a chef should not only have the love for food, but the work ethics, attitude, physical and mental strength to work in the kitchen. There will be long working hours. There will be customer complaints. There will be injuries. There will be inventories and deliveries. Students have it worse, with the rising cost of kitchen tools and whatnot.
Of course, being a chef has its perks, like getting instant feedback for their work, learning various cuisines, and being able to serve diners from all walks of life. Also, they get to eat in great restaurants, and spend quality bonding hours with their bosses, patrons, and colleagues, among others.
I want to be a chef, that much I’m sure of. I want to know how to cook Filipino, Japanese, and a bit of Mediterranean cuisine like a pro. I want to taste other cuisines as well. I want to share my love and hunger for great food. I want to cook for the world, to borrow CCA’s words.
On the other hand, I’m not sure if I’m fit and skillful enough to work as a chef. I don’t know if I’m good at cooking. Plus, a guy with a broken heart (read: cholesterol-clogged with a host of other ailments) might die early in a very stressful environment. But that can be worked on, right?
Do I have the love for food? Duh. Do I have the work ethics to be a chef? Maybe. Am I physically and mentally fit for the job? Maybe. Do I have the discipline? Maybe. So in the end, can I really be a chef? I don’t know, but if I can set myself up for a good start, why not?
After the tour, I asked one of CCA Manila’s staff about the programs and the tuition. Needless to say, the prices were too much for me, I easily forgot what they are.
If I’m going to be a chef, maybe I should stick to home schooling for now. Or maybe I’d concentrate on staying as a foodie for a while. We’ll see.