Chef Jong


Through the years, I wasn’t sure what my endpoint is in my life. Opportunities, like people, seem to come as they go. My respite was to hang out with my friends. Good fellas, all of them. But unlike me, they seem to have already figured all of it out – they seem to know where their road leads. There was a time however, where almost all of them kept bringing up their school and the things that happen there their struggles, experiences, the unorthodox training methods – all of it caught my attention, and then decided to stir my course in that direction.

Compelled with such stories, I decided to enroll in Gerardo’s School of Culinary Arts. Hearing stories from my friends, I have more or less an idea on what to expect already. I did tell myself that this would be an opportunity to regain myself – to prove myself worthy of respect, and to prove to myself that I am capable of great things. Back then it meant a lot to me, as I was suffering from depression and other problems. Depression really hit me hard – to the extent that I tried destroying my well-being, but somehow, God gave me the people to show me that it was not too late, that there were still opportunities to change my life, and I believe this was one of them. 

When I enrolled, I did say to myself, that this will be my ticket to a better life – that I will be going all out on this, and it was now or never.

Gerardo’s was overall a tough journey full of challenges for someone like me who never really enjoyed the academe that much. I did eventually graduate through hardwork and immense effort from me and my loved ones. I thought that by the time I graduate, that everything will just fall into place. My goal when I graduated was to land a job as soon as possible and luckily enough, I was absorbed from being an intern at Shangri-la Mactan Resort & Spa, one of Gerardo’s partner hotels, to a casual employee, until eventually, landing a regular post as a service associate.

A philosophy I subscribe to is the philosophy of hard work – wherein, hard work takes you places farther than talents or privileges ever will. I knew from the start that I was not the most skillful, nor most brilliant chef out there, and that I have NOTHING BUT GRIT, and that was what propelled me to the milestones of my career. After achieving a regular post, one of the challenges was to maintain my outstanding performance that got me there in the first place. I knew I have to take it up a notch, and that outstanding is no longer going to cut it – and if there is anything above outstanding, that I would aim for it, and indeed I did. The adjustment period was difficult as well; I had to maintain good relations with my Sous chef, and there was the challenge of expanding responsibility – since I started my stint with Shangri-La Mactan being a bachelor – I was single, had no responsibilities, was living for the moment, and I can dedicate 100% of myself to my job, things have changed since. When I became a regular employee, I was already married, and I have already been blessed with my first born son. So of course, the adjustment between work and family was difficult since it was my first ever time. 

Kevin Durant once said that hard work beats talent when talent does not work hard, which is something I believe to this day. That belief got me selected as the representative for Shangri-la Mactan to compete internationally in Malaysia in a cooking competition. I have also won several awards representing Shangri-la Mactan in the annual cooking competitions hosted by the Hotel & Restaurant Association of Cebu (HRRACI). I also partook in the Ironman 70.3 Philippines Triathlon event 2018, where I was part of the team that handled Chaine de Rotisseurs fine dining. If someone were to tell me back in 2015 that I was going to achieve all of these things, I would never have believed them. Despite all of these, the greatest achievement of them all was to work overseas, here in Finland, sharing the knowledge and skills I acquired from my years in Gerardo’s and in Shangri-la Mactan.  

Currently, I am starting from scratch as a humble cook here in Oulu, Finland. Considering this is a new chapter in my life, the challenges were already mounting. Living away from my family and loved ones, the plight of the COVID-19 pandemic, the cultural difference between Finland and the Philippines were all difficult. It turned everything I have ever built up to this point upside down – but the passion never wavered. It was, and is, still there, and I am happy where I am today.

The training in Gerardo’s has taught me much about discipline. I remember Chef Gerry once told me that when we are at our workplace, we are not only representing ourselves, but we are also representing the school wherever we go, so we have to act and behave accordingly. Chef Faith also taught us how to remain resilient and persevere in our chosen career paths, and despite their unorthodox teaching styles, they helped me endure much of the challenges normally faced in the culinary industry. I owe it all to them.

Before the pandemic, I used to think that my greatest achievement up to that point were all the accolades I garnered during my years working in Shangri-La. When the pandemic struck, everything I have worked for seemed to hit a dead-end. Fast forward to now, I still believe I have not reached anything of much significance. I am in a foreign place, learning new ways, adjusting to the culture, adapting to the new environment – I have nothing but the passion I have for the industry, and love for my family. I have nothing else aside from those two. Nothing else, but grit.

- Arjule L. Española, Culinary Arts, Batch 26

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