Chef Manna


The first time I have heard of Gerardo’s was from my Nanay, back then during the days when I was still
deciding what course I really wanted to pursue. My parents and I had a deal back then and this was a
deal that goes way back high school – they promised to send me to a culinary school under the
condition that I earn a bachelor’s degree first. My initial plan was to go to Cebu and study culinary arts,
but then, plans changed when I went home to Gensan for a vacation.

On the way home from the airport, my Nanay mentioned that there was this culinary school in General
Santos that has been rapidly rising through the ranks and was named Gerardo’s. My Nanay also added
that it has a very good teaching and even better training. We decided later on to drop by and inquire. I’ll
be honest – my first impressions were not the best, as the school back then was just a house whose
ground floor was modified as the school’s kitchen grounds. However, things changed once I was able to
converse with school president, Chef Gerry.

I made my mind up once I was able to converse with Chef Gerry, and it was where I got really interested
in the course. To be honest, my first understanding of the culinary arts was that it was a course for
cooking, following certain recipes, exposing oneself to fancy ingredients, and present food in a fancy
manner through plating – I could not have been more wrong. When Chef Gerry explained that it was
beyond those, that it was about the fundamentals of cooking, that it was about the science of cooking,
the methods appropriate to the recipes that are being used, understanding the reaction of each certain
component when added and exposed to heat, the reaction of the meat after seasoning it with salt,
when it is cooked in certain temperatures, the timing, the protein content of starches – everything, I was
taken aback and realized that it was beyond what is shown in TV or in mainstream sources. That was the
eureka moment, that I then realized that I was in the right place to study.

I believe I am still on the process of learning even though there was a time where I was at the peak of the culinary industry. Just because one has reached those ranks does not mean the learning stops – learning will always happen as it is a continuous process.

When I graduated in Gerardo’s, I knew going in that what comes after would already be tougher than
what I have just gotten through and I thought that it was going to be a cakewalk for me but then again I
was wrong. To start off, my initial goal was to work in top branded hotels as I know that these will come
in handy in my career as it gives me an edge. Fortunately, during my OJT in Gerardo’s, I was assigned in
Shangri-La’ Mactan Cebu, and was given an opportunity to be employed. From the day I started working
as a professional, things were different – the pressure, my relationships with my senior chefs, the
responsibilities; my lapses were my own, and no one would help nor save me. It was tougher than what I

After graduation, I remember one of the toughest challenges I had to overcome was my assignment to
the Japanese cold station – a station I was not keen nor interested to be in. In my heart, I really wanted
to be in the hot kitchen – where the flames and the smoke are, but since this was where I was assigned,
and it was a direct order from the chef’s office, I had no choice but to adjust. Worse, was during that
time I was only a contract employee, so there was no room to complain. I found myself working 12
hours minimum daily just so I can cope up with the tasks, given that I was not good nor interested with
them in the first place. There were also days I stayed and went overtime just so I can learn Live sushi. At
first, it was a very burdensome ordeal, but then, I said to myself that this difficulty is something that
normally happens at the start, and that, maybe, just maybe, if I change my mindset and focus more, this
will become an asset more than a burden in the future. Fast forward now, I believe this is my edge over
most chefs, as I am capable of both the pressure and demands of the hot kitchen but also the precision
and patience required in the Japanese cold station. I am aware that the chefs in the Japanese cold
stations were not interested in the hot kitchens and the feelings were mutual – hot kitchen chefs are not
interested in the Japanese cold stations as well. I said to myself I have to be patient and learn this, as
there will be a time when I will be rotated to the hot kitchens (where I really wanted to go), I will
probably be the only chef there that would know both kitchens – a clear edge. From there, I learned to

be professional and just dealt with my situation as it is – no complaints, no grumbles, just doing it like a
professional should. There was even a time where I was doing research, inquiring more on how to make
more innovative ways of preparing sushi. Eventually I was rotated to my first love, the hot kitchen. To
this day, I will not regret being assigned to the Japanese cold station, as there were only a few chefs in
the department that knows how to do both hot and cold kitchens, and I just so happen to be one of

I started working in Shangri-La Mactan Cebu as a casual (contracted) employee, and after a few months
of hardwork, I was promoted as a service associate (regular, commis 2). A couple of years later, I was
promoted to a chef de partie (CDP). The journey was not an easy one, but I was very thankful for the
trust and opportunity that was given to me by my senior chefs and the company. I am forever thankful
to all of them, and that all of it were priceless to me. I even thought at one point that this will be my
peak, and that this will be the farthest I would ever arrive, but the company again surprised me as they
have given me the opportunity to study the discipline further abroad, which was an opportunity I am
eternally grateful for as it was one of my answered prayers. After my training, I was even informed by
the executive chef that another promotion was coming my way and it was coming very soon. I was very
ecstatic, but then, things changed when the pandemic struck – and all promotions were put on hold. The
company even made the tough decision to retrench employees. I was luckily one of those that were
retained despite the ongoing retrenchment during that time. 2 years after the pandemic struck, I then
made one of the hardest decisions of my life and that was to leave Shangri-La Mactan as I believed then
that it was time for me to start my next chapter this time with my family, and I believe God blessed me
with this decision as I know he has better plans for me.

I believe I am still on the process of learning even though there was a time where I was at the peak of
the culinary industry. Just because one has reached those ranks does not mean the learning stops –
learning will always happen as it is a continuous process. If you want to grow, you have to learn, you
have to make mistakes, and you have to learn how to avoid those mistakes. To this day, my fire for
learning has never been this bigger, and I am still eager to learn more out there.

My training with Gerardo’s has a massive impact on my career as a chef. Aside from the thorough
knowledge and training they have provided in school, the discipline they have imprinted on me was
what really made me a better chef overall. I remember the days of recipe writing and recipe analysis
levels, as these are levels that one needs to pass before they get to the actual kitchens in Gerardo’s. I
remember it being so frustrating, as one needs to be specific and enumerate the cooking methods,
terminologies, recommended temperatures (that varies per meat!) and HACCP practices which should
all be correct and accurate. Otherwise, if we cannot write those down, we wouldn’t stand a chance in
the kitchens, let alone be given a chance to cook. It is during that level where I realized that for me to
pass this level, I really have to give it a thorough night’s study. Culinary is not just about the cooking – a
big part of it is recipe writing – standardization of ingredients while observing major pillars of the
culinary discipline such as proper cooking methods and food safety, is what makes this discipline difficult
to study. Truth be told, anyone can cook – but not everyone can write it down to the point that anyone
can replicate your dish even with minimal culinary knowledge, which is what recipe writing is all about.

When I resigned from the company and as the plight of the pandemic intensified, I decided to have a
small online food business during the lockdown named “Lamas + Fire” (Spice + Fire). A couple of months
later and the industry was already on the road to recovery, God has again given me his blessing and
grace to give me the strength to be back in the industry, but this time, no longer as a chef, but as a
Kitchen head consultant, a position that thrives on developing menus and systems for restaurants. Quite
recently, I and my team were responsible for developing the menu and system of Theresa’s Tavern here
in Polomolok South Cotabato – a restaurant that serves a western + Filipino fusion cuisine. Recently,
another client came and asked for my services, and a short while later, we have successfully opened a
restaurant named Whitesands Café, a beautiful restaurant in Station 1 Boracay that serves
intercontinental and oriental dishes.

Where I am now feels different from where I once was – I am no longer the chef that works with knives
and boards that plates in the pass in a prestigious hotel. This is more challenging, and this has a steeper
learning curve. I again feel like it is coming full circle again, just as it was when I was in the Japanese cold
station, I am again opting to face this challenge as I always have – professionally.

- Chef Manna Vember Bayona, Culinary Arts, Batch 20

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