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Millennials are the new culinary advantage

A peek at the country’s top restaurants reveals that millennials are now taking the lead in the kitchen

Photos by Miguel Nacianceno and Toto Labrador (Avee Benasa and Charlie Carbungco)

They’re entitled, unappreciative, self-centered, and lazy. A Time magazine cover story even called them “The Me Me Me Generation,” presenting data on just how fame-obsessed, shallow, and lazy the set is. They don’t like being told what to do, jump from one job to another in a snap, and continue to live with their parents without hesitation.

There’s no denying that millennials, the generation born between 1980 and 2000, get a lot of flak for every little thing they do. They’re criticized for taking a stand on an issue, judged when they don’t. They’re teased by other generations for their temperaments. But there’s also no denying that many industries, including foodservice, are powered by the generation. Millennials, barely at their 30s, are emerging as leaders in their respective fields. In the food world, millennials are being relied on not only in the creative or marketing department but also as actual managers and team leads in the kitchen or front of house. They’re no longer limited to just following orders or waiting on guests; they are the tastemakers.

Patricia Benedicto
THE HUSTLE IS REAL

Carla Patricia G. Benedicto, 28, is the assistant general manager of the Antonio’s Group of Restaurants. After her stage in Rech by Alain Ducasse Paris and a stint at Purple Yam Malate, she started out as a quality controller for Balay Dako. The job required making sure food was prepared and plated correctly, and served and explained by dining staff accordingly.

“Each day, I realized [chef Tony Boy] was giving me more and more responsibilities—more than being a quality controller. In just a few months, I became the operations manager. It may not have been a job in the kitchen like I previously dreamed of, but I was learning so much and was so grateful for the trust given to me.”

These days, she assists the chef in menu and product development, and manages the three Antonio’s outlets. “We work together on the restaurant menus, as well as special menus for our events and weddings. I’m also responsible for the ice creams in all outlets; a job borne out of my deep love for great ice cream and my hobby of making it,” she says.

The role is a perfect fit for a millennial constantly striving to do more beyond the enumerated functions on the job sheet. “It’s difficult to find the right title that defines all the work that I do. Over time I realized that, though a job title may bring clarity to your purpose, it can also be limiting your potential and capability,” she explains.

A typical day requires her jumping from one outlet to another, joining briefings, checking in on guests, attending food tastings, and planning events. And in every pursuit, she deals with fellow managers and staff members up in years. “There is always pressure to prove that you can keep up, but after that, there’s the pressure to not stay stagnant and always push to be better,” she says.

“The pressure can make things a little hard,” Bendicto adds. “But I know that I am the luckiest person to be where I am now—being given more responsibilities over the last three years, and still constantly evolving and being challenged.” The young leader is grateful for the flexibility of her job, which any millennial would appreciate. But she knows it’s never an excuse to lounge about; rather it keeps her open-minded and excited towards change. “[Our] youthfulness needs to be matched with the maturity to understand different perspectives and the pros and cons of every decision. We cannot always afford to be naïve.”

Avee Benasa and Charlie Carbungco
THRIVING UNDER PRESSURE

Good judgment also led Avee Benasa and Charlie Carbungco to stay loyal to their jobs at Gallery by Chele. Benasa, 26, is the current head chef of the restaurant, while Carbungco, also 26, is a member of its small yet well-trusted research-and-development department.

The two were part of the team behind Gallery Vask, and were rehired after its rebranding. These days, Benasa is busy managing the whole kitchen team. “I provide everything needed to make the operation run smoothly. That includes orderings, scheduling of people, and quality checks. I also try out all the components per station and check if they’re at par.” She also acts as the expediter during service, telling the team which dishes to fire and checking on every plate before serving.

Meanwhile Carbungco handles most of the research and recipe development before a dish reaches the kitchen. “We normally do brainstorming for a particular situation or for events. After brainstorming, we research and test out the right recipes,” he says.

Even after at least four years of working with chef Chele Gonzalez, they find the job still riddled with pressure. “It comes from an exactness in the kitchen. We don’t just rely on taste because everything has to be exact,” says Carbungco. Meanwhile, for Benasa, the pressure comes with the title. “Our team is actually fairly young. Sometimes they forget that I’m just as old as they are.

But they don’t allow the pressure to push them out of the organization and the structure. Succumbing to stress and moving to another job is out of the window. Instead, they use their youthfulness to their advantage. “Since we’re young, we’re hungrier to learn more. We have a lot of energy, even if we work 12 to 13 hours a day,” says Carbungco.

Monica Yang, TJ Demerey, Sang Lee, and Kamille Del Rosario
KITCHEN WUNDERKINDS

Utilizing their youth as an asset has been perfected by the R&D team of The Moment Group. Composed of Monica Yang, 26, Sang Lee, 25, TJ Demerey, also 25, and Kamille Del Rosario, 30, the energetic team develops new generations of menus and limited offerings for all of the restaurant group’s outlets. “Another big part of the job is also translating everything we do into something that’s operational, training people how to do it, and making sure it’s being done consistently,” explains Yang, who single-handedly pioneered the department four years ago.

“I like to think we execute ideas. We translate the owners’ ideas into something the customers can enjoy,” says Del Rosario. “Monica is focused on executing new dishes. TJ and Kamille do everything under that, whether recipe writing or procurement. Then I come in, do the costing, and study how it’s going to be executed in the store,” adds Lee.

The job requires them to work with individuals from different departments. They coordinate with people making a dish, purchasing it, and selling it. They’re also tasked to train people executing dishes in the stores, like Demerey who recently oversaw operations at Manam Café. But at Moment, despite all executive chefs and many cooks being their seniors, they don’t have to walk on eggshells. “Local kitchens would usually give the menial jobs to the young ones. But here, they’re very open to our ideas because they know we’re helping them. Although they’re more seasoned, they understand that this is a growing industry. There’s not much tension or pressure,” says Lee.

People rely on this team of four millennials. They’re one of the impactful departments of the restaurant group. The little adjustments they do can actually save the company, and the efficiency adjustments can save time for workers, too. Yet they don’t walk around taking credit for all of the job they do.

“It’s not just about you. Working elsewhere, you need to be the star. Here, it’s a collaborative process. When you do something, it’s not just about your personal preferences. It also depends on how it affects the customers, the operations. With the teamwork, you really feel humbled,” says Del Rosario.

KEEPING HUMBLE

Humility reigns in this set of millennials. And with that, plus the hard work they put in, these young ones are erasing the preconceived notions surrounding their generation.

“There will always be a certain expectation that equates with your age in any industry, proving that you’re not just a stereotype,” says Lee. It all depends on the individual to either break or succumb to these convictions. “If you’re young, and you act like you don’t belong or you’re immature and unprofessional, then expect to be ridiculed and for people to think of you as a kid,” explains Yang. “I think if you are ridiculed, it’s not just the culture or the stereotype. It’s also who you are.”

There will always be a certain expectation that equates with your age in any industry, proving that you’re not just a stereotype,” says Lee.

Demerey shares his own experience: “Back when I was younger and I worked with older chefs, sasabihin nila ‘Nako bata ’to, walang alam ’to.’ It’s up to you if mag-step up ka para sabihin nila na ‘May kaya ’tong bata na ’to.’ You need to prove yourself.”

If there is one thing these millennials are proving they’re good at, it would be their adaptability to change, whether in technology, environment, or opportunity. “I think the difference between the generations is the opportunity,” says Yang. “I think 20 years ago, a managing partner wouldn’t think of getting a 23-year-old to head a department. Now people are just more open-minded. Even the amount of information and resources we have are incomparable to before. It’s an unparalleled opportunity! Maybe 20 years from now, a new generation would have different resources, different job opportunities, and they’ll say the same things of us.”

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