With the rise of the restaurant industry in the Philippines comes a need for ideas and the experience to sustain it. Some will resort to tried-and-tested concepts—think of the brands being brought here from the US—while others will go for something a little more hardworking. Something more unique and built from the ground up.
Where some entrepreneurs fail to come up with an idea that works, chef consultants come in. This is a new breed of chefs that has been growing for a while now: your usual chef, taken a notch higher to evolve into a hybrid of executive chef, restaurateur, and sometimes kitchen and interior designer. Got a concept and some funds, but don’t know how to make it work? Call and collaborate with a chef consultant.
“I think it’s the rise of people wanting to start their own food business,” says Francis Lim, a chef consultant for restaurant groups and companies, known for his background in Thai cuisine. “But the thing is—and no offense to people who want to start their small businesses—some people don’t know what they want.”
Chef consultants are the next step in the career path for those trying to contain their culinary energy and creativity. Lim, as well as fellow players Decker Gokioco, Noah Esguerra, and Jorge Mendez—who work together as a consulting group—are equipped by their experience in the industry to do pretty much everything when it comes to running a culinary business: the menu design, product development, staff training, and sometimes even designing the kitchen. This is what a chef consultant is expected to bring to the table, literally.
“Sometimes, when you’re in your own restaurant or in a hotel, you’re limited to that menu or you’re dictated to do this or that. With consulting, you have free flow, your mind [is] creating for something or someone,” says Noah Esguerra who does restaurant consultancy with Decker Gokioco and Jorge Mendez.
But even though there’s a lot of work involved in being chef consultants, the four are incredibly satisfied with the effort they have to put in, even if it gets stressful. “It’s another outlet for our creativity, na nalalabas namin ang gusto naming ilabas,” says Esguerra. “Because sometimes, when you’re in your own restaurant or in a hotel, you’re limited to that menu or you’re dictated to do this or that. With consulting, you have free flow, your mind [is] creating for something or someone. For us, it’s not about the money—it’s the satisfaction of helping someone who doesn’t know anything about the industry.”
When they say it really isn’t about the money, they mean it. The four chefs are so serious about their passion that they would even turn down a client who would act like an investor and let them run the whole business. They believe that running a business solely for money doesn’t achieve much.
“We need to have a common goal, a common interest,” says Lim. “It’s not all about the money, but we want clients who don’t just want to sell food. We love clients who love to cook food and promote what they want to sell.”
They also believe that the client should have a clear vision of what they want for their business, or else the venture would most likely fail. “We had a client, he’s very specific: ‘I want the best wings in Manila,’” says Gokioco. “We’ll start there. For us, it’s also a challenge to give him what he really wants. Of course, it evolves and adjusts, but a clear vision gives us a direction of what to pursue first.”
And speaking of failures, if the business doesn’t do well despite their best efforts, the downfall will also likely be traced back to them. It’s entirely possible for things to go smoothly whenever the consultant is around, and for the staff to do poorly once they aren’t. This is why they do their best to prepare for worst-case scenarios when it comes to completely turning over the business to the client.
“Ang dami kasing [possible scenarios], usually, after three months,” says Lim. “They change people, they train certain people, they change the whole team—I wasn’t aware, I wasn’t informed. Those kinds of things, you have to troubleshoot.”
So what skillset do you need to have in order to be a successful consultant? Basic management must-haves like time management, transparency, and accountability, are on the top of the list in order to build good relationships with your clients. Experience is a given, and it’s definitely key—not just in the kitchen itself but also in cooking as many diverse cuisines as possible.
“Kung wala kang knowledge ng gusto mong gawin, parang imposible na magkaroon ka ng magandang concept,” explains Mendez.
So what skillset do you need to have in order to be a successful restaurant consultant? Basic management must-haves like time management, transparency, and accountability.
And while employers may ask you which culinary school or program you graduated from, for clients, it’s less about where you came from than what you’ve done in the industry. “At the end of the day, ang tanong sayo ng client, ano na bang restaurant ’yung nabuksan mo? Saan ka ba nagtrabaho? They won’t really ask kung saan ka ba nag-aral,” adds Esguerra.
Every skill, every detail is important to the brew, as is the client’s vision and support. With the expertise consultants are bringing to new places popping up, we’re likely in for better restaurants and establishments across the city.
Originally published in F&B Report Vol. 15 No. 4